Oriana Poindexter, Giant Kelp Study 16, Windansea Beach, February 11, 2022

New Art Exhibition to Take Hold at Birch Aquarium

Hold Fast, an immersive art exhibition, explores local kelp forests and climate change through the lens of three local scientists and artists.

On February 8, 2024, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is opening Hold Fast, an immersive art installation that explores our local kelp forests and climate change through the lens of three local artists and scientists who are using their unique skills and talents to take climate action. 

Guests will weave through a labyrinth of cyanotype-printed giant kelp by photo-based artist and marine scientist Oriana Poindexter, dive into the details of local species via gyotaku prints by artist Dwight Hwang and witness up-to-the-minute kelp forest mapping by Scripps Oceanography PhD student Mohammad Sedarat. 

“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.”

Through immersive experience and the stories of inspiring artists and scientists, Hold Fast invites us to identify how putting our talents to work in the climate crisis can bring us joy while protecting our ocean planet. 

“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.

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 from January 12 to 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. 

Hold Fast will replace Oddities: Hidden Heroes of the Scripps Collections which opened at Birch Aquarium in June 2018 and has welcomed more than 2 million guests from around the world. Hold Fast will be on display until September, 2024. 

Hold Fast 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 aquarium.ucsd.edu for more information including a daily schedule of 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 aquarium.ucsd.edu for more information.