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June 2 - 28, 2005 at Absolute Art Gallery, Pasadena

by Judith Hoffberg

August Highland is an artist living in the part of California which has become a Biotech Mecca, namely San Diego. As a writer and a poet, he has always been drawn to the cultural and technological influences in his immediate environment, but now he has broken through to incorporate the larger world as well.

His marvelous “writings” seem to be layered on canvas, but his techniques have been developed to create such works with new technological tools. His tool kit is his own programming on the computer, which composes instructions much like an architect designing a blueprint, a screenwriter writing a script or a composer writing a score. Since his work is composed solely of text, he gives instructions for basically four components: source material (in this case our genetic code), typeface(s), compositional arrangement and the dimensions of the work. His programming for the computer is self-written, proprietary, developed independently. He has made it simple for himself, and calls his method of producing the visual work Alphanumeric sequencing.

Highland begins with human genetic sequences as the compositional building block of his work, integrating art with biotechnology and genetic research. Each artwork contains the DNA information from one gene built up layer upon layer on canvas. Each gene sequence gets a color. In this way, the colors are saturated and give a painterly feeling to the visual work. He has also created handwritten typefonts in order to integrate different source materials into a work with a human touch, a hands-on feeling. With his new printer, he has been able to print out on canvas, rather than paper and thus, the hands-on, tactile quality of his work is differentiated from his flat printed pieces, done on a small scale on his digital printer.

Instead of going from image to text, he goes from text to image where his ingenious software transfers a layered context of words, numbers and letters onto canvas. With this tremendous amount of data, he manipulates the body of material to make it his own. Using the positive implications of gene therapy, rather than just the information, his work serves as an ambassador to promote the “good” information of gene therapy through aesthetic means.

“Enhanced Latticed Morphism”
(detail), 2005, printed digital
media on canvas, 36 x 30".

“Adaptive Path Integrity”
(detail), 2005, printed digital
media on canvas, 36 x 30".

“Full Spectrum Idempotent Program-
mability” (detail), 2005, printed
digital media on canvas, 36 x 30".

“Univariate Context Switching”
(detail), 2005, printed digital
media on canvas, 36 x 30".

Highland bridges visual art with the Information Age and with the Biotechnology Age in a focused way. The work is beautiful and in giving expression to the human genetic code, Highland communicates that the human being is a wonder of creation and is fundamentally made from patterns and sequences of information that defy our imagination. In this fusion of inputs, the evolution of this artist is clear. He began as a poet, then a novelist. Subsequently, he incorporated internet-based information and technology into his fiction, then created dynamic on-screen textworks before finally liberating the visual texts form the monitor and developing the technology to create them in large scale on canvas. This exhibit demonstrates that the complexity and effort behind this work has been worth it. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do."