INSTALLING CURRENTS NEW MEDIA
he super-inventive and often kinetically lively artworks presented in the annual Currents New Media festival dazzled more than 7,000 attendees last year and promises to at least match that number during its 2017 run. The very first new-media exhibition in Santa Fe was launched by the nonprofit Parallel Studios in 2002. Featuring work by people who use the latest technology in their art, it evolved into the Currents New Media event, which premiered in 2010. This is the eighth year the festival has been staged at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe. The main room at El Museo measures about 12,000 square feet, and there are several other exhibit spaces in the Railyard building (plus a handful of other exhibitions and events staged outside and in partner venues). How do curators Mariannah Amster and Frank Ragano prepare the spaces for such a variety of presentations by over 100 artists? They work from a floor plan.
Standing in the southeast corner of the large room, Amster said, “We do spaces here for people who really need to be isolated. For example, this is for Nadav Assor’s piece (Titchener’s Cage/Out of Body Experience Machine #2), which is a virtual-reality piece. Normally for VR pieces you’re in a headset and you don’t need to be isolated. But he is actually recording the participant, and the participant becomes part of the space, so he needs bright lights. And Dave Ryan, Mika Negishi Laidlaw, and Steve Ryan [Epidemagogue] need their projector hung at least 10 feet above the floor. We put it on the building wall along here, because the temporary walls we put up are only eight feet tall.”
Ragano said they planned to install at least a dozen projectors and 22 flat-panel TVs. “Sometimes hanging projectors is easy, but for David and Cory [Vesica Pisces by David Stout, Cory Metcalf, Reilly Donovan, and NoiseFold], we have to hang four, and they have to be just right. They’re hung on poles from the ceiling, and they’re stabilized by guy wires. For Joerg [oK.v005_becoming by Joerg Staeger], the projection is also really tricky. Tim Jag, who has been our main preparator for years, takes the lead on that work.”
Even the weather can pose challenges. German artist Verena Friedrich was worried about how her piece, The Long Now (featuring a special bubble-making machine) will function in Santa Fe’s low humidity. “Her package got held up in the Netherlands,” Amster
said, “and it was supposed to be here today [May 30]. And we have the cost of shipping from Germany, and flying her from Québec City, where she’s in a residency. This is just an example of some of the risks we take. In the past, we had one piece that broke the night before the opening, and they had to overnight it from Colorado. Tech is tricky that way. That’s one of the things about Currents, that it allows artists to see their works running for a fairly long period of time and make adjustments. Like the piece by Issey Takahashi and Akahito Ito [2016’s SyncDon II, which involved communication through synchronized heartbeats] that was so beautiful, but it was such a headache.” Takahashi and Eiko Wada have a related piece this year, SYNCROP, in which two people look into the ends of a long box and hold heart-monitoring handles. If both of the participants’ hearts beat at the same moment, both panels go transparent and they can see each other.
Projectors and an assortment of curtains were to be hung from the ceiling with the arrival of three rented scissor lifts on June 2. “The nice thing about it is that the beams up there are all C-channels, and we can clamp things to them really easily,” Ragano said. The installers must use Masonite under the lifts to protect the carpet, which barely looks worth saving. “This place is great with the lights off,” he said. “One of the reasons we love El Museo is that it’s not pristine. If we need to screw a hole in the wall, we just do it, then we patch it when we’re closing down.” Amster added, “De-install can be long and tedious, because we’re sorting everything and patching and we’re exhausted.”
The two begin working on the next festival every July, not long after catching their breaths from the de-install. Their division of labor is “pretty smushy,” they said. They curate together — Amster is in charge of show design, and Ragano functions as project manager. Another realm on which they collaborate is sound. In general, if an artist’s piece produces sound that is too intense for the space, it needs to go on headphones. “We use infrared headphones, which are wireless, and they only have a range of about 25 feet, so you can isolate the pieces,” Ragano said. “You can put on headphones and move from piece to piece. You can’t have the speakers’ ‘output cones’ crossing because it makes a weird sound.”
One of Amster’s floor plans shows all the cones, so they can install the various pieces to avoid overlaps. “Some artists insist, or try to insist, that their sound should be ambient, so we listen, and then we have to make a decision about how the whole room sounds and whether we have to put our foot down,” she said. “Joerg’s is very minimal and quite beautiful, so he’s going to be live in this space,” Ragano said. But the curators were still debating the issue with Liu Chang and Miao Jing, because they want live sound for their collaborative piece with musician Jason Hou, Transition. “When they get here we’re going to test it,” Amster said.
The goal was to do a rehearsal, with all the Currents works activated, the night before the opening — which is cutting it close. There are fewer worries about the pieces that are being staged outside during the opening weekend. The area between El Museo and the railroad tracks will hold the Burnish performance piece by Erika Batdorf and Mark-David Hosale as well as the Quasar Pavilion, a series of small concerts and video performances curated by Dwight Loop. “We were going to put up tents so people could mingle and take their drinks outside, but the city wants us to put up a 6-foot chain-link fence, so we’re not going to do that,” Amster said.
Loop is one of the participants who is based in Santa Fe. “There are some local people who have worked with us since the beginning, like David Stout and Bob Campbell, and they generally produce very beautiful work. And Susanna Carlisle and Bruce Hamilton, they’re the kind of foundation people. If they want to be in the show, we generally look very seriously at their work.” She added that Steina and Woody Vasulka “were really responsible for the newmedia arts community in Santa Fe, so we do honor them when they want to be honored. This year we have The Art of Woody Vasulka in a little iPad gallery by Orlando Leibovitz. And the Thoma Foundation bought a piece of Steina’s, Violin Power, 1970-1978, and that’s going to be at the Art House [231 Delgado St.] during the run.”
This year, Currents should have reliable internet speeds. “Luckily, just recently they got fiber optics in here, so we’re all set up,” Ragano said. “Before, we had to bring in a temporary wireless device on the roof and Cybermesa would Wi-Fi internet from REI, which has fiber. It was a little erratic. I had asked for a hundred megabytes down [download speed], but it would range from 30 to 50 or so. But most people’s
pieces don’t need the internet. What a lot need it for is that if they’re not on-site, they can remotely watch over their pieces, and if someone has a glitch, he or she can log in and fix it. What we also have here are beacons for every art piece that react with our app, which you can download for free, and when you get near the beacon, it automatically pops open on your phone and gives you a lot of information about the piece and the artist.” The app is available to download on iPhone and Android. Just search for Currents New Media.
David Stout, Cory Metcalf, Reilly Donovan: Vesica Pisces, 2017, film still, hybrid virtual-reality video installation