a sinking Lake Mead in background | Hoover Dam polaroid in foreground (a moment of creative relay for me last week)
Yesterday we went to SITE Santa Fe's biennial Lucky Number 7, curated by Lance Fung.
Upon entering the space the wall text reads:
process + experimentation + collaboration ---> experience = community
The show includes 25 artists from 16 countries. The curatorial vision was to invite the artists to Santa Fe, for the first time, for a span of one week. They would then return home to formulate ideas for site responsive projects. In June they came back to Santa Fe and created their works, which now make the exhibition and several sites around the city. Walking through the galleries, we were somewhat confused at first, there wasn't wall text that directly described what the works were about or how to make sense of them. Towards the end our time in the building we discovered a wall of videos made by student documentarians who had been hired to follow the artists throughout their processes. It turned out that what we had been witnessing on the walls and in the galleries were the end product of a process- and these objects were not most important part (or the most interesting to me). The videos documented the artist's contact with locals, their struggles of grappling to find a point of connection in a foreign landscape, area and history, and the exchanges between the artists and their collaborators. Without this video documentation the show would have been nearly impossible to make sense of, but with it, it allowed an amazing new approach to making site-responsive work and curatorial missions to emerge. If responding to experiences of place, over a brief but concentrated span of time, becomes a larger part of contemporary art making, I sense much potential. What gets freed up in this process is that there is no illusion that the work or artists could "know" a place or "represent" it. What gets made and materialized instead, is a creative relay, the process of engagement itself. Artists would get to make something creative of the very small and particular knowledge that they glean from interacting with new local environments, cultures and peoples- in conjunction with their own local and global knowledges and understandings. This becomes the work. The "thing" or object of art gets scaled down in relation to the process of engagement and "learning" and making in relation.
With the work that we experienced in the Lucky Number 7 show, the viewer and the locals also get to be re-oriented. The work that we saw in the show was full of global relays from distant cultures and countries. It seemed nearly impossible for the artists in the show to leave their particularly local knowledges and interests out their works. The show wasn't about Santa Fe, but the world, Santa Fe was the facilitator of this process. One artist, Marti Anson, from Spain rebuilt a mill that was controversially being torn down in Barcelona. He described it as an "act of faith to save the heritage of his home town". I found it interesting that the site that he chose to rebuild his scale model, brick by brick, was outside the Spanish Museum for Colonial Art in Santa Fe.
If this biennial is a sign of a trends to come, then the future of art making might be getting more interesting, more responsive and deeply creative. It also makes me feel better about the signals that we/I have been sending to students via this blog and the EMS blog as "field notes". If the one of the most necessary and creative acts needed right now is for artists to be creative points of contact with the world, relaying signals from contemporary moments in which they sense forces that are shaping the world(s) that they find themselves in direct contact with, than perhaps we have been on the right track.
Also, two news items of note:
- Today we present at the American Studies Annual Conference in Albuquerque. If you happen to be around, here's the description/location of our piece, Mutual Contamination at the Limits: Becoming Human/Artist.
- A disturbing story, "Dummy Bomb Falls from Jet", was on CNN yesterday. It would almost be funny if I hadn't just been where I have the last two weeks. It now doesn't seem like much of a stretch of imagination to think such objects might be falling from the sky all around Las Vegas.