2.7 / Review

From Santa Fe: SITE Santa Fe Eighth International Biennial 2010

By Lani Asher December 8, 2010

[In the] spooky comical vacuity of the modern world…[a]ny satisfaction to be had by the artists is catch-as-catch-can in the space between private imagination and public record. Photography (and, by extension video) was mechanical, reproducible, and once removed, making it the ideal tool for reflecting the rootless unfixed nature the modern world.1

—Douglas Eklund

SITE Santa Fe was started fifteen years ago as a non-collecting alternative art space that gave independent curators the freedom to present unique international art events. Housed in a cavernous building located at the old Santa Fe railroad yard, SITE Santa Fe Eighth International Biennial 2010: The Dissolve, is a collaboration between curators Daniel Belasco and Sarah Lewis and architect David Adjaye, who designed the installation. The juxtaposition of the installation and the building itself is surprisingly beautiful, staged in a darkened space divided by transparent scrims. The works in The Dissolve are drawn from the early twentieth century to the present, and mix new technology with more traditional media, such as film, animation, dance, painting, and drawing. The exhibition also includes an off-site dance performance and film screening not contained in the installation.

The Dissolve is a hodgepodge of artistic styles and historical references, and is simultaneously erudite, confusing, poetic, haphazard, and playful. The show references the works of photographer Eadweard Muybridge; pioneer motion picture devices like the kinetoscope, the mutoscope, and the rotoscope; Dziga Vertov and the Russian avant-guard; experimental cinema during the Weimar Republic; Jean-Luc Goddard and the French New Wave; and Bill T. Jones and the OpenEnded Group. As educators and taste-makers, Belasco and Lewis are looking for authentic voices in an overcrowded media landscape. The show relies almost completely on digital media, with discrete sound installations for individual pieces, a Cinerama with multiple simultaneous film projections, and private viewing platforms. The transparent walls lend an air of theatricality to the installation, making viewers keenly aware of one another and the experience of perceiving art through a digital lens. But what is the real meaning of this puzzle of contemporary and historical art, machines, and politics?

Hiraki Sawa’s video, Airliner (2003), is projected on the outer gallery wall. Although the piece is digitally produced, it appears to operate like an old-fashioned flip book. In the first room is The Enchanted Drawing, a film dated 1900 from the Edison Manufacturing Company. This groundbreaking piece features a combination of live-action and stop-motion animation. The Enchanted Drawing was originally viewed with a kinetoscope, but here it is displayed as a large screen projection. Nearby is Oscar Muñoz’s film, Re/trato (2003), which documents the artist continually repainting his self-portrait with water as it evaporates on a hot sidewalk. In this piece, Muñoz explores the photographic process as an alchemical representation of reality that mirrors memory, life, and death.

The Dissolve, installation view, SITE Santa Fe, 2010. Left: Edison Manufacturing Company. The Enchanted Drawing, 1900; 35mm film transferred to DVD; 1 minute 26 seconds. Producer: J. Stuart Blackton; Camera: Albert E. Smith. The Library of Congress, Paper Print Collection, Washington, DC. Courtesy of the Artists and Site Santa Fe. Right: Oscar Muñoz. Re/trato, 2003; video; 28 minutes. Courtesy of the Artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston, TX.

The Dissolve, installation view, SITE Santa Fe, 2010. Courtesy of the Artists and SITE Santa Fe.

Kara Walker’s animated films Six Miles from Springfield on the Franklin Road (2009) and Lucy of Pulaski (2009) examine slavery’s violent legacy and are played consecutively on the same screen. Projected on the backside is Lotte Reinigar’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), an early animated film produced in the Weimar Republic. The Adventures of Prince Achmed is an exotic fantasy about the Arabian nights with an erotic subtext. Although both artists create cut paper silhouettes, you can clearly see the hands of the puppeteer in Walker’s work. 

Three South African artists focus on time, memory, and history. Robin Rhode’s Kid Candle (2009) combines a live-action boy with a drawing of a candle. The piece is rooted in his childhood memories, and animated by the flickering of variously exposed 8mm film frames. William Kentridge’s History of the Main Complaint (1996) is composed of stop-action charcoal drawings investigating the complex history of South Africa’s apartheid system. In About to Forget (2005), Berni Searle traces the outlines of her family photos onto red crepe paper and submerges the drawing into warm water. The disappearing drawing is a meditation on her family of mixed religious backgrounds.

The simultaneously projected films in the Cinerama are hard to watch, but the discrete sound systems attached to each piece help to anchor the work in the physical space of the site, ultimately showcasing the strongest pieces. Ezra Johnson’s wonderful What Vision Burns (2006) combines collage with stop-motion animation of his paintings about an art heist. Laleh Khorramian‘s mysterious Water Panics in the Sea (2010), taken from her series about the five elements, makes use of multiple media: monotypes, collages, and stop-action animation techniques.In Maria Lassnig's surprising and humorous work, Maria Lassnig Kantate (1992), the artist places herself into an environment made up of her own drawings and paintings.

In the last room, a row of personal viewing stations circle back to the singular viewing experience of the mutoscope or the kinetoscope, where one can watch the Fleischer Studios’ Big Chief Koko (1924), Dziga Vertov’s Soviet Toys (1924), Cindy Sherman’s Doll Clothes (1975), and Robert Pruitt’s Black Stuntman (2010), among others. On the wall is a large projection of Mary Reid Kelly’s overly earnest and opaque piece called You Make Me Illiad (2010). Stylistically echoing expressionist Weimar cinema, Kelly speaks in rhyme as she impersonates WWI-era soldiers and prostitutes. The last piece in the show, Traffic #1, Our Second Date (2004) is a large video projection of a miniature set installed in the gallery by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, which recreates the setting of their second date in Paris, where they first saw Jean Luc Goddard’s Weekend.

In their curatorial statement, Belasco and Lewis identify a new paradigm created by mixing traditional arts with technology, but The Dissolve never fully frames this supposition, politically or aesthetically.2 In the essay, “The Work of Art In the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin examines the relationship of art and technology under capitalism. With a focus on film, he predicts an age in which art and media merge.3 Contemporary art historian David Joselitt points to a modern economy of images and an epistemology of search that is no longer rooted in physical space or comprised of single images and individual works of art.4 Therefore, art is not abolished in a Duchampian sense; instead, it takes us on a journey through the global network of images. This is how the show does succeed—by showing Belasco and Lewis’ intellectually curious, wide-ranging search for meaning through a provocative and engaging collection of artists and artworks.


SITE Santa Fe Eighth International Biennial 2010: The Dissolve is on view at SITE Santa Fe through January 2, 2011.



1. From Douglas Eklund's catalogue essay for Between Here and There-Passages in Contemporary Photography, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, from July 2, 2010 to February 13, 2011.
2. From Daniel Belasco and Sarah Lewis' catalogue essay for Site Santa Fe Eighth International Biennial 2010: The Dissolve, on view from June 20, 2010 through January 2, 2011.
3. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproductions," in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 241.
4. David Joselitt, "Painting Beside Itself," October 130 (Fall 2009): 125-134.

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