Experience the power of small wonders

Unlike those who see capital-A Art in any old smudge on the canvas, I am not easily convinced of the intrinsic value of everything that claims to have some deep, all-too-well hidden significance. Why, then, would such a skeptic spend an hour, transfixed, in front of black-and-white images of dots, dashes, circles and squiggles? Try it and see if Ariel Ruiz i Altaba’s “Minimal Landscapes” would have the same effect on you.

The free exhibit is at swissnex San Francisco, through Oct. 12, and that may require a word of explanation. Swissnex, at 730 Montgomery St., is the annex of the Swiss Consulate General, a busy organization on the local scene since 2003, but not yet widely known. It has partnered with hundreds of scientific, research and educational organizations, facilitating exchanges and partnerships.

Both the organization and the “Landscapes” exhibit it is presenting have to do with a convergence of science and art. Born in Mexico, raised in Barcelona, educated at Harvard, Ruiz i Altaba studies embryonic development, stem cells and cancer in his lab at the University of Geneva. The photographic images he presents originate in his work in molecular biology and biochemstry.

For the opening of the show last week, swissnex organized a roundtable discussion involving such participants as Dr. Leonard Shlain, chairman of Laparoscopic Surgery atthe California Pacific Medical Center, and Rudolf Frieling, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art curator of media arts. The title: “Boundaries and Meaning in Landscapes: From Science to Art and Back.”

That’s one level on which to approach Ruiz i Altaba’s art. Another is quite without any scientific background simply looking at the images, allowing them to “speak” to you. Be sure to read the titles: they are in various languages, reflecting the artist’s multicultural background, and they contribute the poetry inherent in the basic building blocks of life.

Configurations of microscopic objects, for example, are called [translated] “Adoration of the Magi,” “Cloning You,” “The Sorrow of Love” and “Transgenic Revolutions.”

“Adoration” is a particularly intriguing work: the natural grouping of chromosomes looking like bodies falling in space, well supporting the artist’s claim that his images “show black islands forming archipelagoes of explicit and implicit meanings that become imaginary landscapes in the viewer’s mind.” Even without being certain about what’s “explicit and implicit” here, this viewer certainly had his experience of imaginary landscapes at swissnex.

Minimal Landscapes

Where: swissnex, 730 Montgomery St., San Francisco

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m Mondays through Fridays; closes Oct. 12

Admission: Free

Contact: www.swissnexsanfrancisco.org

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