SANTA FE, New Mexico — Two weekends ago, I had the privilege of visiting and speaking at Currents, Santa Fe’s annual festival of new media art. Situated in the Railyard district, a growing gallery community that hosts SITE Santa Fe, Zane Bennett Contemporary and others, the majority of the festival takes place at El Museo Cultural, a large warehouse space focused on Hispanic art but also host to a number of city events.
“We’re really trying to create an international destination for new media art. That’s been our goal all along,” said Frank Ragano, who co-founded the festival with Mariannah Amster three years ago. “Along with that is a very strong desire to show the public what’s going on at the cutting edge of new media. One of our big things is community, sharing this with a community.” That community includes both the residents of Santa Fe and artists who fly in for the event.
If the stereotype of New York art is an abstract splotch of paint on a white wall, the stereotype of art from New Mexico is either a massive land art piece or lots of turquoise blue and Kokopelli. Yet the city is also a haven for new media works, offering a vibrant scene for experimentation and serving as a hub for media artists in the Southwest creative belt and beyond. Works at Currents ranged from single-channel videos to large-scale installations, sprawling over three main gallery spaces and a theater, along with outdoor performances.
“In a place like Santa Fe,” continued Ragano, “I think it’s an essential addition to what’s already here.” He emphasized that the festival isn’t meant to replace the rich contemporary art scene already in Santa Fe. “New media is an absolutely essential element to be added to mix.”
As with the Beijing New Media Triennial, I have trouble reviewing large exhibitions that seek to cover a broad swath of work, but individual pieces at Currents resonated with me. London artist Sophie Clements’s “There, After” features three objects in the midst of entropy, as sticks fall and a balloon explodes in a synchronized cacophony. Fernanda D’Agostino’s “Pool” lacked the interaction of its original installation but still glowed and shimmered beautifully when viewed from a lifeguard chair situated nearby, while Laleh Mehran and Christopher Coleman’s “W3FI” mesmerized visitors with a visualization of tweets and images in a hypnotic installation.
Brooklyn artists Jason Varone and Peter Daverington both had a presence, the former with a poetic text on a painted landscape and the latter with a haunting geometric pattern in space. Others that caught my eye included Wang Yefeng’s interactive projection “Well Disciplined Kids,” which plays with symbols of Chinese military power, and Anne Farrell’s “Cottage,” a projection of homes and watercolor paintings.
This year’s edition of Current represents exciting new growth for the festival, as it has expanded its installation and programming and recruited a fresh slew of international artists.
Ragano said the festival plans to branch out even further next year. “Santa Fe Art Institute is offering two residencies for artists,” he said. “It needs to be truly a citywide festival. The city itself and community in general is becoming much more engaged with it. That’s going to continue.”
The Currents International New Media Festival runs until July 8 at El Museo Cultural (555 Camino de la Familia) and other locations around Santa Fe.