Every year, SFR declares fall the season for locals but, every year, it comes as a bit of a surprise. At the end of each international über-art summer, the local scene wakes up and takes the town back. The burst of local energy, especially in the orbit of big events such the

High Mayhem Emerging Arts Festival

, is always gratifying, even if the work falls flat as often as it succeeds.

High Mayhem’s closest moon over the Sept. 15 and 16 weekend was Art Feast or, depending on who you talk to and which postcard you pick up,

Art Fest

. Both names are about as insipid as can be, but only the first conflicts with a long-established charitable event that takes place annually. As grating as the split-personality non-name is, the event, in its second year now, is a worthwhile one. Basically, it’s a craft market with a contemporary bent and a decidedly weird twist.

Organized by Tim Jag, the painter and performance artist who does double-duty as

DJ Prairie Dog

on Tuesday nights at the Matador, Art Fe(a)st was a successful daytime counterpart to High Mayhem’s evening shenanigans. Jewelry, small bronzes, Japanese-style fetish snack packs and pizza slices were plentiful. A few stand-out items were the


, hand-crafted infant T-shirts, all marked “hecho a cabra;” Chris Collins’ candy-colored casts of condom interiors, looking like armored, geisha-raised zucchinis; and a booth for making and/or purchasing mail art items—postcards made from stylized cardboard, pencils, flip-flops, you name it.

Painter Aaron Czerny—who showed this summer with the swank, hit-and-run

Proof Modern Art

crew—had lots of paintings and some creepy, vibey doll sculptures, but his custom-made hats were the ticket. Give him three hats and he gives you back one, but it will have been Czernified. The one he was modeling was a little hippy for my taste but he’s open to custom orders.

Best in show goes to

Kelly Plymesser

, who made skirts designed after real maritime distress flags. Yes, with Plymesser fashion, it’s actually possible to wear a skirt that means—at least to sailors—“I am taking on or discharging explosives,” “I require a pilot” or “stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals.” Either dangerous or a good time depending, I suppose, on your port of call.

Another handcrafted work with a military message can be found at the Center for Contemporary Arts. Santa Fe-based artist

Shirley Klinghoffer

and collaborator Sarah Hewitt watch their Love Armor project come to fruition in the large Muñoz Waxman gallery space. Essentially a knit cozy that was form-fit over an M1026 military Humvee, the piece was corroboratively constructed by scores of knitters. For all that input, the object itself exudes Klinghoffer’s characteristic meticulousness. And, the object itself is quite successful.

As to whether it can “stand in as protection for our soldiers in service to their country” or “heal the wounds of war, past and present,” I have my own considerable doubts. For all I know, it’s possible that ritual is capable of creating magic. But that doesn’t change the recurring dilemma of so-called political art—it dilutes itself by claiming a message. The reason that art remains ineffably relevant and moving to individuals across cultures and languages is precisely because the artist has no ability to claim the meaning of the work. The meaning of art is simply diminished by definition, the more-so when artists take it upon themselves to do the defining.

Defining genres of art, however, is a simple practicality with very little influence over its meaning. Usually. Upstairs at CCA, another collaborative duo, Zachary Scheinbaum and Todd White, aka

Deep Slumber Lake

, presents In the Shadow of the Sonic Titan. CCA calls the show, a “different type of ‘fine art,’” but I grew up knowing it as stoner art.

The torrent of skulls, swords, battle-axes and war hammers is quite familiar to me—I remember my pot-smoking, Dungeons & Dragons-playing friend Mike Bodine doing similar riffs on his school binders when we were supposed to be doing something else in geometry. As filled with mushrooms, pipe-smoking wizards and bong-like potion containers as it is with speakers and drum cymbals, Deep Slumber Lake’s work is most heavily reminiscent of heavy metal album art. Molly Hatchet comes to mind, but then those covers were all done by legendary fantasy artist

Frank Frazetta

. And Frazetta is a very, very good painter with a technical expertise that isn’t yet demonstrated by these young artists.

But it still wouldn’t make much sense to exhibit Frazetta’s work in Santa Fe’s most sought-after project space and it’s hard to rationalize this work’s validity or, indeed, to extract any meaning from it whatsoever, beyond adolescent fantasy, music worship and stale mythologies.

CCA’s Visual Arts Director Cyndi Conn is on a mission to free the program from the predictability of the contemporary art world status quo, which is a commendable and challenging task. Taking up the heavy metal, stoner status quo is unlikely to be a step in the right direction and is unlikely to push such young artists to defend and consider their work.