So I’m back at Caldera Gallery, this time for a letter-writing event, in advance of the March 6 elections. I’m sitting across from Houston Johansen, justifying why I’m thinking about abstaining from the vote. Having humored me a conversation on politics as art, he contains his annoyance no more.
Readers may recognize Johansen as a former City Council District 1 contender, competing against 18-year incumbent Patti Bushee. SFR Assistant Editor Ramón A Lovato recognizes him as a former schoolmate. And I recognize him as Caldera’s “special guest,” until the golden curtain drops.
Here’s the part in the story when I roll back to explain a few things: You see, Caldera’s founders—Sandra Wang, Crockett Bodelson and Cristofer Brodsky—have the laudable, and sometimes annoyingly resilient, desire to get the residents of Santa Fe involved with one another, using the gallery as a fulcrum for discussion. The event that brings us together this fine Sunday is Letters to Locals, a spin-off of the PS I Love You exhibition, which runs through March 18 [The Curator, Feb. 8: “Envelopes and Pink Suits”]. For $20, Letters to Locals participants enlist the One Panda Band to deliver custom envelops, and the letters therein, to residents in 87501 and 87505.
What is One Panda? Well, around 7 pm, while I’m listening to Johansen explain that he wants to bring groups—young and old, downtown and south side, wealthy and middle-income—together for discussion, the announcement comes that the special guest has arrived. We crowd into the main gallery, where a golden curtain drops, revealing a panda-suited Bodelson playing guitar and hi-hat. He encourages us to write letters about social/political/economic issues. Wang then passes out sheets of paper.
And now, an excerpt from a discarded letter that I saved from a landfill or post-consumer obscurity: “Dear Human, Did you know that every night, you forget you exist and become something else? Not while you’re dreaming, but in all the space in between. The space that you don’t remember.” This letter writer instead writes down a number of strange facts, such as “ants never sleep” and “pine cones only open in forest fires.” The writer and I argue over the details of that latter statement.
Johansen (who’s running in my district) sits across from me, so I hit him with a question: “I write sometimes about extending the designation of ‘art’ to nontraditional expressions such as politics, so do you think it’s possible to see politics as an art and, if so, how?”
“There is an art to politics,” he responds, while doodling on his sheet of paper, “and art is inherently political.” He wants Meow Wolf to get more involved, by running candidate forums, for instance.
I interrupt: “Let me clarify,” I say. “I view any process done with imagination and intention as an art form. Can politics operate on imagination and intention?” Long story short, he does believe so, and here’s how: Term limits will increase the opportunity for more imagination and experimentation, and because participation doesn’t begin/end at the ballot box, residents need to become involved with city government on a daily basis.
I ask if he’s going to mail his doodles, and he says that he plans to write two letters to his opponent: one of congratulations and one of condolences.
“Who are you writing to?” he asks.
“Myself,” I say, “because I don’t think I’m going to vote.” I try to explain that the reason Meow Wolf doesn’t want to get involved is that its members don’t want their messages to be reduced and categorized; they demonstrate that being involved in one’s community doesn’t demand submission to the system. The motto “Change the system from within” just doesn’t apply anymore, as if it ever did. Instead, I say, “I’m just not sure it does anything. I’m protesting.”
Trying to remain polite, Johansen says, “Hopefully, we’ll win you back someday,” and excuses himself, leaving his doodles on the table.
As he exits, Wang enters, carrying an anonymous letter for a random recipient. It ends: “I sure sound wank-y. I’ll come off my high horse. But don’t be a stranger. It’s been so long. Talk to me. Write me. I…I…I still love you.”
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