LOOKING FOR A PLACE
Curated by Rosa Martinez
SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico
3rd International Biennial
July 10 - December 31, 1999
Partial Review and Commentary by bob schweitzer
"Looking for a Place, " curated by Rosa Martinez, is
SITE Santa Fe's third international biennial. Before discussing
this particualar exhibition I would like to comment on the emergence
of art biennials in "the periphery," and the attempt
to place Santa Fe into this discourse.
During numerous interviews with Rosa Martinez leading up to the
opening of "Looking for a Place," as well as during
the panel discussion (1) which took place during the opening weekend
of the exhibition, reference had been made to the significance
and meaning of biennials now taking place in such areas as Havana,
Istanbul and Johannesburg in a manner that would include SITE
Santa Fe in this discourse. This attempted association is on the
surface ludicrous and more fundamentally represents a profound
disservice to the intent of the other biennials mentioned. The
only possible ways in which these four biennials may be considered
"similar" is that they tend to include a number of the
same artists (in part due to the occasional shared curators, for
instance, Martinez was the curator for the biennial in Istanbul
two years ago), and that they do not approach biennials using
a format of profiling "national exhibitions" which has
been the tradition for the long established biennials, such as
Venice, and even Sao Paulo. Other than this, the social, political,
and cultural dynamics of Santa Fe and the origins of SITE Santa
Fe have very little to do with Havana, Istanbul or Johannesburg.
Santa Fe is a very rich city with a great deal of new money accompanying
those who have recently moved into the surrounding countryside,
mostly arriving from the West coast (especially California). SITE
Santa Fe clearly did not emerge from the reality of strong and
long standing ethnic tensions, nor from the indigenous communities,
or latino communities. SITE Santa Fe and it's biennials in particular
are more the result of money attempting to draw attention to itself,
albeit, in a most magnificent physical setting - the city of Santa
Santa Fe, attempting to assert itself as an emerging arts center,
does not in any significant or meaningful way expand the dialogue
regarding the dominance and power associated with the metropolitan
centers of NYC or Paris.
"Looking for a Place" is essentially a "portable
biennial," it could just as easily have taken place in Denver
or Des Moines. It's "meaning" would not be noticeably
different, enlarged, or raise additional significant issues in
either location, in contrast to the very nature of "place,"
and the critical issues raised through the biennials in Havana,
Istanbul or Johannesburg. [I expect to cover this issue further
in a future essay.]
Having said this I would like now to consider the merits of "Looking
for a Place" more as a straight forward exhibition and less
as a biennial.
The thematic rational for this exhibition is intended to be considered
and experienced in a very broad sense, seeking to expand our relationship
to the idea of "place." Given the curator's selection
of the artists and the works presented, the exhibition clearly
has positioned itself in an open field of interpretation. Works
by Shirin Neshart, Gabriel Orozco, Charlene Teters, Zwelethu Mthethwa
and Greenpeace may be the most accessible for the visitor in terms
of a more conventional notion of place recognized through referential
images or objects, while the works by artists such as Lygia Clark,
Carsten Holler, and Janine Antoni may prove to be more challenging
Shirin Neshart's film, which had been exhibited in NYC at D'Amelio
Terras Gallery in Chelsea just prior to the opening of "Looking...
," is an emotionally charged, and riveting visual examination
of issues pertaining to gender, ritual and everyday life in a
Moslem "place." The broad sweep of the camera over the
landscape is drawn back to the faces of the men and women who
appear on separate screens, face to face... we must move in the
mid-ground between the two, choosing back and forth between the
images in our view, and our stance - physical and other.
Gabriel Orozco's film recounts the camera's eye as it moves in
a somewhat random path through Amsterdam, staying with the passing
of one leaf as it floats through the air, the motion of the water
in the canals, the constant shifting of scenes, individuals passing
by, each frame "taking note," recording as a document
the mundane... in some measure seeming to besto it with a sense
of purpose or significance.
Charlene Teter's obelisk memorial in front of the State Building
makes direct reference to the monument in the Plaza in Santa Fe
where the word "savage" has been recently removed from
the inscription which formerly read: to "the heroes who died
in various battles with savage Indians." Her work takes the
idea of "heroes" and places it closer to the experience
of the oppressed and the "everyperson."
Another work installed in the museum*, "Picnic: The Golden
Age with Mosquitoes" by Sergio Vega, builds on historic accounts
of contact with the unfamiliar, imagined existences, and actual
memory of a place to produce a work which is both outwardly compelling
and personal, a work which at the same time enables the visitor
entrance on their own terms. The diorama component to this this
work incorporates numerous art references which on one hand provides
a moment of humor, while at the same time reveals the long standing
notion (or image, as in imagination) of "the other"
or the "exotic" in western culture and life.
The work of Francisco Ruiz de Infante, within the bowels of SITE
Santa Fe, brings us in direct contact with the physical reality
of the structure in which most of the works were exhibited, it's
"breathing" air ducts and it's frame; while the work
by Carl Michael von Hausswolff uses audio communication devices
to bring the sound of one specific place outside the museum into
a small back gallery (hallway) within the museum. Both works clearly
play off a very Cagian concept of experience and place.
Along with additional installations by Louise Bourgeois, Pipilotti
Rist, and Mona Hatoum, familiar artists to the international art
scene, was an installation by Tania Bruguera, a young Cuban artist.
Tania also presented a performance piece during the opening weekend.
In the very dim lit gallery space, Tania moved in a slow, repetitive,
ritualistic manner, to rub animal fat between her hands and over
her body. [I will be writing a more extended essay on Tania's
work in the near future. I have know Tania for a number of years,
first meeting her when she was a art student in Havana in 1989,
during the 3rd Havana Bienal.]
Rosa Martinez stated from the outset that she wanted to extend
the experience and presence of works beyond the confines of the
museum during this biennial. Works were scheduled for installation
at a number of "off-sites," including the Santa Fe Budget
Inn, the Railway Station, the State Capitol Building (mentioned
above), a municipal parking garage, the Los Alamos Airport, billboards
along Interstate-25, Our Lady of Guadalupe Cemetery and the San
Ildefonso Pueblo. Certain works had a very short existence, such
as the installation by Yolanda Gutierrez at San Ildefonso Pueblo
(lasting about one day), and the "light" work by Carl
Michael von Hausswolff, which was to take place evenings in the
Cemetery was also called into question by the church. While the
work by Charlene Teters mentioned above and the installation by
Dr. Galentin Gatev in the Sandoval Municipal Parking Garage were
very "present" and effective.
It is interesting to note that Rosa Martinez seemed to make much
of the "newness" to the concept of the off-site installations
- clearly there is little new here, though they were certainly
a significant component of the overall exhibition. (Since the
exhibition space within SITE Santa Fe is quite limited, the installation
of works at off-site locations was also a practical response to
(1) Panel discussion "Who's Afraid of Biennials?"
took place on Sunday, July 11th, and was open to the public. Participants
included Rosa Martinez, Okwui Enwezor (Artistic Director, Documenta
XI) and Harald Szeeman (Artistic Director, 48th Venice Biennale).
* SITE Santa Fe is essentially an exhibition space and not a traditional
museum with a permanent collection, hence the use of the term
museum is somewhat problematic.
A PLACE (SITE Santa Fe Homepage)