That’s Where You Need to Be showcases the perceptions of four artists, each using their craft to challenge conventional standards. William Betts uses software and a robotic setup to re-create photographs one drop of color at a time.
The result is a blurry, low-res image that is indecipherable up close, but from a distance his subject becomes clear — a technique Betts employs to manipulate the connections between painter, viewer and image.
Maria Park wants to examine how technology changes the way we look at the world. Using large walls and plexiglass cubes of her own devising, Parks adds thick layers of color to paint blocky suburban landscapes and scenic environments, challenging our everyday perception of beauty.
Using light and reflection, Xuan Chen conceives simple forms on her computer and then deconstructs her images in a way that exaggerates their irregularities.
Lastly, Willy Bo Richardson wants his viewers to consider the laws of nature while looking at his pieces. He uses an array of vertical streaks in expressive colors, each in its rightful space. His pieces are often large, colorful and abstract, embodying space and action and with a unique atmosphere all their own.
By Elisa McGovern V.23 No.32 | August 7 – 13, 2014
Be here now
That’s Where You Need to Be 16, oil on canvas
How ever you like to beat the summer heat, Richard Levy Gallery’s (514 Central SW) latest group show, That’s Where You Need to Be, is right there with you. From the cool splash of William Betts’ neo-pointillist beach and water scenes to Maria Park’s lush deep forests painted on Plexiglas cubes, the outdoors looks better from a distance. Up close, Betts’ digitally precise dots and Park’s thick mash of earth tones form little more than a jumble of pretty colors.
Meanwhile, Willy Bo Richardson’s large-scale vertical bands of warm blues and oranges blend into one another, much like the summer sky at dusk, pulling you into the night after staying in the air conditioned house all day. Go all the way to the back room to see Albuquerque-based Xuan Chen’s iPad-sized aluminum screens floating in front of the wall. They bend, and cut-outs open wide, leaving shadows and brilliant rays of color that transverse the geometric angles, suggesting it might be better to stay inside and play on your computer during the day. Come in and cool off through Sept. 19, Tuesday through Saturday from 11am to 4pm. For more, see levygallery.com or call 766-9888.
Opening Reception: Friday, August 1, 2014, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Agroup exhibition of paintings by William Betts, Xuan Chen, Maria Park and Willy Bo Richardson. These artists expand the conventions of painting by executing their own unique styles and methods of application.
William Betts explores the possibilities of a digital age by using innovative techniques that include the use of proprietary software and a self-designed complex robotic system. This technology applies drops of paint to the canvas one color at a time – one drop at a time. Up close the images are lost in pointillist fields of color. From afar, the paintings become photographic images of leisure, showing anonymous people floating in sparkling blue pools and summery days at the beach. William Betts currently lives and works in Miami.
Xuan Chen creates simple forms on her computer, which she deconstructs to exaggerate anomalies that occur when generating digital images. These digital compositions are hand painted onto cut-out aluminum panels that float off the wall. Complex visual spaces are formed by color, light, dimension and reflection. Chen’s recent awards include 1st prize for the Miami University Young Painters Competition and for the Contemporary Art Society of New Mexico. Originally from Qingyang, China, the artist currently lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Maria Park examines ways that technology intervenes in our perception of and participation in the world. These works, from her Counter Nature series, address the packaging of nature as a consumable image. Her sculptural plexiglas cubes and wall paintings are executed with a rigorous impasto technique, with scenic environments shaped by generous layers of paint contained in stencil-like forms. Born in Munich, Germany, Maria Park now resides in Ithaca, NY and teaches at Cornell University.
Willy Bo Richardson considers the laws of nature as a primary source for his paintings. Vertical lines of expressive layers of color reach for the ground giving evidence to earth’s gravitational pull. Richardson’s gestural large scale paintings embody atmosphere, space, and action. He works within limitations of cause and effect exploring abstract levels of thinking. The artist lives in in Santa Fe, New Mexico and teaches studio art at Santa Fe University of Art and Design. Richardson has shown extensively throughout the United States.
Public Art | Bert Benally and Ai Weiwei: Part II – The Performance of Pull of the Moon
This the second part of a report on the collaboration between Navajo artist Bert Benally and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei as part of TIME (Temporary Installations Made for the Environment), a program of New Mexico Arts. You can read part one here. In this case the performance on the night of June 28, 2014 was not the public part of the event. It was witnessed by a small group that included CFile Chief Editor Garth Clark. The public program includes an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (Santa Fe, July 16-October 15, 2014) of the 3D modeling digital landscape created by xRez Studio of Pull of the Moon, which shows a fly-over view of Coyote Canyon featuring Benally and Ai’s art installations. Also, there was a showing of a film produced by xRez (nothing to with reservations) in a 50-foot diameter dome screen at Museum Hill in Santa Fe on July 18th and the 19th. You can read the interview with Ai Weiwei and Garth Clark about the performance here.
Among the first of many transcendent moments during Ai Wewei and Bert Benally’s performance (June 28 2014, Coyote Canyon, Navajo Nation) Pull of the Moon was when the cliff edge on which I was seated seemed to lift and gently float forward. Seeing as I and several others of the 30 or so witnesses to the performance were seated a couple of feet from a sheer 40 to 50 foot drop, the feeling was initially disconcerting and I saw some, alarmed, scoot back from the edge.
Of course nothing actually moved. It was an optical illusion caused by the growing darkness that merged between the cliff top and the canyon floor. However, the sense of suspension, of floating while viewing Ai and Benally’s sand drawings below, never quite left me.
The sand drawings by the two artists were related, but were not an actual collaboration. Ai’s was a mandala of interlocking bicycles. It was drawn with crushed white porcelain from Ai’s studio (from recent work but not ancient shards) atop a circle of black sand found in another part of the canyon and trucked to the site. It was executed with perfect precision by Benally and staff of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock and until the sunset faded the porcelain glowed as though it was neon. (To read about Ai’s thinking behind this piece read his interview with Garth Clark here.)
Benally’s drawing was simply gouged into the sand itself and then detailed with wood and sticks. He decided to include some points of connection to both Ai’s career and drawing. He viewed the symbolism of the interlocking bicycles (from Ai’s Forever series, named after the leading Chinese bike manufacturer) as the industrial machine that powered China with the energy coming from those who pedaled. And that caused him to wonder what machine represented his own people’s labor. He came up with something more benign, weaving and silversmithing, (the Navajo Nation has no manufacturing industry to speak of) and so patterns and symbols from those crafts were laid out inside the drawing with sticks.
A few minutes before the sun dropped below the Western rim of the Canyon, Benally began his performance. The moon was nearly dark, just a pencil-thin crescent of light showing. Away from any light pollution the setting was powerful; the velvet black bowl of sky shimmered with stars, the most dazzling display I have ever seen (even in my years in Africa). The night was still, virtually no breeze, and silent. As if on cue, insect, bird and animal noises abruptly turned off.
In the middle of Benally’s drawing was an enormous pot made of woven rushes from the canyon and plastered with clay. Symbolically, it stood as the container of all the depressing and erroneous stereotypes about the Navajo that Benally had encountered in his travels. Fire began rising out of this giant pot, slowly at first, just an interior glimmer and then it quickly flared, high to sky like a beacon burning with extraordinary intensity.
The pot soon began to sag and crater inwards and as it did two things happened. A metal sculpture of a corn stalk was revealed, standing for the true Navajo identity with, cleverly and subtly, the ears of corn made from coiled bicycle chains. Second, the fire now began to spread at ground level into the four quadrants of the drawing, heading toward a pyre at each compass point, which burst into flame. As flames traveled across the stick patterns, weaving and silver stamp marks came to life in the low-flickering firelight.
Given the drama of Benally’s performance (music was a part as well but I will speak about that in a moment) I worried about Ai’s drawing. Would it just lie there inert, motionless and passive? The fire took care of that. At the beginning when the flames were high, Ai’s drawing was pulled in by the light and became a witness- a voyeur almost- to what was happening alongside. Stylistically it was an alien counterpoint, so absolutely precise and mechanical adjoining Benally’s more organic expression, two worlds but one light.
As the pot burned down, the angle of light striking Ai’s drawing began to fade and then something remarkable and serendipitous happened. The porcelain sand used to draw the bicycles was in relief, about three inches higher than the ground. It was also shaped into a triangle, flat on each side and sharply peaking in the middle. It looked like a prism and responded to the fire.
At this point the drawing began to lose structure and cohesion as light came from different directions, flared and fell. Soon the drawing appeared to be warping, twisting. It lost its bicycle imagery. Indeed, toward the end what it most closely resembled was the randomly scattered remains of a giant skeleton. (I kept that observation to myself that night; the Navajo have an aversion to death and death symbols.)
The masterful music by Benally wrapped everything in sound. It covered everything like a blanket. The observers, the performance on the canyon floor, the canyon itself, and the sky were all gathered into an intimate embrace. The artist wove a soundscape drawn from different indigenous music sources across the world. It issued forth from the canyon wall opposite us and the acoustics were perfect. Every tremble, murmur and note was clear.
Often heavy on pulsing bass, the music moved through chant into feral sounds and melodic surges. The transitions were slow, carefully metered and blended so that one was never aware of a shift in sound until one was already into the next movement. One’s ear became the mediator between eye and mind and then the music ended, slowly fading in volume. I was left in absolute pregnant silence, floating on my rock in nature’s cathedral, breathless.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile. He is reporting from The Penland School of Crafts, high in the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina until July 30 as the 2014 recipient of the Andrew Glasgow Writer in Residence Fellowship, an honor he is thrilled to receive.
Featured image: Ai Weiwei’s bicycle mandala lit by the fires of Bert Benally’s installation during the Pull of the Moon performance.
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Public Art | Bert Benally and Ai Weiwei: Part I – Shí kéyah (My country)
This the first part of a report on the collaboration between Navajo artist Bert Benally and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei as part of TIME (Temporary Installations Made for the Environment), a program of New Mexico Arts. You can read part two here. In this case the performance on the night of June 28, 2014 was not the public part of the event. It was witnessed by a small group that included CFile Chief Editor Garth Clark. The public program is an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (Santa Fe, July 16-October 15, 2014) of the 3D modeled digital landscape created by xRez Studio of Pull of the Moon, which shows a fly-over view of Coyote Canyon featuring Benally and Ai’s art installations. Also, there was the showing of a film produced by xRez (nothing to with reservations) in a 50-foot diameter dome screen at Museum Hill in Santa Fe on July 18th and the 19th. You can read the interview with Ai Weiwei and Garth Clark here.
What follows is a description of the project from Bert Benally:
The total area of the piece is 40 feet in diameter, with a centerpiece that is 15 feet high with a 6-foot diameter. The centerpiece is a Navajo-style utilitarian clay pot, that was plastered onto a wooden frame weaved from saplings. A corn sculpture welded from metal and bicycle parts was placed inside the pot and was revealed when the clay pot burned and crumbled.
The area surrounding the clay pot was divided into four quadrants in correlation with the four directions. There were two lines separating the four quadrants, made from painted 4-inch PVC pipe cut in half and filled with water. The four quadrants have images made from lines which are on fire. On the outside perimeter of the circle there are four smaller circles, each with a fire in the middle and a design made with shadows.
The pot that burns and crumbles follows the lead of Ai Weiwei’s artistic protest of breaking historically significant pots in his own country. In this instance, the pot represents the general stereotypes and misunderstandings of the outside world’s view of the Navajo people. The pot crumbling and revealing the corn sculpture is the breaking down of those views and showing the world the beauty of the Navajo philosophy, culture, language and people.
The corn sculpture, which remains after the pot has burned down and crumbled away, symbolizes the Navajo both culturally and spiritually. The colored lines made from PVC pipe filled with water represent rainbows. They are painted red and blue. For Navajos rainbows represent protection and also beauty.
Again using Ai Weiwei’s image as a source, four images were developed using what I see as his idea of people as industry. In this piece the industry was a traditional one, the industry of rug weaving and silver-smithing. Using the Navajo philosophy of the four directions, images were developed for the quadrants and for the outlying circles. Two of the quadrants have designs that came from rug-weaving traditions and the circles on the perimeter came from silver-smithing stamps. In the quadrants, the east has a rug design that came from the eyedazzler era and it has a complex, geometric pattern. The south quadrant had a bear and a mountain, images which were derived from the stories told to me by the local residents about the origin of their clan, “Tsinajinnie.” The west had another rug design from chief blankets. The last quadrant, the north, had another design derived from the origin stories of the “Tsinajinnie Clan;” it was of a thick forest. The four circles on the outer perimeter had shadow designs of old silversmithing stamps, of the early days of silver work by the Navajo.
All the materials used for the artwork were collected right from the canyon. Particular attention was paid to artistic traditions of the Navajo as well, such as sand painting, weaving, silver smithing and clay pottery. Each tradition was reinterpreted and used in a more contemporary fashion. The piece was made with a Navajo audience in mind and contained many elements that were only perceivable by a person with knowledge of Navajo history and culture. The piece was accompanied by a collage of sound made from samples and loops of indigenous cultures from throughout the world mixed with traditional sounds and music of the Navajo.
Bert Benally is an art teacher, installation, sound and music artist living in the Navajo Nation.
Featured image: Bert Benally, Pull of the Moon, 2014. Part of the Pull of the Moon performance with Ai Weiwei.
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SITElines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas is a six-year commitment to a series of linked exhibitions with a focus on contemporary art and cultural production of the Americas. The exhibitions will take place in 2014, 2016, and 2018 and will be organized by a different team of curators, from locations throughout the Western Hemisphere. Through SITElines, SITE will establish a new programming hub called SITEcenter to generate connectivity between and during the exhibitions.
SITElinessignifies a radical rethinking of SITE Santa Fe’s signature biennial exhibition, originally established in 1995. It represents a collaborative structure for planning its biennials, a vision for continuity between biennials, a commitment to community and place, and a dedication to new and underrecognized perspectives. This new multidimensional approach—together with a strong geographic focus—redefines SITE’s role at the forefront of biennial exhibition making and proposes new curatorial frameworks for biennials globally.
Unsettled Landscapes will look at the urgencies, political conditions and historical narratives that inform the work of contemporary artists across the Americas – from Nunavut to Tierra del Fuego. Through three themes – landscape, territory, and trade – this exhibition expresses the interconnections among representations of the land, movement across the land, and economies and resources derived from the land.
“With Unsettled Landscapes, we build connections from Santa Fe to the rest of the Americas, we explore untold stories and perspectives, and we link between our past and our present,” said Irene Hofmann, Phillips Director and Chief Curator of SITE Santa Fe. “First Native American land, then a Spanish Kingdom, a Mexican Province, and an American Territory, all before statehood, New Mexico is a rich microcosm of the Americas. We are proud of the selection of artists participating in Unsettled Landscapes. These artists represent multiple generations and regions throughout the Western Hemisphere. Our show includes important new and existing works, 13 new commissions and several offsite installations. In addition, we have also included key works of art from previous decades that further expand the ideas of the show. Our aim was to curate a dynamic exhibition that shows how themes of landscape, territory and trade weave throughout the work of artists from every corner of the Americas.”
SITELINES 2014 TEAM
Candice Hopkins, Curator (b. Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada; lives in Albuquerque)
Lucía Sanromán, Curator (b. Guadalajara, México; lives in Mexico City)
Janet Dees, Curator of Special Projects (b. New York; lives in Santa Fe)
Irene Hofmann, SITElines Director (b. New York; lives in Santa Fe)
Satellite Curatorial Advisors
Christopher Cozier (b. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; lives in Port of Spain)
Inti Guerrero (b. Bogota, Colombia; lives in Costa Rica and Singapore)
Julieta Gonzalez (b. Caracas, Venezuela; lives in México City)
Eva Grinstein (b. Buenos Aires, Argentina; lives in Buenos Aires)
Kitty Scott (b. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada; lives in Toronto)
Ana Paula Cohen (b. São Paulo; lives in Sao Paulo and San Francisco)
Luis Croquer (b. El Salvador; lives in Seattle)
Douglas Fogle (b. Chicago; lives in Los Angeles) Rosa Martínez (b. Soria, Spain; lives in Barcelona)
Gerald McMaster (b. Saskatchewan, Canada; lives in Philadelphia)
Ryan Rice (b. Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada; lives in Santa Fe)
Osvaldo Sánchez (b. Havana, Cuba; lives in México City)