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Ginger Dunhill

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Cannupa Luger turns viewers into collaborators at the Center for Contemporary Arts

September 7, 2016, 12:00 am

Cannupa Hanska Luger arrived at the opening reception of his interactive installation, Everything Anywhere, in disguise. California performance art group La Pocha Nostra was staging one of their “living museums” in the Center for Contemporary Art’s Spector Ripps Project Space, under the watchful eye of a massive figurative sculpture by Luger. As visitors picked bits of corn off a nude man sprawled on the floor, the masked artist quietly joined a group of performers that roamed through the gallery. “It was this weird, postcolonial synthesis of ceremony, and everybody had to participate,” Luger says. “I get social anxiety in large groups, so I decided to interact with their performance. It allowed me to experience it without watching from the outside, or judging myself.”

Some of the performers were puzzled by the mysterious extra actor, as was CCA’s visual arts curator Angie Rizzo. “I didn’t even recognize you for a while,” Rizzo tells Luger. “I was photographing you, and about a quarter of the way in I was like, ‘Wait, that’s Cannupa.’”

Hanksa Luger, Rizzo and CCA’s gallery and public programs coordinator Alicia Piller have assembled in the space at the tail end of Everything Anywhere. They’re here to discuss a string of performances that activated Luger’s installation, and a larger trend toward interactivity in the art world. Whether you’re an artist, curator or visitor, it’s all about surrendering to spontaneity.

“I’m really bad at saying exactly what my work is going to be. I don’t sketch anything,” says Luger. “I want to build it, to let the materials figure out what it’s going to be.” For Everything Anywhere, the Santa Fe artist composed a giant female face from 104 ceramic sculptures. His wife, Ginger Dunhill, tied yarn and ropes into long bundles that stretched through their house. Luger wove it all together at CCA, adding willow branches, thrifted afghans and a sound system.

The result is a monumental, matriarchal archetype that dominates the 1,000-square-foot gallery. If you whisper into a hidden microphone in her ear, your voice comes booming out of her mouth. “I wanted this earth being to be mothering, in the fashion of mother that I experienced,” Luger explains. His heritage is Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara and Lakota, and his mother is a stone carver who singlehandedly supported her family with her art.

“His piece was constantly evolving [and] I never saw anything until it got here,” says Rizzo. “I would talk to him and grab hold of any themes that stood out. An element that he kept bringing up was community interaction.” She and Piller set to work planning a series of events that far transcended traditional art receptions. It’s a challenge they’re accustomed to: Recent CCA exhibitions such as M12’s The Breaking Ring and Ellen Babcock’s C To See (which runs concurrently with Luger’s show) have also emphasized visitor participation. “As soon as you put the word out, things start happening,” says Piller. “It’s really just about getting amazing people.”

In addition to the ritual by La Pocha Nostra, Santa Fe dance troupe Ground Series and international indigenous arts collaborative Dancing Earth staged interactive performances. The show’s closing reception will feature local storytellers and poets. “When there are bodies moving in the space, all of a sudden this massive head is no longer just an object,” says Luger. “It’s like invoking a spirit. The piece is experiencing the human, versus the human experiencing the piece.” The events were designed to pull visitors out of their comfort zones, and reveal new ways of interacting with art. “It’s not a normal museum or gallery mold of standing in a room, really didactic, looking at the art,” Rizzo tells SFR. “It shakes up the set of rules that you might judge a piece by.”

Rizzo sees shows like Everything Anywhere as part of a larger art world movement, born from a growing desire for real-world connection. “Artists are like, ‘I want my piece to be more than just an object. I want that experience,’” she says. “People don’t really value objects anymore, or at least the younger generations.” It’s a sea change that is shifting the way Luger markets his artwork. “As an object maker, I’m trying to figure out a way to remain relevant and economically viable in a world that doesn’t want objects,” he says. “The reality I’m seeing in the Native American art market is that all of these people with amazing collections are dying. I’ve probably got five to 10 years of collectors still existing, but I can see down the road; the writing is on the wall.”

The solution could be to sell $10 tickets rather than $10,000 sculptures. “Places like this, community spaces, where you can show work instead of putting it out there as a commodity, is really where this economy is heading,” says Luger. “People are more interested in experiencing something than owning or collecting something.” And the approach appears to be tapping a new, broader audience. Piller has seen a wide range of demographics interact with Everything Anywhere, from a delighted group of preschoolers to a slightly disgruntled senior who said, “I don’t understand. How do I buy this?”

“It gets people here that wouldn’t come normally,” Piller says. “The last thing we did with Dancing Earth had tons of Native American families. They’re not always in the gallery. A lot of the public programs draw in different elements of the community.” Luger considers these visitors to be full-fledged collaborators. “The way somebody experiences it completes it,” he explains. “I like all the different ways my work comes across. I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s perfect. Exactly.’” In the same spirit, he plans to add workshops and apprenticeships to his repertoire, and he’s already found another place to exhibit Everything Anywhere, in Colorado Springs in 2018.

Everything Anywhere Closing Reception
3 pm Sunday Sept. 11. Free.
Center for Contemporary Arts,
1050 Old Pecos Trail,


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