SANTA FE, N.M. — In each of their allotted 140 seconds, Dilara Akay might tell about her fascination with La Llorona, Jason Baerg might discuss a range from water ceremonies to laser-cut paintings, and Lisa Hirmer very well may explore social connections that form when water flows as a gift between people.
That’s just a small sampling of what could be on tap at tonight’s Water Rights SFAI 140, an evening that features 20 talks and performances of only 140 seconds each, where members of the community – from scientists to activists to teachers – coalesce around art and social consciousness.
The rapid-fire talks, held three times a year at the Santa Fe Art Institute, connect its artists in residence working on a particular theme with people in the community who have an interest or expertise in the topic – or simply an interest in art projects. And that includes audience members. “About 230 people show up each time,” said Robert Gomez Hernandez, SFAI’s design strategy manager.
The program features a dozen SFAI artists in residence and another three from the Institute of American Indian Arts, along with Beata Tsosie Pena of Tewa Women United and others from the University of New Mexico, the Office of the State Engineer and more.
The residents spend one to three months at SFAI, and their projects are completely self-directed – with a lot of cross-pollination of ideas as their work spaces cluster together – and no particular outcome is required at the end of their stay, according to Gomez Hernandez. Many times, they form collaborations and pursue projects that result from their stay here, but SFAI officials know nothing about it, he added. It’s all about giving artists the time and space to create works that have some relationship to social issues. The previous theme, for example, was immigration and the upcoming one is equal justice.
The artists come from as far away as Turkey – Akay – and as near as next door. You may have already seen the mural Santa Fe resident Joerael Elliott has been painting on the wall facing Lena Street at Second Street as his SFAI residency project.
Both Baerg and Hirmer came to SFAI courtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts, but through different programs under it.
Baerg (Cree/Métis) said he is teaching two credits at IAIA while he’s in Santa Fe and working on a Digital Dome project on water, as well as working on laser-cut paintings (he’s been getting instruction on the laser cutter at the Meow Wolf Arts Complex) for three exhibitions he has coming up in January and February in Canada and Mexico.
His workspace at SFAI is adorned with cutout designs incorporating two totems he has settled on: rabbits and ravens. “Both are tricksters and shape-shifters,” he said. His designs merging the two reflect “what is happening on the earth plane and the spirit world,” he said.
His abstract paintings stretched across three sides of his workspace are done in traditional indigenous pigments of red, yellow and white ochre, he said. “I’ve done a number of residencies in Australia. It’s something their indigenous people use,” he said of the ochre.
Hirmer had only been in Santa Fe for a little over a week when she talked to the Journal and said she was concentrating on doing research for her project. Her work, she said, generally centers on social practices that link communities and people. Her past projects have included building a water condenser in Australia and gifting the 10 liters of water produced to the local community, and wrapping materials around portions of tree branches in Saskatchewan and capturing the moisture they exude in their respiration.
She’s interested in the gifting economy, Hirmer said, and is exploring the idea of how currency and water both need to circulate.
For her part, Akay said she made a water and spice installation, some portion of which was taken to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which opponents say endanger tribal water sources. That controversy has been a seminal influence on the residents’ discussions and activities, she noted, and four of the residents who traveled there likely will report on the activities at tonight’s event.
Meanwhile, she also has been working with the Nuestra Jornada project at Gerard’s House, using art activities to help children express their losses, not only in the death of a family member, but in the loss of a country as they have immigrated to the United States. “I’m hoping to use the experience and information back home,” Natay said, explaining that Turkey has 2.7 million Syrian refugees.
And she’s exploring the Southwest’s story of La Llorona, the weeping woman whose children were drowned, some say by her, others say through her neglect of them. Natay showed some sketches she has made of her reactions to the story and explorations of why a mother would kill her own children, as well as snake symbolism of death and restoration. Eventually, an art installation may result, she said.