CITIES OF GOLD
stripping away the myth
It’s no tourist attraction. The dead mule deer hanging above San Francisco Street attracts stares, whispers, and cellphone cameras but little in the way of explanation. Strung by its hindquarters to a simple timber A-frame, the carcass is highly visible above the adobe courtyard walls of the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. The installation
P’oe iwe naví ûnp’oe dînmuu / My Blood Is in the Water is no less disturbing when viewed from inside the museum courtyard. From an internally installed bladder, the deer drips blood out of its mouth onto a tribal drum. With the aid of an amplifier, the sound of the tiny drip explodes into a drum blast. The brutal display is part of a larger body of work now on exhibit at the museum called It Wasn’t the Dream of Golden Cities.
The deer installation, which is up for only a few days, is a visceral — in the true sense of that much abused word — reminder that the feted 400th anniversary of Santa Fe is also a somber remembrance of trauma and spilled blood for the Pueblo Indians who fought against Spanish colonization and cooperated with it as well. The outdoor work is one piece of a three-part installation picking at the scabs of history by a troupe of multimedia artists called Postcommodity. Made up of Kade Twist (Cherokee), Raven Chacon (Navajo), Steven Yazzie (Laguna/Navajo), and Nathan Young (Delaware/Kiowa/Pawnee), the group explores how the indigenous art market makes a commodity out of tribal cultures.
Inside the museum, the other two parts of the Postcommodity show examine the Native presence in modern-day Santa Fe as well as during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. The four artists spent a couple of days covering one of the museum’s rooms in acrylic gold paint, as a visual nod to the “Cities of Gold myth” that drove so many Spanish conquistadors into the Pueblo lands of the upper Río Grande in search of riches. Named If History Moves at the Speed of Its Weapons, Then
the Shape of the Arrow Is Changing, the sound installation is powered through eight gold-painted speakers, pushed flush against the gold walls. The cacophony that emerges from the speakers sounds like lasers or electron pulses from the soundtrack of a violent sci-fi movie. What the listener is actually hearing, however, are the sounds of an ambush, conducted by the Pueblo weapons of the time — bow and arrow, atlatl and dart, sling and rock, and war club.
The four men took the physical properties of the weapons’ trajectories and rendered them as math data that was then translated into sound. Working with computer scientists Andrew Cord and Cristóbal Martínez, the artists and scientists ran the trajectories through a 12-page math formula that took into account the full 23 variables that make up rocket science, like velocity, humidity, and gravity. “We made it as overly complicated as possible,” Twist said in a phone interview. The idea was to create a ballistics study for the sling and rock that was as complex and nuanced as that of a missile head in order to create a terrifying sound that would invoke the terror of experiencing an actual ambush.
“So why doesn’t it sound literally like an arrow?” Twist said. “That would be too literal. We wanted to treat it as a composition.” The name of the installation comes from cultural theorist Paul Virilio, who argued that military technologies drive societal change or that “history progresses at the speed of its weapons systems.”
Top, Postcommodity (with Cristóbal Martínez and Andrew McCord): If History Moves at the Speed of Its Weapons, Then the Shape of the Arrow Is Changing, 2010, sound and mixed-media installation (eight stereo channels, loudspeakers, and gold acrylic paint)
Postcommodity: P’oe iwe naví uˆnp’oe diˆnmuu (My Blood Is in the Water), 2010, mixed-media installation with sound (mule deer taxidermy, wood poles, water, amplifier, and drum)