Walk Abouts

Two installations integrate art, nature and technology into Santa Fe's environment

In movies, not to mention the headlines, technology and nature don't mix well. Plants join together to destroy humanity (M Night Shyamalan's ridiculous The Happening) or agricultural pesticides destroy male honeybees' already slim chance for reproduction (last month's National Geographic).

Others believe technology offers humans the chance to rectify some of the ills wrought on Earth, and the examples are myriad, from addressing climate change to food shortages—read the online An Ecomodernist Manifesto for more thoughts on ecopragmatism, and the pursuit of positive integration of people and environment.

Two such integrative examples, both falling somewhat broadly into the category of land art, are available for Santa Feans to explore this month as the city has its prettiest and briefest season (autumn!).

Head to the Railyard Park, where mother-daughter team Miriam Sagan and Isabel Winson-Sagan, a poet and multimedia artist, respectively, have curated a show combining the Japanese art of suminagashi, haiku poetry and geocaching, a hide-and-seek game in which participants look for hidden objects using a global positioning system (more commonly, a GPS) via an app.

Sagan and Winson-Sagan have worked together for years creating interactive art projects, and visited Japan together in January. This project grew out of a workshop they conducted in the Railyard community room in which approximately 30 participants wrote Haiku poems and learned suminagashi—"paper marbling or ink painting," as Winson-Sagan describes it. After the workshop, the two teachers took all the work and "created a third thing," Sagan says. Treasure hunters can just wander the park to explore the works, or can use the geocaching app to hunt for them.

Sagan became interested in land art, doing site-specific text installations years ago.

"I think it started from traveling around the Southwest and looking at land art, and traveling around the United States and looking at outsider art, like Vietnam vets who built a giant beer can castle dedicated to marijuana. For some reason, things that are in between, that have a quality of being liminal, like in between what you're supposed to look at … like the park [versus] your inner life or the dream of the city or the shadow of what's going on … was really exciting to me," Sagan says. "But I wasn't that exposed to people making it, and then I had some sort of religious conversion experience where I felt the world should be covered in poetry."

In an earlier project, Haiku in the Hood, the two made fake street signs with haikus on them (translated by Winson-Sagan from the original Japanese) in their neighborhood and geocached them.

"People would come from Albuquerque and stand outside my house," Sagan says. "It's fun. It's audience in the old-fashioned art sense."

And the geocaching element, which Winson-Sagan describes as "treasure hunting for adults," brings a new audience. "People who might not care about poetry or public art, they care about geocaching," she says. "It's our technological edge."

For a different sort of art hunting, head to Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve, a Santa Fe Botanical Garden site in La Cienega. The preserve is open May through October for limited hours on Saturdays and Sundays. I've been visiting for years—it's one of my favorite spots, and a rare opportunity in Santa Fe to see mallards and bullfrogs.

The parking lot was decidedly busier than usual on a recent visit, partially thanks to a current installation by Axle Contemporary mobile art gallery. Wilderness Acts 2018: Art-In-Nature integrates into the preserve 11 artists' temporary installations using natural materials, which one discovers while wandering its trails. Many of these pieces speak to the tension between humanity and nature. For example, Munson Hunt's "Reclamation' (small)" marks the beginning of the trail into the preserve, as well as symbolizes humanity's encroachment in nature. as the exhibition brochure states. The project began in 2014 to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which protects federal land.

"I've been coming out here for years and I thought it would be a beautiful place to do installations in nature," Axle cofounder Jerry Wellman says as we talk in the mobile gallery in the preserve's parking lot. The project dovetails with Axle's mission of "expanding the definitions of art" and "expanding the definitions of exhibiting art and the experience of art."

And while the artists had complete freedom in their installations, Wellman acknowledges it's "hard to avoid political thoughts now. Ecology, which is a science, is under siege by certain politicians. I don't think making a direct statement was in our minds, but the indirect statement might be more long lasting and powerful anyway."

Suminagashi and Poetry
Through Oct. 6. Free.
Railyard Park,
Cerrillos Road and Guadalupe St.;

Wilderness Acts 2018: Art in Nature
Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 31. Free.
Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve,
49-A W Frontage Road,
La Cienega.

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