Mem­ory: Shadow & Light, Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute, Col­lege of Santa Fe, 1600 St. Michael’s Drive, 424-5050; through De­cem­ber

Pasatiempo - - Art In Review -

The Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute has had an im­pres­sive sea­son of guests artists in 2009 for its lec­ture and work­shop se­ries Mem­ory: Shadow & Light— Art as In­di­vid­ual/Col­lec­tive Mem­ory. Na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally known im­age mak­ers from within and be­yond the state of New Mex­ico have dis­cussed their work in terms of con­tent and con­text, as well as their mo­ti­va­tion and in­spi­ra­tion about what they do best. Pho­tog­ra­pher Su­san Meise­las is the fea­tured artist for De­cem­ber.

As in pre­vi­ous years, SFAI has mounted an ex­hi­bi­tion of the work of its vis­it­ing artists. Cur­rently on view from its 2009 sea­son are works by New Mex­ico pho­tog­ra­pher Gay Block, New Mex­ico film­maker God­frey Reg­gio, English re­al­ist painter Rack­straw Downes, pho­tog­ra­pher David Maisel, artist James Drake, Santa Fe artist/de­signer/black­smith Tom Joyce, and neo-min­i­mal­ist Su­san York, also from Santa Fe. In­cluded are two pho­to­graphs by Meise­las.

In to­tal, 13 pieces are on dis­play. Need­less to say — and de­spite the the­matic na­ture of the lec­ture se­ries— the ex­hi­bi­tion is eclec­tic, so much so that to iden­tify a con­nect­ing thread is im­pos­si­ble. Even by date, the pieces lack a com­mon bond, rang­ing over a 30-year pe­riod. In­di­vid­u­ally, how­ever, the work has merit, some more than oth­ers.

Drake’s mixed-me­dia draw­ing, Iguana Carousel (2009), is a stand­out and not sim­ply be­cause of its scale at nearly 9 feet in height. Us­ing char­coal, ink, and cut-out shapes, Drake con­ceives a mem­ory — or dream frag­ment— from when he lived in Gu­atemala City as a child. De­pict­ing him­self lifesize, stand­ing alone and an­kle deep in wa­ter amid sus­pended lizards and enor­mous flies, the scene is prime night­mare ma­te­rial. Pre­sum­ably based on his rec­ol­lec­tion of igua­nas strung by their tails in the mar­ket­place cov­ered with flies, Drake’s im­age is un­set­tling, yet some­how en­dear­ing given the artist’s self-por­trait — so young and im­pres­sion­able dressed in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts. The im­age of Drake has a feel of a vin­tage 1950s black-and-white fam­ily pho­to­graph— some­thing real and tan­gi­ble from a mo­ment in time— but it also has a time­less­ness in its dream­like qual­ity.

Block’s TheWomen the Girls Are Now 2006 se­ries is made up of por­traits of girls from sum­mer camp taken in 1981 paired with pho­tos of the same girls as grown women 25 years later. Th­ese are well known and have been ex­hib­ited else­where in Santa Fe but con­tinue to be fas­ci­nat­ing. In­cluded in this show is a dip­tych Mered­ith Fiedler/Mered­ith Fiedler Dennes. Fiedler the child and Fiedler the woman stare di­rectly at the cam­era with blank ex­pres­sions giv­ing Block’s im­agery less a sense of por­trai­ture than a study in vis­ual an­thro­pol­ogy. The frontal close-ups and straight­for­ward­ness of Block’s pic­tures are more spec­i­men than snap­shots, while the clar­ity of her prints in­vites crit­i­cal scru­tiny. It doesn’t take long be­fore one starts to ex­plore both im­ages of Fiedler to see how time, the ag­ing process, and fash­ion have al­tered skin qual­ity, weight change, hair style, pos­ture, and gen­eral per­sona.

In clear ref­er­ence to the ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tle, Meise­las’ pho­to­graph, Sol­diers search bus pas­sen­gers along the North­ern High­way (1980)— taken from her time in Cen­tral Amer­ica in the 1970s and 1980s— in­deed, brings to light the po­lit­i­cal im­po­si­tions put upon the gen­eral cit­i­zenry of the coun­try; one be­ing sub­jected to ran­dom searches by the mil­i­tary. Fo­cus­ing her lens not on her fel­low pas­sen­gers but in­stead on their cast shad­ows while be­ing searched and in­ter­ro­gated, in­clud­ing the shad­ows of a few sol­diers with their weapons drawn, Meise­las’ per­spec­tive al­lows for a dual mean­ing. Her pho­to­graph not only doc­u­ments the ac­tual in­ci­dent in a creative man­ner, it strongly sug­gests a scene of mass ex­e­cu­tion. The im­age, seen ei­ther way, is sober­ing.

In con­junc­tion with Mem­ory: Shadow & Light is a sep­a­rate in­stal­la­tion, Utopia, by Cuban African artist Juan Roberto Di­ago, one of the artists fea­tured in a larger ex­hi­bi­tion called Con­flu­en­cias: In­side Arte Cubano Con­tem­porá­neo on view at the Na­tional His­panic Cul­tural Cen­ter in Al­bu­querque, which, in part, is spon­sored by the New Mex­ico Depart­ment of Cul­tural Af­fairs.

In a room pop­u­lated with minia­ture Sty­ro­foam houses with pitched roofs— some at­tached to walls, oth­ers hang­ing from the ceil­ing, many set on the floor, and most posited in metal buck­ets and plas­tic pans filled with wa­ter— Di­ago’s col­or­less com­mu­nity is a provoca­tive state­ment. Apart from the paint-splat­tered floor, the artist’s con­cep­tual neigh­bor­hood is es­sen­tially black and white. More than 100 look-alike struc­tures make up the piece that ad­dresses is­sues of is­land-na­tion iso­la­tion and gov­ern­men­tal lever­aged con­form­ity.

Loss of voice, re­pressed per­sonal ex­pres­sion, and anti-in­di­vid­u­al­ism are other con­sid­er­a­tions im­plied by Di­ago’s work. Stand­ing there in the artist’s mul­ti­ple hous­ing project— looking more shan­ty­town than planned de­vel­op­ment — it was dis­con­cert­ing to think about the hu­man equa­tion, or lack thereof, in Di­ago’s con­cept. Where were the in­hab­i­tants of th­ese houses? Did they aban­don them or were they forcibly re­moved? Or are they star­ing out­ward from within in­structed not to en­gage out­siders?

There is a lot to con­sider in SFAI’s two end-ofthe-sea­son shows, con­cepts fraught with the hu­man con­di­tion. Not all, but more than a few, will linger in your mem­ory.

— Dou­glas Fair­field

Gay Block: Mered­ith Fiedler, 1981/ Mered­ith Fiedler Dennes, 2006, dip­tych, Ep­son Ul­tra­Chrome print, 23 x 58 inches

Left, James Drake: Iguana Carousel, 2009, mixed-me­dia draw­ing, 100 x 78 inches

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