In 1946, Argentine writer Julio Cortázar penned a short story about two shut-in siblings caring for their ancestral home. A ghostly presence takes over the house, forcing the pair into the streets.
Written in revolutionary Argentina in 1946, the story became a metaphor at a time when its people could not speak openly for fear of being jailed or killed.
SITE Santa Fe’s 2018 biennial “Casa tomada” alludes to this tale by asking how boundaries dissolve in an era of personal and political polarization. The exhibition of 23 artists opens today.
“Casa tomada” can literally mean “house taken over” or “drunken house,” said Candice Hopkins, co-curator of the exhibition with José Luis Blondet (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and Ruba Katrib (New York’s Museum of Modern Art PS1).
Anxieties about identity and “the other” again take political form. Travel bans from specifically chosen countries swell into bias, injustice and unrest. They arise literally with the border wall prototypes installed near Otay Mesa, Calif.
The wall has calcified into the divide between “us” and “them.” Middle ground slips away.
“We need to look at the root of the switch from refugees and migrants to illegals,” Hopkins said. “It’s about conceptions of home and ideas of territory.”
Gallup artist Eric-Paul Riege created a hogan using looms in place of walls as the ancestral home of Spider Woman, the spiritual being who taught the Navajos how to weave. It is sacred, both sanctuary and womb.
“He is making one of the most ambitious works for the show,” Hopkins said.
Riege will perform in woven wool regalia as a dibé or sheep in a dance of both ritual and healing.
In 1997, the Alcalde monument to the Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate lost its right foot, thanks to an amputation performed by a group calling itself the Friends of the Acoma. In 1599, in retaliation for the deaths of 13 Spaniards, Oñate ordered Acoma Pueblo destroyed. He ordered his soldiers to cut off the right foot of all men over the age of 25.
“We have access to Oñate’s foot,” Hopkins said. “The person who cut it off is in possession of it. They’ve given us the right to cast it from pueblo clay. We call him Mr. X. The ceramic cast will be on view.”
Native filmmaker Chris Eyre is producing a documentary about the incident, she added.
“Oñate was immediately jailed when he went back to Mexico for crimes against humanity. Now the moment has been reframed to show all sides of history.”
Curtis Santiago, who grew up in Canada, created miniature dioramas inside old ring jewelry boxes. One depicts a police shooting, another a traditional indigenous home.
“His idea was that this was something he could carry in his pocket,” Hopkins said.
Santiago will create a glass house at SITE to display a collection of his dioramas.
Seventh-generation Diné (Navajo) weaver Melissa Cody is bringing a new collection of weavings incorporating text and word play. Cody came of age during the development of video games, and her weavings often feature variegated thread and pixel symbols.
“Some of them almost look like TV static,” Hopkins said.
A replica of NuMu’s (El Nuevo Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Guatemala) egg-shaped kiosk by artists Jessica Kairé and Stefan Benchoam will greet visitors at the entrance to SITE.
“The first thing you’re going to see is another museum,” Hopkins said.
Guatemala has no museum of contemporary art, so the artists created one from an old kiosk used to sell eggs. Small exhibits will decorate the inside of the egg.
“It’s a portable version,” Hopkins said. “Our hope is that the egg works as an ambassador for SITE in Santa Fe.”
None of the works screams politics, Hopkins said.
“It’s about the erosion of the middle ground. I think we need to agree what it means when the middle ground erodes, and when there’s a lack of empathy and an inability for people to hear one another.”