SANTA FE, N.M. — Step into the dome with a friend, and its hollowed surface envelops you in goldenrod yellow. One peek, and you’re embraced in a blue field dancing with a melange of abstracted shapes.
Welcome to interactivity at the Digital Dome at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
The IAIA technology hub is hosting the northern branch of the Albuquerque-based 18th International Symposium On Electronic Art, through dome exhibitions and an outdoor sound walk at the south Santa Fe campus.
In the U.S. for the first time in six years, the conference is showcasing artwork, science and technology in a multisite exhibition with more than 500 international artists from 29 countries. Paris, Sydney, Helsinki, Singapore, Montreal and Istanbul have served as previous hosts of the 30-year event.
The Santa Fe events begin at 2 p.m. today when artists Jason Baerg and Charles Lindsay talk about their electronic exhibitions at the dome.
At 5 p.m., there’s an opening reception for the Buffalo, N.Y. -based Teri Rueb and ceramist Larry Phan’s soundscape “No Places With Names: A Critical Acoustic Archaeology.”
IAIA will end its branch of the symposium with more artist talks from 9 a.m. until noon on Tuesday, although exhibits run through Oct. 26.
It’s all about art-meets-science and technology within a spherical shape that creates its own world.
“This interactivity in a dome is absolutely new in the world,” dome director Ethan Bach said.
“It opens up a lot for artists to be able to explore that. It includes the audience,” he continued. “The difference (between the curved shape and a flat screen) is the inclusiveness of it.”
Cree/Métis artist Baerg of Toronto has been working with randomization software for several years. Born and raised in Sasksatchewan, Baerg turns specific Native numbers into stories, color and repetition in a 360-degree display of abstracted symbols, including the sun and moon. He never knows which symbol or shape will appear in a running ticker-tape around the Dome’s concave screen. He calls his piece “There Was No End.”
“I’m questioning the notion of linear time, which is supported by quantum physics,” Baerg said. “Indigenous people have been questioning it for a long time.”
“It’s an early form of abstract intelligence,” he added.
Visitors’ physical bodies trigger responses from the piece.
“I’m an abstractionist,” said the artist, who has been a painter for 20 years.
Flashing lights draw the curious into the black room, where the background colors inside the dome change according to the number of bodies beneath it. Much of the symbolism and 360 random shapes are mirrored in the indigenous calendar. The shapes create a circle.
The Plains Cree teepee features 16 poles, Baerg said, another number reflected in the program.
“Each represents a core value, such as honesty, truthfulness and respect,” he said. “The work also incorporates the four directions and the 13 moons in the indigenous calendar.
“It was used as a governance model to teach children,” he continued. “I was reading and contemplating the Ojibway relationship to the 13 moons. The strawberry moon is in June. It’s a time when we get together and forgive. That’s a redemption for all.”
The Santa Fe event is the first time the artist has seen his work presented in an organic shape.
“This is my first experience and a career highlight,” he said. “It’s a real honor to be here.”
Sound and GPS
Rueb’s landscape piece uses surround sound and GPS to lure visitors on a walk around the IAIA campus. A custom mobile phone application weaves spoken words with sound waves around the campus “fire circle” ringed by buildings and the tendrils of trails. The app responds to the user’s movement and location.
An artist in residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute, Rueb interviewed between 25 and 30 Santa Feans to produce “No Places With Names.” The sample included artists, farmers, geologists and students to glean various perspectives on the land.
To take the sound walk, visitors download the free app to hear bellowing winds, trickling water and voices commenting on the meaning of landscape. A woman talks about her father’s difficulty in maintaining a stable sleep cycle in the Arctic’s constant daylight. Walk near IAIA’s administration building, and a professor’s voice talks about the campus’ introduced, non-native plants. His Native students often ask him what they are for, since their fruit and seeds are nonedible.
“It’s there because it’s pretty,” he tells them. “We talk about their leaf structure; we talk about their flowers.”
The sounds emerge as if rising from the earth. The piece’s title comes from the first passages of the Navajo creation story: “We hear of no places with names to the north.”
Diné consulting anthropologist, archaeologist, weaver and potter Carmelita Topaha also contributed to the project.
“The whole point was to look at wilderness from cross-cultural perspectives,” Rueb said.
“I consider my work a landscape practice,” she added. “I like to get people out in the landscape.”
Also as part of the symposium events, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 108 Cathedral Place, will host a reception for ISEA participants from 1-5 p.m. Tuesday. The event incorporates one of its latest exhibitions, “50/50: Fifty Artists, Fifty Years,” a sampling of art from IAIA students from the school’s permanent collections.