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Arts & Culture

Outdoor art to see in San Diego right now

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Julia Dixon Evans
Artist Denja Harris stands near the window display of her installation at Mortis Studio in Golden Hill on Dec. 3, 2021.

To ring in 2022 (or maybe slam the door on 2021), here's a short list of brand new and some long-standing works of art viewable from the great outdoors — from urban window installations to augmented reality to mountain sculptures, featuring Denja Harris, Trevor Amery, Gabriella Sanchez, Mohammed Kazem, James Hubbell and Roman De Salvo.

First up, a handy map:

Denja Harris 'Soft'

Textile artist Denja Harris just opened her first solo exhibition at the new Mortis Studio in Golden Hill. The exhibition is entirely encapsulated in a window display: a handful of works visible from the sidewalk. Harris creates rugs and experimental fiber works that play with color, shape, form, abstraction and nostalgia. She sources deadstock yarn, which is a catch-all term for things like remnants leftover in manufacturing but also entire colors, runs or bolts of a textile that end up not being used, whether for lack of demand or because of a flaw.

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Courtesy of the artist / Mortis Studios
Work by Denja Harris will be on view at Mortis Studios in Golden Hill beginning Friday Dec. 3, 2021.

This is Harris' first exhibition, and it's a vivid reimagining of the humble rug — a bit surreal, otherworldly and kind of '90s.

Details: Mortis Studio, 1038 25th St., Golden Hill. Through Jan. 16, 2022.

Trevor Amery: 'Archive and Witness'

The newest kid on the block in the NTC Foundation's outdoor art installation program at Liberty Station is a wood and mixed media sculpture by Trevor Amery. It's his first piece of public art. The wood was sourced from fallen trees from Balboa Park — and rebuilt as an abstract version of what Amery describes as a "nurse log," or the trees fallen in a forest that remain there to decompose and nourish the understory. I love what this piece says about decay and death, and ultimately life.

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Courtesy of the artist
A rendering of Trevor Amery's "Archive and Witness," on view in Liberty Station beginning Dec. 23, 2021.

It's installed just outside the Dick Laub Command Center, in the same spot Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nikigator" sculpture temporarily hung out while the Mingei was under renovation. Plus, there's plenty more outdoor art to hunt for in Liberty Station. Here's a list of what's currently on display.

Details: 2640 Historic Decatur Rd, Liberty Station. On view beginning Dec. 22, 2021.

Gabriella Sanchez: 'Time'

The latest in the Murals of La Jolla project is installed just next to The Lot in La Jolla. Gabriella Sanchez is a Los Angeles artist who studied art at Point Loma Nazarene University. Her mural is a series of collage-style vignettes, from photos she took in La Jolla this summer. The text "Time" across the center is huge, each letter taller than the cars that would be parked beneath the work. The mural is about the way time intersects with nature — the repeating tides, life cycles and bigger questions of the future.

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Courtesy of the Athenaeum
"Time" by Gabriella Sanchez, shown in an undated photo, is part of the Murals of La Jolla project.

Build your own walking tour of all the murals in the series using the map here.

Details: 7611 Fay Ave., La Jolla.

Mohammed Kazem: 'Directions (Zero)'

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Courtesy of the San Diego Botanic Garden
Mohammed Kazem's "Directions (Zero)" is shown in augmented reality at the San Diego Botanic Garden in an undated photo.

Imagine if someone dropped a gigantic zero from outer space, and it landed askew over a boardwalk path at the San Diego Botanic Gardens. Kazem's augmented reality work — originally made for Abu Dhabi — calls attention to the significance of zero in math, as well as issues of coexistence and peace. Inscribed on the donut-shaped work are the coordinates for every single country on the planet. Light and shadows actually transform throughout the day, and you can even walk beneath it.

Kazem's piece is one of 13 other augmented reality pieces on view at SDBG. Another one of note: Isaac Julien's "Stones Against Diamonds (Ice Cave)" is a five-screen video work, although there are no real screens beyond the one in your palm. The work is based on Julien's 2015 film of the same name, which was inspired by a letter from architect Lina Bo Bardi, and it is set in an actual ice cave.

In La Jolla, you can also catch another of the London-based filmmaker and artist's works outside, and again it's based on one of Julien’s previous films. On the corner of Torrey Pines Rd. and Girard, "Eclipse (Playtime)" shows a silhouetted figure standing against a circular yellow window. It's part of the Murals of La Jolla series.

Details: Augmented reality requires app download in advance. Garden hours: Open Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesday) and open most holidays (closed Christmas Day), through Aug. 2022. San Diego Botanic Gardens, 230 Quail Gardens Dr., Encinitas. $10-18.

James Hubbell: Volcan Mountain Gate

Built in 1990 by the influential regional artist Hubbell (now age 90) and a team of volunteers, this gateway at the base of Volcan Mountain in Julian is more of a passageway. Two carved cedar walls jut skyward like peaks of their own on either side of the trail, surrounding a trilogy of intricate iron sculptures, which — according to the Volcan Mountain Foundation — were constructed by Hubbell's son Brennan.

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Julia Dixon Evans
The gateway sculptures at the trailhead for Volcan Mountain in Julian are shown on May 17, 2020.

As an added bonus, after you take in the art, you can tackle a peak just outside of Julian. The hike is just shy of 5 miles, traversing gnarled patches of forest as well as vast, grassy meadows. The trail is sometimes closed after rain, so check with San Diego County Parks and Recreation in advance.

Details: Volcan Mountain trailhead, 1209 Farmer Rd. at Wynola Rd., Julian.

Roman De Salvo: 'The Riparium' and 'Fountain Mountain'

Completed in 2012, "The Riparium" is an overhead web of massive trees sliced in half and then reconnected and suspended from above. It's installed in Ruocco Park on the waterfront (and even looks cool in satellite images). The park was named after famed modernist architect Lloyd Ruocco, known for the County Administration Building, the City Concourse Plaza (including the Civic Theater), the 1950s-era Children's Zoo, and work on the 1935 Panama Exposition and over a hundred homes and other projects.

Roman De Salvo's public sculpture in the new field station at Mission Trails Regional Park, "Fountain Mountain," was unveiled by the Commission for Arts and Culture in February. The sculpture — a functioning drinking fountain — echoes the trails, streams and mountains of the park.
Julia Dixon Evans
Roman De Salvo's public sculpture in the new field station at Mission Trails Regional Park, "Fountain Mountain," was unveiled by the Commission for Arts and Culture in February. The sculpture — a functioning drinking fountain — echoes the trails, streams and mountains of the park.

Another outdoor, public work by De Salvo (FYI there are many) — particularly if you're in the mood to kick off your new year with a hike — is Fountain Mountain, nestled just outside the new field station near the Mission Trails equestrian staging area off Mast Blvd. Part drinking fountain, part topographic model with actual mini rivers, it's one of my recent favorites in the city's civic art collection. While you're there, I recommend hiking east across the grasslands towards the Fortunas, then heading down towards the river-side Oak Canyon trail. Find the official trail map here.

Details: Ruocco Park, 585 Harbor Ln., downtown; Mission Trails East Fortuna Staging Area field station, Equestrian Circle, Santee.