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The Alchemy of De­cay at the State Capi­tol Ro­tunda Gallery

It’s en­cour­ag­ing to live in a city that re­spects its artists, and at the State Capi­tol, The Alchemy of De­cay is a show­case for five who live and work in Santa Fe. The theme of the show, which pre­miered in 2015 at the Peter­son Stu­dent Cen­ter at St. John’s Col­lege, draws in­spi­ra­tion from the idea of the artist as al­chemist, ex­plor­ing ma­te­ri­al­ity and trans­for­ma­tion. Each of the five artists in­cluded in the show — Bill Skrips, Amy Par­rish, Ann Laser, Pa­tri­cia Pierce, and Mar­i­lyn Cham­bers — are show­ing a broad se­lec­tion of re­cent works. The in­stal­la­tions, which com­mand a lot of space, take ad­van­tage of the capi­tol ro­tunda’s ca­pa­cious in­te­rior, but are ar­ranged to be in di­a­logue with one an­other.

The al­chem­i­cal process of turn­ing base me­tals into pre­cious ones, which some see as a metaphor for spir­i­tual trans­for­ma­tion, is re­flected con­cep­tu­ally in the craft­ing of all art, but is here ex­pressed through the use of found ob­jects and re­cy­cled trash, re­pur­posed for the sake of art. “For me, it was about tak­ing some­thing that’s de­cay­ing and bring­ing value back to that ob­ject,” Laser, a mixed-me­dia artist, told

Pasatiempo. “As I’m ag­ing, I’m more in­ter­ested in how some­thing that is con­sid­ered worth­less and not so im­por­tant any­more can be made into some­thing else.”

Laser is show­ing mono­prints, mixed-me­dia wall hang­ings, and a sculp­tural in­stal­la­tion, High Tea, that con­sists of a used and dirty tea ser­vice and a hang­ing tapestry made from used and dried teabags ar­ranged in a grid and mounted on stretched can­vas. The in­stal­la­tion draws on the idea of con­sump­tion and the na­ture of tea as a nour­ish­ing sub­stance, phys­i­cally and cre­atively. Laser doesn’t so much trans­form the ma­te­ri­als that make up her wall hang­ings as let them re­tain the at­tributes of their for­mer use. The colors are de­rived from nat­u­ral tea-leaf stains, with min­i­mal use of paint. The Magic of Tea, for in­stance, is com­posed of mostly neu­tral-col­ored teabags en­livened by some that are stained a vi­brant ma­genta. Laser asks tea drinkers from all over the world to send her their dried teabags as part of her on­go­ing ex­plo­ration of tea as an artis­tic medium.

“I al­ways looked at the artist as a per­fect sim­ile for the al­chemist,” Skrips, who is show­ing a num­ber of sculp­tural works, told Pasa. “The al­chemist is a trick­ster as well as some­body who says they’ll turn dross into gold.” His sculp­tures are ab­sur­dist con­fig­u­ra­tions of fig­ures made from rough-hewn wood, scrap metal, and found ob­jects that give them a kind of steam­punk ap­pear­ance. The Sup­pli­cant, Splint, and Siege Tower all have a me­dieval rus­tic­ity. His as­sem­blage works com­bine fig­u­ra­tive el­e­ments and man-made ob­jects into whim­si­cal hy­brid forms — they are con­tem­po­rary pieces with a folk-art fla­vor.

Par­rish takes a more con­cep­tual ap­proach to the ex­hibit’s theme with a pre­sen­ta­tion of mono­prints, sculp­ture, and in­stal­la­tion art. Her Laun­dry

Day is a se­ries of mono­prints de­pict­ing cloth­ing that hangs from a laun­dry line by clothes­pins. Her work touches on themes of do­mes­tic­ity and mem­ory, ex­plor­ing the per­sis­tence of mem­ory as some­thing to be ex­ca­vated, like a buried se­cret. An ar­ti­cle of cloth­ing be­comes a repos­i­tory for the history of its wearer, which is re­flected in pat­terns and im­agery that seems to emerge through a de­cay­ing of sur­face forms. Some of her dis­played sculp­tural works in­clude pieces made from al­tered books, found ob­jects, and thread, invit­ing com­par­isons be­tween story and ob­ject history, which is per­haps a metaphor for per­sonal bi­og­ra­phy, as in her Ode to a Blue Dress.

Par­rish is not the only artist who works with al­tered books. Pierce, who, like Laser, is rep­re­sented by Vivo Con­tem­po­rary, is among the most well-known artists in Santa Fe work­ing in that genre, and a num­ber of her book-art pieces and as­sem­blages are in­cluded, along with al­tered books by Cham­bers. Their works are wildly dif­fer­ent. Pierce brings an ele­gant re­fine­ment to the book as her prin­ci­pal medium, trans­form­ing the sur­face ap­pear­ance of dusty old tomes into aged but au­gust-looking works of beauty that ex­ist as fin­ished sculp­ture. Cham­bers makes as­sem­blages as well as book art, in­vest­ing her works with a sense of the an­tique. For ex­am­ple, her as­sem­blage piece Birds and Beast is made from an old suit­case af­fixed on the in­te­rior and ex­te­rior with found ob­jects, such as china dolls, toys, ver­nac­u­lar pho­to­graphs, and an old groom­ing kit; the en­tire piece looks like some­thing you might find stashed in an at­tic, like a chest full of old mem­o­ries.

The Alchemy of De­cay, an artist-cu­rated show, was the brain­child of Pierce and Cham­bers, who in­vited the other artists to par­tic­i­pate. The works in­cluded speak to one an­other and work well to­gether over­all, seem­ing like com­po­nents of a sin­gle, large-scale in­stal­la­tion. None of the artists take the theme too lit­er­ally, var­i­ously in­ter­pret­ing art as alchemy in ways that are per­ti­nent to their in­di­vid­ual vi­sions and prac­tice. — Michael Abatemarco

Amy Par­rish: Laun­dry Day - Yel­low Top, 2014, re­lief print on cot­ton pa­per, ink, thread, silk, vin­tage wood iron­ing board; op­po­site page, top right, Ann Laser: Con­tent­ment I, 2016, mixed­me­dia paint­ing with teabags; left, Bill Skrips: Splint, 2016, found wood, milk paint, tin, cloth, wire, mis­cel­la­neous

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