Art is changing, always, but I've been witnessing a shift toward art and art-making as social and spiritual practices, as products and expressions of community.
Artists I've worked with in Portland, Ore., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., have embraced the spirit of collaboration, DIY and regionalism achieved by local food movements. They've come to see creativity as a rite of Democracy, art as a vehicle to understanding one's creativity.
Last Friday, I recognized similar ideas in the work and words of artists here in Santa Fe.
A deep magenta flame glowed in the darkness across from the Santa Fe Farmers Market that night as my baby mama and I exited SITE Santa Fe's micro-granting event, SPREAD.
Axle Contemporary had partnered with the New Mexico Experimental Glass Workshop for Vidrio y los Muertos, a Day of the Dead exhibition. Next to the workshop's kiln, Axle's mobile gallery—devised from a custom 1970 aluminum step van—featured the works of various glass artists on its shelves.
Inside, I slid to the back of the gallery (or front of the truck if you prefer), where I bumped into Axle co-founder/director Jerry Wellman. To my great delight, Wellman had not only read some passages I'd written on the relevance of art in the 21st century [visual arts, Oct. 12: "Let's Talk About Art"], but had found them complementary to his own thoughts on the definition of art.
The next 15 or 20 minutes found us discussing the virtues of experimentation and humor, the nature of madness, anger as an appropriate response to certain works and art as a community affair.
We touched on Don Quixote, art brut, Gilles Deleuze, The Lazlo Letters and Andy Kaufman before we decided to continue later.
Over Monday-morning coffee with Wellman's business partner, Matthew Chase-Daniel, at Flying Star Café, my questions on the gallery and its upcoming shows easily transitioned to the works of philosopher RD Lang, dadaist Marcel Duchamp and Trappist monk Thomas Merton.
All of this philosophical list-making might be self-indulgent if the process of stirring up the mind weren't the very point of Axle's mission. Chase-Daniels and Wellman want the residents of Santa Fe to think expansively about art as products of human imagination, and then to act on their own imaginings.
For instance, the two have been carting Jannine Cabossel's giant squashes to new locations every day. The gourds exhibit properties of art—form, tonality, color, composition—and represent the manifestation of a desired outcome, realized by the hard work and imagination of the artist.
Arranged on a pedestal, the gourds constitute a portable still life, albeit with a definite shelf life. That's right: pumpkin smashing party, this Friday.
"What we're doing is opening ideas about the distribution and placement of art," Wellman said.
Artists have been trying to inspire people to look at things differently for as long as I've been appreciating, studying, buying and writing about art, but Chase-Daniels and Wellman join the growing legion of artists with whom I've spoken—most of them younger—who see those ideas transforming into action, whether political, social or personal. How many people have creative thoughts throughout the day, Chase-Daniels mused, but dismiss them out of the necessities of work or routine?
Axle itself resulted from a potential whim a couple of years ago, the partners having wondered what might happen if they showed art in the back of a truck. But, then, they said, "Hey, what if we did do that?"
The answer to that question can only be told one installation at a time, so I'll pick up the conversation with Axle, later, as its series of winter installations nears.
Vidrio y los Muertos
Weekends and by appointment;
through Nov. 19
Axle Contemporary (moving location)
El Museo Cultural
1615-B Paseo de Peralta
Pumpkin Smashing Party
Friday, Nov. 4
Baca Street Studios
926 Baca St.