Pushing Boundaries: SITE Santa Fe’s Reimagined Biennial Features Caribbean Artists

Detail of Miler Lagos's "The Great Tree," made of newsprint and steel, at SITE Santa Fe
Detail of Miler Lagos’s “The Great Tree,” made of newsprint and steel, at SITE Santa Fe

This review by Sarah P. Hanson appeared in Blouin Art Info.

Those paying attention to the international biennial circuit for the past few years will have taken note of the absence of one in Santa Fe, where one of the first in North America was founded in 1995 at the kunsthalle known as SITE Santa Fe. Since arriving from the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore as SITE’s Phillips director and chief curator in 2010, Irene Hofmann has set out to reform the increasingly stale and predictable biennial format with a team of a dozen curators and advisors hailing from the Yukon to Argentina.

The new exhibition series “SITElines” is an ambitious reimagining that aims to crack open the rich field of contemporary art loosely inspired by the geography — physical, political, and social — of the Americas. The first installment, “Unsettled Landscapes,” opens to the public on July 20 and is on view through January 11. Curated by the Mexico City-based Lucia Sanromán; Candice Hopkins, of Albuquerque; and SITE’s own Janet Dees and Hofmann, the 60-some works represent an array of approaches as wide as the 33,000-mile territory.

One of the largest works in the show is “The Great Tree,” 2014, a 14-foot-tall sculpture carved from four tons of stacked newspapers by the Colombian-born Miler Lagos. Noting that the ceiba tree is considered mystical by several native cultures in Latin and South America, he said, “I liked the idea of how people in the Amazon would ask for permission to approach the tree and gain its knowledge. I wanted to connect print media with the material that supports its information.” The ceiba also appears in a piece by Johanna Calle, “Perímetros (Ceiba),” a new typewriter drawing on property ledger sheets that employs text of a 2011 agrarian reform law that attempts to restitute land to victims of displacement.

Ideas of mapping and bearing witness also come to the fore in works by Marcos Ramírez Erre and David Taylor, who are planting markers along the Mexico-US border as defined in 1821, the year the country gained independence from Spain, and in a video piece by Andrea Bowers, “The United States vs. Tim DeChristopher,” 2010. In the latter, the environmental activist explains how he was tried and imprisoned for buying public land in Utah put up for oil and gas rights in an auction he never intended to pay for, and the artist presents the parcels on which he bid.

Natural resources are at issue in Inigo Manglano-Ovalle’s “Well 35° 58’ 16”N 106° 5’ 21”W,” 2014, which plants a pump on the Santa Clara Pueblo and raises thorny questions of water rights in the desert. Luis Camnitzer’s “Amanaplanacanalpanama,” 1995, documents the US’s tangled involvement in building the Panama Canal.

Barbed humor enters with the Canadian First Nations artist Kent Monkman’s “Bête Noire,” 2014, a natural-history style diorama featuring his drag alter ego, Miss Chief, who slays Picasso’s bull with a pink arrow from her own loyal steed: an Indian motorcycle. Another Canadian artist, Charles Stankievech, offers the eerie and riveting film “The Soniferous Aether of the Land Beyond the Land Beyond,” 2012, made at Alert Signals Intelligence Station, the northernmost continuously habited settlement on earth. It has a correspondence with post-apocalyptically tinged photographs by Patrick Nagatani, addressing the environmental impact of New Mexico’s energy industry.

Some of the Caribbean artists in the show seek to upend facile assumptions of island paradise by exposing the effects of colonization and tourism. Deborah Jack’s “Bounty,” 2006, a grid of 30 light boxes showing slides of St. Maarten’s Great Salt Pond, the reason the island was colonized by the Dutch. Blue Curry’s “S.S.s,” 2014, erects a live video feed of the Nassau port, where as many as six hulking cruise ships dock each day, disgorging tourists before whisking them away. “I always saw the continued change in the port as a kind of sculpture,” Curry said. “Here, I am appropriating the ships and changing the port into an installation.” Special flags made of beach towels — as Curry noted, a “tool of conquest” in their own right — will be run up outside SITE to announce each ship’s arrival in a reprisal of former island custom. “Tourism limits a local culture from developing because we’re always performing,” he added — a parallel to Santa Fe’s own adobe-fied landscape.

To view highlights from the SITE Santa Fe Biennial, click here.

For the original report go to http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1046638/pushing-boundaries-site-santa-fes-reimagined-biennial

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