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