Sculptor Cannupa Hanska shares a multi-acre compound in Nambé with at least three other people, including his partner (the vivacious Santa Fe DJ and performance artist Ginger Dunnill) and their newborn, Io (pronounced E-O). The main house tells of its prior life as a mill, the remnants of a wheel fixed to the outside and the gears plastered into surfaces in the kitchen.
Occupying the back end of the lot, Hanska’s 500-square-foot (plus or minus) studio houses all the tools and materials you might expect a sculptor to collect, plus a bed that until recently comforted an additional tenant, a friend who needed a place to sleep.
Not in the wattage-deficient studio, however, is Hanska’s kiln. That’s at Caldera Gallery in the Baca Railyard, where a manufacturing flaw in the device caused it to overheat just as he began to fire his collection for the Birdland show atEggman & Walrus Art Emporium. That the meltdown didn’t destroy the two ocarinas inside nor burn down the gallery, he attributes to a small clay figure, called a kiln god.
“It’s a traditional pottery thing in the Southwest, like a metaphysical safety,” Hanska tells me in his studio.
After the kiln overfired, Hanska thought he would have to replace his kiln god, but then he viewed the situation from the opposite perspective.
“I was like, ‘Actually, you did a really great job. You totally saved Caldera,’” he says. “‘It could have burnt down this whole fucking place.’”
Over the next hour, Hanska tells me that he wrote and performed slam poetry in Seattle before moving on to painting. He survived by selling “tiny paintings and slinging them like weed for like 20 bucks,” he says. He shifted into clay when he returned to the Southwest.
We discuss the environment for Native artists who want to be seen as artists on a larger scale, “working obsessively for one’s health,” verbalizing intent and failing successfully. While developing his ocarinas for Birdland, he says, he added a letter-opener to his toolkit.
Even before he decided to interpret the Birdland theme literally (“bird” + “land” = mutant land creature with wings), Hanska tended toward chimerical figures. He titled his graduating exhibition Chimera at the Institute for American Indian Arts, and his first show at Eggman, 2011’s I Love You to Death, featured predators and prey in the moment of capture, replacing an owl’s widening jaw and a hare’s terrified expectation, for instance, with human faces kissing.
“The predator isn’t taking anything that the prey isn’t offering,” he says. “‘I will offer myself completely’—it’s that relationship between species.”
This blending of species Hanska calls “the interpenetration of opposites”—a concept that saturates the fabric of his being, especially his mixed-race heritage.
“A lot of it has to do with being a wondermutt,” Hanska says, dragging a self-rolled American Spirit cigarette (blue container) that looks much tidier and burns much smoother than my own. “It’s something I’ve explored throughout my life, being able to make things. This is how I deal with shit, being able to exorcize these ideas.”
Case in point: Hanska’s kiln god. It’s a miniature version of a multi-mouthed, teardrop-shaped character he keeps here. “I literally believed that I had that thing inside of me that ate everything that happened to me and said ‘Fuck it,’” he says.
The two works that survived the meltdown at Caldera were bull elk with loon bodies, which resemble raptor bodies because of the texturing. I ask Hanska if he had the codependence of herbivores and carnivores in mind.
“That was present,” he says, “but when you build in clay, the clay is a huge participant in the process, especially something as technical as a flute. I could build a really beautiful elk bird that looks realistic, but it’s not gonna play. And it was real important to me that they play, because sound was also a big part of this interpenetration of opposites, sound being this way for any terrestrial being to fly.”
Birdland, through May 20. Eggman and Walrus Art Emporium, 131 W San Francisco, 660-0048
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