Is the internet strengthening human connections or degrading civil society? In an era of "fake news" and presidential Twitter tirades, the debate seems all but settled. Santa Fe art world denizen LE Brown presents a more optimistic answer at the top of her new blog. The URL—descent-of-man.com, a nod to Charles Darwin's seminal text on evolution—conflicts with the header at the top of the site, which reads: "Ascent of Man." Brown's reason for the switch becomes clearer as you scroll down the page, clicking through interviews with young artists who have fresh and powerful messages for the world.
"Modern modes of communication are really freeing," says Brown. "You can literally talk to anyone, and that's a big reason I think the internet is great." Brown, who works as an associate art director at Nedra Matteuci Galleries by day, has styled herself as a 21st-century salonniere with infinite walls in her digital living room.
Descent of Man (the blog's official title) sheds light on a cosmopolitan community of creatives in Santa Fe and across the world. Our national borders might be tightening in a political sense, but these artists are building virtual bridges that will be much harder to dismantle.
On Brown's first day in New Mexico, she drove from Albuquerque to White Sands National Monument. "I had to pull off to the side of the road, I was sobbing so hard," she says. "It was so beautiful and intense." Brown had recently graduated from the Universty of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in art history, and she was on a road trip across the country. She grew up in Ventura, California, and knew she wanted to move away from the Golden State. When she passed through Santa Fe, Brown printed a stack of resumes and passed them out on a gallery walk.
Nedra Matteucci called her not long after she got back to California. They wanted an in-person interview. "That's when I packed up and drove back, and decided that even if I didn't get the job I would just stay. And I did get the job," Brown says. Two weeks after that first drive through New Mexico, she was unpacking in her adobe apartment. That was over a year ago, in February 2016.
Brown studied art of the Middle East and North Africa at UC Santa Cruz, and spent her last year of college on exchange in Turkey. Matteucci was her first real exposure to historic and contemporary American art. The sprawling gallery space on Paseo de Peralta was overwhelming at first. "It's more like an institution than a gallery. I remember my whole first week there I couldn't find the bathroom, and I was wandering around endlessly," she says.
As Brown's knowledge of local art history grew, she also mounted expeditions through Santa Fe's contemporary arts community. A few weeks after her arrival, she sought out a music performance at a DIY venue on the Southside, though she can't recall if it was Ghost or Zephyr. "It was a girl screaming into a trumpet," she says. "It was so weird, and I loved it." Brown kept pursuing strands of avant-garde energy in Santa Fe until she fell in with a group of contemporary artists that inspired her. They would become her first interview subjects on Descent of Man, which she launched in December 2016.
"Every community has a young art scene, but this is just so intrinsically New Mexican," says Brown. "It's a really diverse group of young people doing things without restraints."
Local artists Nathan Usher and Lars Jacquemetton were her first guests. Usher is a collage artist who explores political issues and social theory by weaving queer figures and narratives into his work. Jacquemetton, a software developer, uses 3D printers to create swirling abstract sculptures. "A lot of people argue that new media is not a valid art form. How would you respond to those criticisms?" Brown asked.
"New medias can iterate themselves and copy freely distributed material and completely change how art can be created," Jacquemetton responded. "Can you discount new media as being not artistic? That's hard to argue."
Brown's next round of posts featured artists and arts professionals from Santa Fe and across the nation. Max Baseman, owner and curator of 5. Gallery off Rufina Street, discussed the joys and difficulties of founding a DIY art space. Portland dancer Juliet Paramor talked about postmodernism and improvisational dance. Cynthia Laureen Vogt, who works with Brown at Nedra Matteucci, discussed the artist books that she's exhibiting in New York this spring. Descent of Man resolutely breaks the boundaries between regional art scenes, drawing links between them by revealing the genre-defying attitudes of artists across the nation.
Brown often connects with interview subjects by surfing Tumblr or Instagram and boldly reaching out. "An online forum can be a melting pot in very literal terms," Brown says. "I see a lot of young artists talking about their identities in different ways, and working through that in art. It's hard to make sense of the world right now, and using creativity to come to terms with that is really powerful." Her list of contacts is constantly expanding, as her interview subjects recommend far-flung artists. Brown has international plans for the blog's next phase: She's lining up interviews with artists in the Middle East and South America. New material typically appears on Descent of Man once every few weeks, but Brown plans to increase the frequency of posts.
Brown's confidence grows as she reaches out to bigger names in the art world, but she still gets nervous for interviews. "I do have one or two drinks before I do these interviews. It makes me a little more interesting with my questions," she says.
What's her drink of choice? "Whatever is closest."
Now that's a good salon.