In regard to his decision to mine two huge gashes into the Virgin River Mesa, earth artist Michael Heizer in 1967 explained, "The position of art as a malleable barter-exchange item falters as the cumulative economic structure gluts. The museums and collections are stuffed, the floors are sagging, but real space still exists."
Heizer soon departed the gallery-industrial complex for the Southwest's wide-open spaces; Axle Contemporary did so this summer for the Southwest's wide-open roads.
Axle Contemporary is a gallery on wheels or, as co-owner Matthew Chase-Daniel calls it, a "performing arts piece masquerading as a gallery." As such, its sleek liquid-silver paint-job belies the retrofitted 1970s step van's less-than-aerodynamic form. The interior—accented with smart, clean woodwork and built-in seats (in case one tires in the 6-by-10-foot space)—is light and airy, aided by a raised roof lined with windows. Chase-Daniel hopes to outfit the truck with solar-powered lighting for after-dark hours.
What it lacks in space, Axle makes up for in mobility. The gallery is not a destination, but a traveler journeying to places no other gallery can. That mobility extends to the gallery's ethos, typified by its last-minute exhibit.
For the weekend beginning Friday, Sept. 24, Axle hosted (or, at least, parked next to, in front of Warehouse 21) Chase-Daniel's "Sun, Flower, Seed," a heaping pile of deadened sunflowers "growing" en masse from a mud-covered Toyota Camry. Like the remnants of a once well-intentioned garden with too liberal a scattering of long-forgotten wildflowers, the thatched fibers writhe out from a knot at the front of the car. They flow, as air would, over the sides and roof of the streamlined sedan.
The piece, purportedly, concerns rebirth and fall harvest, though it looks more like a deadened crop after a thirsty summer. Mostly, it's a funny juxtaposition of nature and technology that's surprising and delightful. Chase-Daniel drove the compost heap from Arroyo Hondo early Friday morning, likely to the dismay of commuters and nesting birds.
"We try to keep overhead low," Chase-Daniel says, fingering a roll of quarters as he refers to the $1-per-hour necessary for the meters (the meter was up on the Camry, but no one tickets a tumbleweed).
Transmissions, the truck gallery's indoor exhibition, is an understated show of mostly ink on paper. Its four artists, including Chase-Daniel, co-owner Jerry Wellman, Paula Castillo and Eliza Naranjo Morse, cover the walls but don't infringe on the space.
Wellman shows his ink on paper and ink-jet pigment prints of one-off patterns—Jacob's ladders, intersecting lines, muddled circles. While better-executed than doodles, the prints are similarly satisfying. Castillo and Morse provide welcome bursts of color. Castillo's ink-jet print "circular succession of regularly repeated movements" is a book of bright purple pages blown open in the wind. Morse's "Hush" is a vibrant, glow-in-the-dark melee of yellow figuration and scratchy gestures.
For Chase-Daniel's Devil's Claw Series, he dribbled ink with an eyedropper, then manipulated the paper to create devil's claws modeled after "biological vessels" he remembers from a reoccurring dream. What the pieces appear to be is more subjective, like a Rorschach test. "Devil's Claw Series No. 2" looks like a spun-around Slimer from Ghostbusters; "No. 15," a man self-satisfied in the face of indignation; "No. 1," sperm violently attacking an egg.
What that says about this writer is unclear; what it says about the art and, by extension, the gallery is that they're inherently provocative.
All of the works are subtle and unassuming; pared down, they rest against Axle's walls as if they made a pact not to encumber the journey. Like the gallery, the art understands the destination is moot if there is no way to get there.
Santa Fe Reporter