Sunday, August 17, 2008

Road Trip 2: New Mexico (Part 3)

An almost aerial view of St. John's college, site of the Glen Workshops.


This year's Glen Workshop was very enriching, even though I didn't take an actual workshop. I felt it deserved it's own entry, even though I'm going to cheat and include an art show review at the end. I didn't even make to all of the presentations this year, but the keynote address by Bret Lott, author of, among other books, Jewel, and the newly released, Ancient Highway, which recently received a positive review in the LA Times, dealt admirably with the conference's theme of "the artist in the city."

Since fiction is kind of my obsession, I also very much enjoyed the reading by Valerie Sayers, director of the creative writing program at Notre Dame, who read a short story published in Image. I thought the story gained a certain lyricism and humor that I might not have noticed had someone else read it.
Of course, the Over the Rhine concert was incredible. They played a full show at Christ Church, Santa Fe, which is a new building that provided an ideal backdrop. Although it's not really evident in the picture below, there is a giant window behind them, fronted by a large glass cross. It was especially cool, when, during one song, a bolt of lightning appeared momentarily in the window behind them. Seriously, if you have never heard OtR, give their album, The Trumpet Child, a demo, or check them out on tour. I wish them only success (and their song, "Nothing Is Innocent," was playing in the Knoxville Starbucks today).

Karin and Linford light up the stage at Christ Church, Santa Fe.


Another convergence at this year's conference was the Santa Fe Biennial, an international art exhibition held at Site Santa Fe every two years. The basic premise for the show was to invite artists from all over the world (typically one per country) to participate. They all came to New Mexico to observe the landscape and culture, and their pieces were supposed to be responses to New Mexico. Each artist was limited to $7,500 to construct his/her work, and after the show, all of the materials will be recycled.

The show was somewhat uneven, and I have to say that I probably didn't have enough time in the exhibit to really soak in each artist's full intention. Still, though, four pieces stood out to me. The first, "Telematch Suburb," by Egyptian artist Wael Shawky, was perhaps the most striking. It was a three part video installation, which really highlighted cultural disparities present in the fabric of New Mexico. For a kind of historical reference point to the wonderful religious and cultural diversity in New Mexico, I would recommend reading Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop. In the novel, a French Catholic priest is assigned to a parish in New Mexico that includes Native Americans, Mexicans, Canadians, Spaniards, and other Europeans.

Shawky plays with this diverse cultural experience by picking up on similar themes present in Egypt. One huge video projection shows a westernized, Egyptian heavy metal band playing a concert to an audience at a very traditional village. The audience is rural and Muslim, and seem to not know quite how to respond to the music. On another wall, a teacher in Egypt instructs an English class, but his yelled instructions don't sound like English, and his teaching method seems very foreign and strange. On the third wall, a desert scene is playing, with children walking in and out of a structure that might look more at home in New Mexico than it does in Egypt. Somehow, the parade of children has a meditative effect that unifies the other two videos.

Image taken from Shawky's piece.


The second piece, "The Fourth Ladder," was also a video installation, and unlike anything I had ever seen before. Created by an Italian group called Studio Azzurro, the piece was comprised of a series of figures walking up a ramp. The unique bit, however, was that the piece is interactive. Whenever a figure was touched by a viewer, that figure would turn, face the viewer, and relate his or her favorite location in New Mexico, how to get there, and what he or she liked about it. This had a pretty powerful cumulative and experiential effect, especially since the installation was accompanied by another video that interviewed each figure that is walking up the ramp. It was almost as if you were talking to each of those people in an intimate setting.

Viewers interact with "The Fourth Ladder."


For sheer wit, my favorite piece was "Lucky," by Bulgarian artist Luchezar Boyadjiev. The entire piece consists of seventy-seven ten dollar bills, each taped to the wall. Above each bill is a person's name, each selected randomly from the Santa Fe phone book. Essentially, if a name is written on the wall, he or she can claim the ten dollars at any time the show is open—and underneath each bill a fortune is written for that person. Since the artist's English isn't perfect, some of the fortunes were excellent.

"Lucky."

Here is my favorite "fortune" that had been revealed so far. The artist must have a thing for Roksandras.


The last piece that I enjoyed was "Manifest Destiny," another interactive installation, from Italian artist, Piero Golia. Essentially, he rejected the whole "let's be inspired by New Mexico idea," saying that nothing there inspired him. So, instead, he made this kind of stunt-pad-jump installation that is best described by the following video. Before participating, I had to sign a long waiver that included the phrase "in spite of the TREMENDOUS risks involved..."

1 comment:

Murnen said...

Dear sir,

I greatly enjoyed your review of dollar monies on white surface.

However, your complete and utter lack of aerial innovation left me clamy, obsterporous and craving kung fu showdown in alley way behind Stewart.

Vaguely Sincere,
Me