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In the forefront of digital dome projection art

An art dome such as this will be used in an upcoming festival in Santa Fe. (Courtesy of Lumenscapes Illumination Media)

An art dome such as this will be used in an upcoming festival in Santa Fe. (Courtesy of Lumenscapes Illumination Media)

Everyone knows that Santa Fe is touted as an art market, from galleries to jewelry stores to Indian, Hispanic and Folk Art markets.

But who knew that we and New Mexico are in the forefront of an experimental new art form? Digital dome projections, light-based art projects, immersive cinema – call it what you will, we’re right out there doing it.

“From what I’ve heard, and I’ve only learned about domes in the last six months, New Mexico is way ahead on domes,” said Chuck Zimmer, deputy director for New Mexico Arts in the Department of Cultural Affairs. “For whatever reason, we’re like innovators in the dome art world.”

Although it can take many forms, the art form often consists of lights or video projected onto a dome, and the viewer is immersed in the scene.

Part of the reason for New Mexico’s prominence is the presence of two leaders in the field, according to Katelyn Peer, a program coordinator with Creative Santa Fe. David Beining, associative director of immersive media with the University of New Mexico Arts Lab, does a lot of research on the form, teaches students and even works with the military on applications for training and other uses, she said.

And Joe Dean, who owns Lumenscapes Illumination Media in the old Traditions marketplace along Interstate 25 near Algodones, not only can provide services related to lighting audio and video but, through his Zia Domes branch, rents out geodesic domes for events.

At an affordable rate, added Peer, who said, “The only other place that makes them available to rent out is in Ashland, Ore.”

And let’s not forget the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, which teaches the form to students and has an indoor half-dome for screenings.

I attended one a while back in conjunction with the Santa Fe Indian Market, and, while it’s clear artists are still experimenting with what the form can do, the experience itself is quite interesting – especially after you surrender your expectations of what it might or should be.

The short videos did not offer straight narrative and storytelling, and many used largely computer-generated images.

Lying back on a chair that leaves you looking up, you might find yourself immersed in actual landscapes filmed in the real world, or maybe something akin to watching an aquarium as various shapes and colors move across your field of vision. Or you even may feel as if you’re watching a rapidly shifting kaleidoscope as geometric shapes morph and reform.

The possibilities, it appears, are only limited by the artist’s imagination.

Santa Fe will have another look at some of the possibilities on May 9 from 6 p.m.-midnight when Peer rents four of Lumenscape’s geodesic domes for FANTASE Dome Fest, part of the annual FANTASE Festival that will be held in De Vargas Park downtown along the Santa Fe River. New Mexico Arts made $20,000 in grant money available to individuals to create site-specific art for the domes, Peer said.

Some of the projects will be viewed from inside the domes, some from outside them – and maybe some from both. “Maybe you can lay down on the grass and look up and a media installation will be going on,” she said.

“It’s a great art form … It’s kind of taking off.”

Zimmer is counting on that; his department is buying a $10,000 portable immersion dome from a California company to take such shows on the road throughout New Mexico.

The first probably will be a documentary being made on the creation of TIME at Coyote Canyon, a land art installation constructed by Navajo artist Bert Benally in collaboration with famed Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. That documentary is scheduled to be screened 7-8 p.m. July 16 in downtown Santa Fe – the actual site is still being negotiated, Zimmer said. It then will go on the road to be viewed by people around the state.

“Whenever we have a public art space, I think it needs to be shared,” Zimmer said, explaining that this is a way to do it. “Artists will work on creating content specifically for these domes…

“Now we put art in buildings. We’re looking at the dome as a way of updating public art. We will be able to take a new experience to the people of New Mexico…

“This is a real small field, but it’s growing,” he continued. “We’re anticipating that the market will increase.”