Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Unsettled Landscapes, a new take on the biennial at SITE Santa Fe

I had the great experience of attending the opening festivities of the new biennial at SITE Santa Fe. This was a "radical rethinking" of the biennial model, and a rebirth for the show after a 4 year hiatus. The process of re-evaluating the biennial model was instigated with Irene Hoffman's arrival in 2010 as the new director and chief curator at SITE. With this change in leadership, there was a critical re-evaluation of the institution, and the concenus was that a change was needed in the biennial exhibition. There have been umpteen other biennials that have sprung up around the globe since the first Biennial show at SITE in 1995, and these shows have become just another venue for the commoditification of the arts. SITE's leaders wanted to find a way to create a more sustained engagement, a more art (and artist) centric, engaged platform, a furthering of research in the creative arts of our times. It was a collaborative curation, with the involvement of Janet Dees (SITE Curator of Special Projects), and two other guest curators, Candice Hopkins (from Canada) and Lucia Sanroman (from Mexico). The idea of focusing on the Western Hemisphere was hatched and the ideas for the show percolated from the artworks.  The structure of the biennial was changed into a six year process, a tri-biennial, if you will, with the next three exhibits over six years exploring the ideas behind the new title, "SITELINES; New Perspectives on Art in the Americas".
This year's theme, "Unsettled Landscapes" came from the artists' ideas, and the works, and it became apparent after much discussion and dialogue with experts and other consultants that there was a a changing idea about landscape. "Landscape is not neutral", Hopkins says, and the idea of "landscape as a form of alibi" was raised by Sanroman. There are many political and social ideas in our perceptions of landscape, including occluded histories, native issues and ongoing imperialist and colonialist issues. The curators did not want the show to be yet another colonialist gesture, and much "deep time" was spent with the works, the show and the place. This slow contemplation is balanced with the current state of urgency that is needed in the arts in all parts of the Americas. There currently may be inclusion in the art world for many artists coming from non-traditional locations, but there still needs to be an equalization across the board, an up-ending to conventions and an unsettling of ideas. This will bring the arts into the future. It's an Unsettled Landscape for sure.