Hands across the water

Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute ad­dresses is­sues through art

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Is­sues around water rights have al­ways been of supreme im­por­tance in the arid West — and prob­a­bly al­ways will be. The quan­daries and chal­lenges swirling around eq­ui­table ac­cess to water pose a fit­ting ful­crum for the de­lib­er­a­tors at the Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute, where the topic is now be­ing ex­plored in its 2016-2017 the­matic res­i­dency pro­gram.

How do we de­scribe and de­fine the con­tested space around water? How can cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties re­sult in greater mod­els of eq­uity in our water sys­tems? How can di­verse prac­tices, from po­etic to prac­ti­cal to po­lit­i­cal, cre­ate greater ac­cess to these and other par­al­lel re­sources? These are some of the ques­tions be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by an ar­ray of artists at SFAI — many of whom will par­tic­i­pate in the next SFAI 140 event on Fri­day, Nov. 18.

“These are so fun,” said Jamie Blosser, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of SFAI. “We have 20 pre­sen­ters. It’s a com­bi­na­tion of our artists in res­i­dence and peo­ple from the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts and com­mu­nity lead­ers, and the fo­cus is on water rights.” The free event, held sev­eral times each year and open to the pub­lic, is called SFAI 140 be­cause each per­son only has 140 sec­onds to show seven slides of their work and speak. “It’s a way for peo­ple to ex­plore their work in a dif­fer­ent way and dis­till it.”

SFAI is quar­tered in a dra­matic Ri­cardo Le­gor­re­tade­signed build­ing at the west end of the Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art & De­sign cam­pus. Blosser, who as­sumed her post at the art in­sti­tute 13 months ago, was an in­tern ar­chi­tect work­ing with Lloyd & Tryk Ar­chi­tects on the con­struc­tion phase of the SFAI project back in 1998. She first came to New Mex­ico af­ter earn­ing her master’s in ar­chi­tec­ture at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia. For three months, she vol­un­teered at Zuni Pue­blo, help­ing to de­velop an ar­chive for the A:shiwi A:wan Mu­seum & Her­itage Cen­ter.

Be­gin­ning in 1999, Blosser worked with the Ohkay Owingeh Hous­ing Au­thor­ity to cre­ate a master lan­duse plan for the tribe, and she was project man­ager for Tsigo Bugeh Vil­lage, a new rental town­house project on the pue­blo. From 2005 to 2015, she was di­rec­tor of the Santa Fe of­fice of Atkin Ol­shin Schade Ar­chi­tects; the firm’s sig­nif­i­cant projects in­cluded the Muñoz Wax­man Gallery at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts and the Pub­lic Safety Com­plex at Santo Domingo Pue­blo.

The 20-year Santa Fe res­i­dent is a New Mex­i­co­l­i­censed ar­chi­tect and a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects. “The rea­son for that is that I’ve been on a na­tional com­mit­tee for hous­ing and com­mu­nity devel­op­ment, and I think it’s very im­por­tant to have the voices of ar­chi­tects who are prac­tic­ing in many dif­fer­ent ways that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily all tra­di­tional,” she said. “The way I’ve prac­ticed ar­chi­tec­ture my en­tire ca­reer is to look at the larger is­sues and use de­sign and de­sign in­ter­ven­tions to tackle them. In look­ing at Na­tive com­mu­ni­ties, for ex­am­ple, there may be an ur­gent need for hous­ing, but what re­ally comes up when you talk with com­mu­nity mem­bers are the con­cept of sovereignty and health is­sues and ways to be part of a larger po­lit­i­cal and so­cial sys­tem and not be marginal­ized. Those are much big­ger is­sues that we can then use de­sign to tackle. So it’s in­ter­est­ing to be here with our the­matic pro­gram­ming, be­cause we can have a year or two of a theme like im­mi­gra­tion or water rights or equal jus­tice, and it just al­lows us to bring to­gether peo­ple with many dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives.”

Blosser does not con­sider her­self an artist, al­though she be­lieves artists make cru­cial con­tri­bu­tions. She re­called that when she was an un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent, she was ex­posed to a pro­gram called De­sign of the En­vi­ron­ment, founded by land­scape ar­chi­tect Lau­rie Olin and oth­ers. “Their goal was to not silo dis­ci­plines but rather to in­te­grate ar­chi­tec­ture, land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture, and fine art. I think of ar­chi­tec­ture and art as be­ing dis­rupters of sta­tus quo. Look­ing at things and ques­tion­ing things and be­ing crit­i­cal are so im­por­tant, and that’s why I’m here at SFAI.”

She works at the in­sti­tute with four other staff mem­bers. There are cur­rently 14 res­i­dent artists, in­clud­ing some from Is­tan­bul, Tai­wan, Canada, the Santa Fe area, and around the United States. “We also have fel­low­ships with the Ras­mu­son Foun­da­tion, an ex­change pro­gram here and in Alaska; the Canada Coun­cil for the Arts; and the Tai­wan Min­istry of Cul­ture; and we just fin­ished an agree­ment — and there’s an open call right now — with the Greek Ful­bright Foun­da­tion.”

The first SFAI the­matic res­i­dency, in 2014-2015, was cen­tered on food jus­tice. In 2015-2016, it was im­mi­gra­tion/em­i­gra­tion. The cur­rent ses­sion is all about water rights. From Sep­tem­ber 2017 to July 2018, res­i­dents will ex­plore is­sues sur­round­ing jus­tice eq­uity. (Ap­pli­ca­tions are due by Jan. 6, 2017; for in­for­ma­tion and to ap­ply, see www.sfai.org/res­i­den­cies.) “We en­cour­age res­i­dents to be here from one to three months, and lo­cal res­i­dents can par­tic­i­pate if they just need stu­dio space.”

With the in­cep­tion of the­matic pro­gram­ming, the in­sti­tute has seen a shift from peo­ple who want to work very dis­cretely, on a spe­cific body of work, to those who en­gage in their work more col­lab­o­ra­tively. That change was also stream­lined by an ar­chi­tec­tural ad­just­ment: The fa­cil­ity’s kitchen space was opened up via a suc­cess­ful crowd-fund­ing cam­paign. “It’s a more con­vivial space now, and speak­ing as an ar­chi­tect, it works well to force those in­ter­ac­tions and syn­er­gies.”

Blosser spoke of a new part­ner­ship with the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico’s Land Arts of the Amer­i­can West pro­gram, which will be fea­tured in an SFAI ex­hibit in mid-De­cem­ber. Pro­gram par­tic­i­pants “go out in the field for two weeks at a time, deeply en­gag­ing with is­sues around land and re­sources,” she said. “They’ve taken some of our res­i­dents out. One of the trips was look­ing at oil and gas and frack­ing is­sues in the Four Cor­ners area and speak­ing with Diné groups and ac­tivists.

“We have a cou­ple of artists right now who are go­ing to go up to Stand­ing Rock, which I highly com­mend them do­ing.” At Stand­ing Rock Sioux Reser­va­tion in the Dako­tas, pro­test­ers are chal­leng­ing the com­ple­tion of an oil pipe­line they say would threaten lo­cal water sup­plies and harm im­por­tant tribal sites. “I think we will all be in­ter­ested to

hear from them when they come back and learn from them how we can help pro­tect our water re­sources and how we can pro­tect the pro­tec­tors.”

Among the di­rec­tor’s goals are to dis­in­te­grate the per­cep­tion that the in­sti­tute ex­ists in a rar­i­fied space. “I want us to be more of a cen­ter for the com­mu­nity, and to get out more into the com­mu­nity. We do a very cool pro­gram in the sum­mers called De­sign Work­shop, and we part­nered with the Sus­tain­able Na­tive Com­mu­ni­ties Col­lab­o­ra­tive [founded by Blosser] to of­fer in­tro­duc­tory de­sign and build­ing skills for high-school and early-col­lege-age stu­dents. This year we were so pleased that the ar­chi­tec­ture and con­struc­tion com­mu­nity re­ally sup­ported the pro­gram by of­fer­ing the stu­dents paid in­tern­ships when they were done.”

Blosser em­pha­sizes that the Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute is not just about art and de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture but is also about par­tic­i­pa­tory dis­course. “What I think we saw in the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tury were the sort of grand ideas from a heroic master ar­chi­tect or ur­ban planner about how the world should be — ac­cord­ing to some new prin­ci­ples that for the most part dis­re­garded ex­ist­ing com­mu­ni­ties — and that I think re­sulted in some aw­ful ur­ban plan­ning.” She re­cently re­turned from the United Na­tions Con­fer­ence on Hous­ing and Sus­tain­able Ur­ban Devel­op­ment (Habi­tat III) in Quito, Ecuador. “There’s a real sense of the need to en­act a new ur­ban agenda in cities around the world that very much re­lies on de­col­o­niz­ing and an em­pha­sis on in­dige­nous rights and women’s rights.”

Some­times — es­pe­cially in the mi­lieu of the over­all Santa Fe art scene — the in­sti­tute’s pri­or­i­ties and ac­tiv­i­ties can seem more about the­ory than art­mak­ing. To that sug­ges­tion, Blosser re­sponded, “What’s fas­ci­nat­ing to me is how much the­ory and re­search goes into the mak­ing of art. I’m con­stantly blown away by the rigor the artists that we host here bring to their art prac­tice. It doesn’t stay in a the­o­ret­i­cal realm for long — and that’s the beauty of it.”


▼ SFAI 140: Water Rights (20 pre­sen­ters, 140 sec­onds each)

▼ 7 p.m. Fri­day, Nov. 18

▼ Santa Fe Art In­sti­tute, 1600 St. Michael’s Drive (on the cam­pus of Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art & De­sign); 505-424-5050

▼ No charge

Di­lara Akay: ARK200, 2016, spice and water in­stal­la­tion; op­po­site page, top, An­drew Wil­liams: Lake Oroville, 2016, pho­to­graph; bot­tom, Jo­er­ael El­liott: A Cup Holds Water, So Do We, 2016, mu­ral

James Luna in a 2015 SFAI 140 per­for­mance

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