Pieces from Meridel Rubenstein’s Critical Mass provide Oppenheimer context and contrast at the CCA
Whether you choose to view select images from photographer Meridel Rubenstein’s enduring Critical Mass -project before or after screening Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer at the Center for Contemporary Arts (a 35mm print, no less) is immaterial. What’s important is that you make the time to do so, should you watch the big new film about the bomb.
Though the idea kicked off in 1989, Critical Mass as a whole premiered right -here in Santa Fe back in 1993, with Rubenstein and her collaborators Ellen Zweig and Steina and Woody Vasulka making use of an National Endowment for the Arts grant to explore the intersection of scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project and Indigenous New Mexicans who, at times, came together at the home and tearoom of Los Alamos resident Edith Warner circa 1944. According to a statement hanging at the current abridged Critical Mass showing at the CCA, the project “examined the forces of domesticity and history that led to the bomb’s creation.”
This is achieved through numerous methods, including triptych, collage, portraiture, superimposition and, of course, Rubenstein’s unique eye. Think images of industry and aged tech juxtaposed against the land, or J. Robert Oppenheimer himself; of Danish physicist Niels Bohr and Indigenous New Mexicans who orbited the Manhattan Project in the 1940s and were still alive during the inception and execution of Critical Mass. You’ll see Coke bottles that survived the now-infamous Trinity Test and looming grids of photos shown large within massive metal frameworks. Ultimately, however, the show covers intimate portraiture and a more human aspect to a decidedly horrifying yet scientific topic.
Rubenstein herself will take part in two upcoming pay-what-you-wish events at the CCA: a guided walkthrough of Critical Mass on Sunday, Aug. 6 at 2 pm, and a roundtable discussion on Tuesday, Aug. 8 featuring speakers from nonprofit Tewa Women United, the pueblos of San Ildefonso and Santa Clara, gallerist Tonya Turner Carroll, writer and journalist Alicia Inez Gúzman and curator Josie Lopez of the Albuquerque Museum. (Alex De Vore)
Photoworks from Critical Mass: Check ccasantafe.org for hours through Wednesday, Aug. 16. Free. Center for Contemporary Arts, 1050 Old Pecos Trail, (505) 982-1338
Sometimes you’ll be out there on the internet just scrolling around looking at art when something makes you pause and think, “Oh, dang, where’s this been all my life?” Just such a thing happened over here at SFR HQ when we stumbled upon painter/illustrator Susan Estelle Kwas. According to Kwas’ bio, the years she spent as an illustrator still inform the watercolor painting she’s working toward today, and with a hybrid style that marries elements we might associate with folks such as Maurice Sendak and a contempo cartoony style that would be at home in fine art galleries, lowbrow spaces and countless points between, the work is just plain fun. Kwas says she likes to observe animals out in the wild and merge those meaningful interactions into a pure form of self-expression. We see a dense and riveting visual feast. Win/win. (Alex De Vore)
Susan Estelle Kwas: Some Other Day Opening: 5-7 pm Friday, Aug. 4. Free. Martinez Studio, 223 1/2 Canyon Road, (920) 288-7157
Cool off in the cathedral with all 24 voices of the Santa Fe Desert Chorale and narrator Ama Zathura in a stirring modern program called The American Immigrant Experience, accompanied by pianist Nathan Salazar. The program is one of three in the chorale’s Summer Festival’s final weekend, and its diverse compositions reflect generations of people whose music shaped the nation with each wave of arrival. Hear a Spanish “Luna Liberiana” highlight the group’s remarkable ensemble sound, along with a soaring and hopeful number in Haitian Creole. At the opening concert last month, Marques Jerrell Ruff brought down the house with his bass solo in a Josephine Poelinitz arrangement of “City Called Heaven.” We dare you to make it through without a few tear drops. (Julie Ann Grimm)
The American Immigrant Experience: 7:30 pm Friday, Aug. 4. $10-$100. Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. desertchorale.org
Day at Night
Zella Day is one of those rare perennial talents who could just as well have successfully bloomed 50 years ago as when she did in 2015, when she released her first major label album, Kicker. Born and raised in Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona, her discography encapsulates the sweeping highs and lows of the desert Southwest through vibrant guitars, reverberant bass, mesmerizing vocals and her equally ethereal backbeats. Having collaborated with Lana Del Rey (to whom Day has often been compared) as well as Weyes Blood and Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Day presides over the realm of indie desert pop as a kind of ‘60s daisies-and-headbands hippie queen—and it sounds so nice. (Noah Hale)
Zella Day: 7 pm Tuesday, Aug. 8. $20. Meow Wolf, 1352 Rufina Circle, (505) 395-6369