One on One SITE Santa Fe 2010

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Adding or Subtracting from the Chaos

Solo Shows at Site Santa Fe

allen-terry-rodez.jpgSANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - I'm standing in a gallery reading poetry. The lines are carefully placed on drawings, and are trying to give me a lesson on Antonin Artaud, a French Surrealist and dramatist. I read the poetry and wonder if I am part of such a shallow society that information must be accompanied by pictures in order to be enticing.

The drawings with attached poetry are the work of Terry Allen, and the piece is called Ghost Ship to Rodez. It is one quarter of the current show, One on One, at SITE Santa Fe, which runs from Feb. 6 to May 9.

The words making poetry could either be Allen's or Artaud's. (My guess is Artaud, but even Google won't confirm if I'm right or not.) I get a nice hit of thought provocation from the first image and words I see, and intently read. My friend doesn't like the imagery that goes with the poetry - rats and other nasty stuff - and she leaves after a quick stroll around the space. Here's an example of what is fitted under the rats and crows:  'do people in heaven dream about hell,' 'do they wish they'd had been a little more sinful in life and repented at the last minute.'

A score these framed drawing line the room and tell the story of Artaud's trip to Mexico in 1937 when he was trying to quit heroin and take up peyote. He was having a hard time. He imagined all kinds of things coming out of his body. He may or may not have been successful looking for trouble to fuel his art, but his troubles got worse. Soon after leaving Mexico he went to Ireland where he got arrested and deported. He was sent home in a straight jacket, chained to an iron bed in the hold of transport ship for the duration of the 17-day cruise.

Next door, the artist is trying to further describe this extremely frightening experience. The photo shown here represents the installation well and is part of a virtual gallery tour on SITE's website. I can imagine I'm supposed to feel Artaud's pain, but my experience is a little more like looking at the photograph. The shadows are beautiful. The form are interesting.

One of the parts is a woman with a Texas accent telling a disjointed account of Artaud's story from six different screens suspended from a contraption that's a cross between a spider and an anorexic android. Not easy to understand. In a corner, is the other form, generating a breathy, whoshing sound. Symbolically, it is a sailing ship about 10 feet long and almost as tall as the ceiling. There are sails that move in a created breeze, and a bed that represents the deck. Beneath is a sea of books. Earlier this month, Allen and his wife, Jo Harvey Allen staged a play he'd written, also called Ghost Ship to Rodez, and maybe these were used as the set. I'm intrigued by the forms but I want them to communicate more. And the quabbling sound sends me out for refreshments like a bad commercial.

I look for some human contact. I can't talk to everyone about art like this. My eyes randomly land on one of the drawings -- 'he was so selfish, he had no understanding of what selfish was.' Who would admit such a thing if it were true about themselves, I think, and start to feel guilty for my own ignored blind spots. Overbearing. I didn't know what that word meant until very recently. Or heartburn, until I was pregnant.

Luckily, I started talking to someone who spends a couple days a week watching this show as a museum employee. She asked if I had any questions. I think someone at SITE knows that if a viewer hasn't taken the time to read the pamphlet about the show, they won't get very far in understanding it. I ask what experience she had with the show.
She brings school kids in, and they are not given a lot of advance prep. From looking alone, second graders, she says, can tell that all of the framed pieces and the two installed images are about one person. They can tell that the person was having a hard time.

She, a grown up, calls the story an existential crisis.

We talk just outside the room with the whispering Texan woman and I realize I'm torturing myself, as if I needed a nagging heroin withdrawal, by not leaving the room.

Maybe it's not worth writing about art, I say looking for more punishment

A few months ago, well several times over the past three months, I've visited a piece by Samuel Becket at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in Denver. The piece is one woman, speaking a monologue clearly for 14 minutes, with her face blackened so only her lips and teeth are visible in the dark room. Every phrase of the monologue starts my mind turning on the question of my identity, the idea of the self and how it is perceived differently from the outside and from inside, and changes with every moment. I know it is Beckett's words that do it. They are poetry. Spoken quickly, but clearly. For 14 minutes.

I'm longing for a little clarity in this piece of Terry Allen's.

The museum employee and I go to the next room, and look at the work by American artist Hasan Elahi. He was detained after 9/11 and falsely accused of being involved. So, through this work, Tracking Transience, he is in the process of thoroughly documenting his life -- taking photographs of everything he eats and many of the places he's shit. These are cycled through an array of screens the roughly represent the United States. On another was, his credit card bill for the past 10 years scrolls by like flights on an airport screen. A program designed by government researchers to predict a person's whereabouts runs on a semi dome like a very complicated constellation map. SITE built the globe; it's quite beautiful. As a life document, this room is more cold and inhuman than Facebook. Do we have a life if it isn't documented in some way? I wonder. If a life falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Does it have an existential crisis?

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This page contains a single entry by terry published on April 16, 2010 9:11 PM.

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