Lucky Number Seven

SITE Santa Fe

June 22, 2008 - January 4, 2009
by Katie Anania

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      Studio Azzurro, The Fourth Ladder, 2008
      Interactive video environment
      SITE Santa Fe Commission
      Photo: www.BayAreaEventPhotography.com
      Courtesy SITE Santa Fe

      View Gallery

      In an interview discussing Lucky Number Seven, SITE Santa Fe curator Lance M. Fung didn’t object when the interviewer called him “someone who seems not to care what the work [in the show] looks like.”* Fung meant to play down any privileging of aesthetic appeal in favor of direct participation, community involvement and process-oriented work. There was no emphasis, Fung said, on what the art in the biennial might be, only on what it might do.

      Fung’s hyperbolic insistence on community and collaboration, however, has resulted in a show that seems hobbled by overcircumscription. For this SITE biennial, he chose the artists by asking nonprofit art space directors worldwide to recommend artists that "best exemplified their institutional mission,” which results in a jumble of work that points to disparate institutional arguments—a strange sort of corporate product fair. While residing in Santa Fe using a modest budget provided by SITE, all 25 chosen artists were instructed to build ephemeral or time-based works (to skirt the inevitable profit reaped by galleries when biennial artworks are sold), but an end result is that the works themselves don’t participate in dialogue with one another. The plywood structure for the exhibition layout went up long before artists began proposing work for the show, causing a cart-before-the-horse mash-up in which artists were asked to respond to a labyrinthine plywood pathway rather than a standard white cube.

      As a result of this last stipulation, some works look wedged into the space, like Richard Denzer’s restore (2008), a glorious blown-out mass of fiberglass and plastic embedded pell-mell into one of the walls, coupled with a video installed in another corner of the gallery. Other works cohere better; Italian artist Piero Golia went toe-to-toe with the plywood layout’s upward slope and designed an eight-foot freefall from which visitors could leap if they wished, depositing them onto a vinyl stunt mattress below. A lot of conversations occur with SITE employees about medical waivers on that one, driving home Golia’s implication that communities are alternately cemented and fractured by risk. Conversations also arose between viewers in front of Studio Azzurro’s The Fourth Ladder (2008). Viewers face a black wall upon which is projected a video of people walking up an incline in a line. The figures walk in profile in front of an upward sloping rocky space, and continue to walk indefinitely until the viewer touches one of them. When touched, the figures turn and face the viewer and offer directions to their favorite sites around Santa Fe and Taos. No labeled instructions are given for viewing the work.

      You can tell that this inexactitude pleases Fung: upward slopes that lead to nowhere, touch-responsive human figures dictating directions to natural sites and projects installed inside other museums and public spaces around Santa Fe. Enmeshment and imbrication around every turn. The problem with this curatorial premise, though, is that the works with the more compelling visual arguments vastly eclipsed the more didactic works to the point of rendering Fung’s restrictions redundant. One such example is Hiroshi Fuji’s Kaero (2008). Fuji held a bazaar in the city of Santa Fe, invited children to bring their unwanted toys for exchange and built an ephemeral sculpture out of those toys. He then installed the toy sculpture among the Girard Collection inside the International Folk Art Museum, an enormous room full of collector Alexander Girard’s lifelong amassment of folk art and dolls gathered from Girard’s travels.

      The best thing about this piece isn’t the narrative behind the work; it’s the argument set forth by the act of installing the work inside the Girard collection. Fuji’s toys dangle from the Folk Art Museum ceiling and, to the untrained eye, appear virtually indistinguishable from the cacophony of kitsch in the vitrines below. Fuji’s fugitive toys act as a supplement to the “removal” inherent in the museum space; their anonymity within a maze of colorful re-stagings is a perfect (non-)argument for a humbler, less discrete artistic practice that draws on social rituals.

      Other artists’ works resonate less convincingly. Inside the main exhibition space, Korean artist Soun Myung Hong installed paintings of various sizes in close clusters throughout the latter half of the walkway. Hong’s paintings work within the space with a Jo Baer-like geometrical coherence, but unlike Baer’s object/paintings, their unorthodox installation doesn’t carry because, well, they’re not very good. Even Ahmet Ogut’s project on low-rider culture, which by its subject matter almost guarantees seamless conceptual ties to the problematization of borders and boundaries, falls flat because it’s installed in such a cramped hallway.

      Ultimately, it appears that Fung not only doesn’t care about what the work in the exhibition looks like, he seems not to care that the work exists at all. As my husband remarked after attending the show, the artworks feel orphaned in the space as a result of Fung’s bracketing ideology. So while his market-eschewing polemic may be commendable, his (somewhat cloying) credo and (ironically corporatized) mantra, “community and collaboration,” which abandons many of these young artists to support the arguments of nonprofit institutions, is not.

      *“Interview with Lance M. Fung”, THE Magazine, June 2008.

      Katie Anania is a Curatorial Researcher at Fluent~Collaborative and an editorial contributor to ...might be good.

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