Photos: Jordann Tomasek, Birch Aquarium

Hold Fast Immersive Art Exhibition Now Open at Birch Aquarium

Hold Fast connects local kelp forests and climate change through the intersection of science and art.

La Jolla, CA (Feb. 9, 2024) —On February 8, 2024, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego unveiled Hold Fast, a powerful and immersive art exhibit that invites us to explore the impact of climate change on our local kelp forest through the lens of three local artists and scientists.

Hold Fast beckons you to explore a labyrinth of cyanotype-printed giant kelp by photo-based artist and marine scientist Oriana Poindexter, come face to face with local species via gyotaku prints by artist Dwight Hwang, and peer into the tiny world of kelp propagation with Scripps Oceanography PhD student Mohammad Sedarat. Other pieces contributed include Tijuana-and London-based artist and inventor Itamar Lilienthal, and artist and Scripps Oceanography postdoctoral scholar Adi Khen using researcher Jennifer Smith’s seaweed pressings.

Guest explore entrance to Hold Fast at Birch Aquarium.
 Hold Fast exhibit entrance.

“Warming waters and giant kelp don’t mix. We have to be realistic about the outsized impact that climate change has on our local Giant Kelp forests,” said Megan Dickerson, Birch Aquarium’s Director of Exhibits and co-curator of the installation. “But at the same time, local people are doing beautiful things. This Hold Fast installation posits that the actions of local artists and scientists can give us hope that together, as a community, we can make collective change as we also acknowledge climate trauma.”

Hold Fast challenges our ideas of what climate work can include by bridging the worlds of art and science, and offers the opportunity to explore how our own talents can be harnessed as we work together to protect our ocean.

Gyotaku mural by Dwight Hwang lit in purple and green light with seating for guests to use
Artwork by Dwight Hwang. 

“The Giant Kelp forests off San Diego are ebbing and flowing despite the anthropogenic impacts that complicate their existence,”  said Poindexter, who is also co-curator of the installation.

“My method to engage with the giant kelp forests is to free dive in, around, through them —  and to collect specimens from which to artistically document both the environment and the experience. The physicality of this process is therapeutic for me as I grapple with the impacts of humanity on the environment.”

Hwang is a classic Japanese gyotaku artist who aims to tell stories through his animal and fish prints. In Hold Fast, his prints will focus on local kelp forest animals found off La Jolla shores, allowing guests to get an even closer view of these fascinating species.

Poindexter is an artist and marine scientist who is documenting the changes in La Jolla’s local kelp forests through photo-based artwork. In Hold Fast, her life-sized cyanotype prints on fabric create a stunning kelp forest for guests to explore without getting wet.

A young guest interacts with the kelp propagation display, their face is lit in the red and yellow light
Kelp propagation display by Mohammad Sedarat. 

Sedarat is a PhD Student at the Smith Lab at Scripps Oceanography whose research explores the impact of climate change on La Jolla’s kelp forest. In Hold Fast, his work provides up-to-the-minute kelp forest mapping that explains why critical giant kelp ecosystems have not returned since recent marine heatwaves and explores what we can do to bring them back. 

UC San Diego Library is hosting an accompanying exhibit, Ebb and Flow: Giant Kelp Forests through Art, Science and the Archives, at Geisel Library now through April 21, 2024. Uniting archival material with contemporary art, this exhibit showcases works created as a result of continued observation of the local giant kelp forest environment by artists, scientists and community members over the past 134 years. 

The aquarium will also be offering fish printing and sun printing workshops once a month. Hold Fast will run through Labor Day 2024, and is included with the cost of General Admission, which is $24.95 for adults and $19.95 for children ages 3-17. Annual memberships are also available. The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with extended seasonal hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from March 1 through Labor Day. Advanced reservations are required. Visit the aquarium’s website to learn more about Hold Fast and to check the daily schedule for hours and special events.

About Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Birch Aquarium features the groundbreaking work of Scripps Oceanography and UC San Diego scientists as well as conservation breeding programs and interactive exhibits. Birch Aquarium’s mission is to connect understanding to protecting our ocean planet, which it achieves through engaging hands-on learning opportunities for more than 500,000 guests and 40,000-plus pre-K-12 students each year. Visit for more information.