Currents 2016

On Friday,  we opened the Roswell Museum’s latest exhibit, Currents: New Media New Mexico. Featuring work by artists from around the world, this exhibit continues the RMAC’s collaboration with Currents, an international festival of new media art that takes place in Santa Fe each June. We initiated this team-up last year, and since it proved popular with visitors, we decided to do it again.  

Let's take a closer look:

Spring River Gallery features the work of three different artists. David Fodel has created an installation called Confabulator, which explores the ambiguities of cultural memory with its altered documentary clips addressing the 1947 UFO incident. He discusses the work in the following statement:
Confabulator  is a technological object that explores memory and media, and the effects of one upon the other…it is constructed of hand-finished wood and white Plexiglas, which serves as the ‘screen’ for a series of 512 individually-controlled LEDs behind the Plexi panel. The LEDs are arranged in such a way as to become a low-resolution monitor which is programmed to run a section of documentary clips about the UFO crash events in Roswell in 1947. Confabulator simulates the blurring of lines of interpretations surrounding those events caused by the passage of time, the subtleties of human memory, and the power of mass media to blur our perceptions and weave a near-mythical narrative in its wake.”

Since the Currents exhibit coincides with the UFO Festival in July, I always like to include one work that addresses this very popular topic. What I like about Fodel's piece is that its content pertains as much to the subjectivity of cultural memory as it does to flying saucers. It's an issue that remains as relevant as ever as time and distance change our of perception of events, from World War II to 9/11, and subsequently influence our interpretation of the present. 

Joe Hedges brings to light the often fractured, individualized perception of place with a website that transforms the Roswell region into an unsolvable puzzle for visitors to engage. Hedges describes the work as 

"an Internet-based interactive installation using Google Maps street view technology.  Above a nondescript stretch of road in New Mexico, the Roswell Museum & Art Center hovers supernaturally in pieces as an unsolvable 3D puzzle.  The individual components can be moved by clicking and dragging with a mouse.”

The website as artwork is definitely a new experience for me, but considering how ubiquitous a form it is in our lives, I'm surprised I haven't put one in a gallery sooner. The landscape in the background is actually the road leading out to Bitter Lakes, to give you a sense of context. And yes, I have played with this puzzle, and haven't had any luck in solving it.

Sherman Finch playfully addresses the universal physics of place with his interactive sculpture Symphonic Infinitum.  According to Finch:

“Symphonic Infinitum consists of interactive hybrid wall assemblages that explore the perceptual relationship of visualization and sound through instrumentation and play. Revisiting John Cage’s idea of chance, the work relies on audience participation to activate a visual system, allowing variations of order and chaos to influence how the work is perceived. The sculpture is a type of “physics machine”, similar to the anatomy of a pachinko game or a children’s handheld maze toy, where gravity, kinetics, and centrifugal force cause small balls to roll around inside a circular structure…rather than approaching sound from the vantage point of a musical instrument, this project investigates audio mechanics by creating a dialogue between visual aesthetics, embodied interaction, and the resulting effects on auditory perception.”

These sculptural installations are a great deal of fun for a variety of reasons. Given the Museum's own collection of Goddard-related materials, I like having works on view that synthesize art and science, in this case physics. The smaller wheels are interactive, moreover, so I think visitors will have a great time having a chance to touch the art for a change. 

Horgan and Graphics Galleries is the site of The Wise One, a meditative video by Taos artist Jean Stevens that explores Native American spirituality. Stevens describes her work with the following quote:

“My film, The Wise One, is a poetic, painterly, photographic and dance tribute to Native American literature and the sacredness of our earth.  I was the director, photographer, poet/narrator, painter, and musician for this film.  I also used artwork from the Huichol yarn painter, Mariano Valadez; a puppet designed by Cristina Masoliver; and the choreography and dance of C.J. Bernal.”

In the film, Stevens narrates a creation story while the screen shows paintings illustrating the narrative, alternating them with landscape photographs of the Taos region. The story describes how we have become detached from the natural world, and the necessity of reconnecting with it, both for our own survival and spiritual enrichment. The film ends with C.J. Bernal performing a dance by the river. Empty notebooks and markers have also been placed around the gallery, and visitors are encouraged to record their thoughts, whether by writing poems, creating drawings, or just jotting down a few words.

Roswell Phrase by New Zealander Shannon Novak is a visual and musical work of art that encourages visitors to interact with the RMAC through their smart phones and other mobile devices. As a synesthete, Novak finds music everywhere, and applies his training in piano to all aspects his multifaceted artistic practice. Working in painting, sculpture, and installation, Novak's works underscore the multisensory nature of the human experience. Roswell Phrase was created on a program called Aurasma, a free app that allows viewers to observe and create augmented reality experiences. In addition to works of art, Roswell Phrase highlights doors, signs, and other overlooked features inside the Museum, turning the entire structure into an aesthetic experience. 

This last work in particular reconciles my own ambivalence about technology in the museum. Personally, I prefer to ditch my devices when I'm looking at art objects, but I know that's not the case for many museum visitors, as I'm repeatedly reminded when I go to other galleries and institutions. Rather than resist this shift, I've decided to seek out the creative potential.  If people are going to see the world through their mobile devices, then I'm going to inject some art into their screens, and that is exactly what Novak's work does, blurring the distinction between the analog and digital viewing experience. In this instance, mobile screens really do enhance the museum encounter.

Whether it’s a sculpture, a video, or a website, the works on view this year underscore the creative potential of contemporary technologies. Like it or not, technology is here to stay, and this show emphasizes the imaginative capabilities of our ever-evolving world.

Currents will be on view at the RMAC until August 14. The Santa Fe festival will take place during the last two weeks of June. In addition to the primary festival in Santa Fe and the installations in Roswell, a series of new media exhibits collectively entitled New Media New Mexico is on view around the state, with participating sites including Hobbs, Taos, Magdalena, Albuquerque, and Las Cruces. To learn more, check out