SITE Santa Fe continues to open the minds and the eyes of the City Different with its new exhibition, “One on One,” which runs through May 9 of this year. A suite of works by five artists, this expansive show utilizes a diversity of applications, with 21st century media such as installation, video, and photography, as well as the more ancient arts of drawing and painting. Each of these works endeavor to draw the viewer into a profound examination of the relationships between artist, subject and viewer.
Artist Terry Allen is familiar to Santa Feans, having breezed in and out of our city over his forty-year career. His broad reach as a visual artist is enriched by his parallel adventures as a musician and playwright. In this exhibition, he is represented by his work, Ghost Ship Rodez, a multi-media assemblage inspired by an episode in the life of French writer and artist, Antonin Artaud. Allen’s exploration of this visionary personality is based on his belief that Artaud embodied three characteristics Allen considers to be evident in all artists: innocence, rule-breaking and insanity. What a triad! Over the course of his life, Artaud suffered repeated psychological crises resulting in institutionalization, furthering the deterioration of his mental health. At one point, he was chained to a cot in the hold of the ship Washington on a journey back to Rodez, the French mental institution, hence the title of Allen’s work. A macabre and unsettling vision of mental precariousness, this massive multi-media installation invites the viewer to explore the desperation that accompanies the flash of creativity in the production of meaningful art. In addition, Allen presents a suite of works on paper entitled The Momo Chronicles, which is a reverie on Artaud, who referred to himself as Le Momo (the Fool) and his 1936 journey to Mexico to partake in a Tarahumara Indian ceremony. Allen’s work reveals his interest in the way that narrative can be constructed from fragments of memory and artistic vision. He puts it into words by saying of Artaud that no other artist has “ever taken the terrible desperation of their life and created a body of work as profoundly productive from that turmoil.” This work inspires one to head straight for the library or the internet to further study this fascinating character and his work. From desperation and turmoil to artistic productivity – isn’t that a wonderful goal for any artist? Certainly better than just desperate turmoil alone, and particularly if Allen’s thesis about the three characteristics of all artists is true!
Hasan Elahi is represented by a work generated by a 2002 incident in which he was detained at an airport in Detroit and subsequently became the subject of an FBI investigation after a false accusation of involvement in the 9/11 acts of terrorism. As an artist with an international career, Elahi’s life was naturally marked by extensive travel to a variety of locales around the globe. This ordeal provoked the work on display, Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project. Elahi has used technology to track his physical presence in even the most mundane of situations, resulting in an integrative installation utilizing video and still photography to demonstrate his interest in surveillance, borders and geopolitical conditions. Both real-time and historical moments in his life are on display, representing an accumulation of details that compel the viewer to examine how one’s own life might be displayed by means of the same methodology. Additional works investigate similar issues, such as Flow Wet Feet (Dry Feet), a 1999-2006 multichannel video installation screening footage of an incident involving the U.S. Coast Guard and a group of Cubans attempting to cross over.
The husband and wife creative team of McCallum and Tarry have involved themselves with issues of social justice since 1998, frequently using themselves as the subjects of their work. With a focus on the individual, they aim to create work that highlights the personal in the midst of the universal, with respect to important issues such as civil disobedience, war and homelessness. In this exhibition, SITE is showing three intimate poetic video works from 2006 and 2007. Their piece, Topsy-Turvy, originally created in 2006, is a multi-media presentation that explores the “topsy-turvy” dolls of early 19th and 20th century America. These dual-headed dolls frequently featured both a black and a white girl joined at the waist, with a skirt that alternately concealed one of the two identities. In addition to sculptural and historical items, the video component of the work features McCallum and Tarry engaged in the act of the flipping. The work in its entirety explores the complex legacy of race relations in the U.S., of particular interest to these artists as an interracial couple. Their work Cut (2006) is a video piece that accompanies photographs of the two artists and was influenced by photos of Nazi collaborators in post-WW2 France.Based on the emblem of shorn hair as an undeniably public signal, this work encompasses notions of guilt, submission, compliance and control.
In the third piece, Exchange (2007), dressed in matching outfits, the pair performs a mutual blood transfusion, possibly an examination of the intimate bond existing between couples. All the work of this creative duo queries the nature of relationships between people juxtaposed with their relationships to the world, a question always worth asking.
Los Angeles-based artist Kaari Upson has been at work for a number of years on The Larry Project, a multi-disciplinary investigation based on a person from her neighborhood whom she had never met. When a fire destroyed the house in which this stranger, Larry, once lived, Upson received access to some of his personal effects. Having heard stories of this enigmatic figure from family members and friends, she embarked on a quest to discover more about his history. The work explores the ways in which we get to know someone, from something as straight-forward as reading a person’s diary to the more decidedly new age method of commissioning an astrology chart.
Portions of the project on display include Chapter One, the get-to-know-him phase of Upson’s intial involvement with Larry, full of drawings and meditations. In addition to the works on paper, Upson also created a life-size “Larry” doll and then had the doll figure prominently in a series of videos in which her performing persona explores the development of this unusual relationship. Chapter Two is a video and sculpture installation called The Grotto, invoking Playboy kingpin Hugh Hefner’s grotto, which came to the fore when Upson discovered that Larry had spent time at the Hefner mansion. With eerie sotto-voce vocalizations and mirror placements, the work travels through the unconscious of the artist and her subject. The final visitation, Chapter Three, examines the fire that brought Upson into Larry’s life and then allows her to leave him behind after an exhaustive exploration. This installation really makes one wonder what a stranger would make of one’s own life! Scary…but intriguing!
Taken as a whole, this show brings into sharp focus ideas of the world both close and far, the nature of relationships both personal and universal. Once again, SITE Santa Fe offers the Santa Fe gallery visitor the opportunity to be challenged by questions of self and other, with works that could only be displayed and enjoyed in this valued and valuable institution.