"Synthesis” interactive new media  luftwerk, 2014 all images courtesy of the author for Hyperallergic

luftwerk, “Synthesisinteractive” (2014) (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

SANTA FE — This is a city best known for a gallery circuit saturated with Southwestern and traditional American Indian art; it may be less apparent that there is a dynamic contemporary art scene emerging in this bucolic desert town. Of course, many are already familiar with SITE Santa Fe, whose upcoming biennale Unsettled Landscapes in July is sure to be a must-see; however, the appetite this city has for innovative and challenging work is on the rise. While in Santa Fe, I met with Vince Kadlubek of the contemporary art collective Meow Wolf at a hipster-centric coffee shop.

Meow Wolf is a group of young, local artists who were dissatisfied with the commoditized and stratified gallery culture in Santa Fe. Now in its 6th year, Meow Wolf has created numerous new media immersive landscapes; their projects have been installed in Santa Fe as well as in cities across the US, including Chicago and New York. Kadlubek illuminated the shift that is taking place in Santa Fe’s art scene and the city as a whole, a shift towards embracing the younger progressives that are flocking here. During our chat, Kadlubek mentioned that the opening of the fifth annual Currents new media exhibition was taking place that night (June 13) in the Railyard district of the city, and I was inclined to investigate further.

Currents, produced by Parallel Studios, a non-profit arts promoter based in Santa Fe, is a large-scale exhibition primarily based at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe that takes place over three weekends in June. In what is essentially a hybrid nuit blanche meets exhibition, Currents presents the work of local artists as well as nationally and internationally exhibited artists in a slick and cohesive manner. Though the curation of the exterior works lacked the gravitas and syzygy of other more established nuit blanche exhibitions such as Nuit Blanche Toronto and Nuit Blanche Paris, there simply was just not enough work to fill up the massive railyard space. The curation of the interior based works was for the most part spot-on.

Performance by Flinching Eye Collective

Performance by Flinching Eye Collective

Highlights included “Synthesis,” an interactive new media installation by Chicago-based luftwerk, which featured a white screen mounted on the floor of El Museo saturated with various hues of color; the viewer is then welcome to walk across the screen and immerse themselves in the seductive prismatic colors as they dance across the ground. Another piece was a performance by Colorado-based Flinching Eye Collective. The piece commenced with group member Matthew Weedman holding an amplifier axel to his face, rubbing the metal up and down his cheek and in his mouth, creating vibrations and sounds that filled the gallery space. Their performance then shifted to a drum kit assembled outside of El Museo. Members of the collective used power sanders to rotate cymbals, creating an aggressive and at times violent dismantlement of the instrument.

Interactive installation at "Currents" 2014

“Banal to Transcendent” (2014) at Axle Gallery

Another piece that stood out was an immersive installation presented by Santa Fe-based Axle Gallery. Axle is a mobile gallery that pops up around the city, presenting quirky and irreverent pieces. Axle’s “Banal to Transcendent” commenced with a man holding an iPad. The viewer is requested to place a finger on the device in order to generate a print that in turn produces a four-digit code. The viewer then enters the code and is permitted entrance into the mobile space (which is basically what would happen if a food truck and an art gallery had a baby). Once inside the truck, performance artists surround you, creating an interactive environment. Upon exiting the truck, another man greets you holding a pad of paper and a pencil, asking you to rate the experience.

It is not unprecedented for a small-ish desert town to be a contemporary art mecca. Marfa, Texas has owned that title for many years, thanks to Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation, Ballroom Marfa, and various other events that take place in that middle-of-nowhere West Texas town. But not only is Santa Fe really going for it in the arts, it has a a lot more to offer in terms of amenities than Marfa. With a population of around 70,000 (Marfa hovers at 1,300), Albuquerque less than an hour away, world-class dining, opera, skiing, etc., Santa Fe is poised to surpass Marfa if they keep up this momentum.

Currents continues at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe (555 Camino De La Familia, Santa Fe) through June 29.

Erin Joyce is a writer and curator of contemporary art and has organized over 35 exhibitions across the US. She was a winner of the 2023 Rabkin Prize for arts journalism from The Dorothea and Leo Rabkin...