Within moments of entering Currents New Media's new gallery space, I have been handed a VR headset and am chatting with Frank Ragano and Mariannah Amster, joint executive and artistic directors, while simultaneously looking at (while awkwardly trying to touch) the interactive work of electronic artist Reilly Donovan.
It's a fitting start to the interview, given the key role Currents has played in Santa Fe's emergent media landscape over the last decade with its introduction of hundreds of digital artists to new audiences and vice versa.
Be that as it may, I can't conduct an interview from inside a virtual reality headset (correction: I can't conduct an interview from inside a virtual reality headset yet), so I take it off and begin the tour of the Canyon Road space that will soon house year-round exhibits of new media artists.
This next phase for Currents comes as the result of a gift of an unnamed benefactor, and will allow Ragano and Amster use of the former Red Dot Gallery for exhibitions, artist talks, and much-needed conference and meeting space for staff as they lead into Currents' 10th festival year this coming summer.
The multi-room gallery will showcase multiple types of works—the first exhibition includes a variety of work using 3-D technology, LCD projections and work in other mediums by artists Jodi Stuart, Susanna Carlisle, Bruce Hamilton, Valery Estabrook, Christine Remy, Anne Farrell, Esteban García Bravo and Max Carlson, as well as a room of photographs by John Ressler. "I like the idea of having still work for people to spend time with," Amster says of the photographs, "so we don't all forget how to do that." The works will be on display through March 2019.
The new gallery, named Currents 826, also will house a 3-D printer courtesy of MAKE Santa Fe for educational and demonstration purposes. Visitors will able to pick from a selection of files and see the works printed. Last, and somewhat thrillingly for consumers, it includes a gift shop with digitally created art, such as 3-D sculptures and jewelry, infinity puzzles and magic chalk.
Ragano and Amster hope the sales from both the shop and the gallery will contribute funding for the annual Currents festival. "That's one of the differences," Amster notes. "Things will be for sale. Mostly we don't do that at Currents." Currents, they note, is run on a "shoestring," with ongoing grant writing and fundraising to make it happen each year. While they have long hoped for a permanent exhibition space, taking on the gallery, for the duo, means they have six jobs between them.
In addition to helping fund the festival, the pair also hopes the new permanent space will "help us with visibility," Amster says, and "introduce [Currents] to a whole new crowd," Ragano adds, with Amster noting, "It's a different kind of environment here on Canyon Road." The pair hustled to open the new space for the holiday season and Christmas Eve farolito walk. Their winter hours will be noon to 5 pm, Thursdays through Saturdays.
The exhibition space also aims to allow audiences more time to engage with work. "We're showing different kinds of work," Amster notes, "because it's a more intimate space." Fundamentally, though, both say their focus is always on the art versus the technology when it comes to curating. "We just are going with things that are impactful that people can really respond to with their whole selves," Amster says. "My commitment is getting people to have an experience with their whole selves. … This kind of work really allows for that."
As anyone who attends Currents knows, the festival is jam-packed with both work and attendees. Submissions recently closed for the 10th festival, which will be held June 7-23, 2019. Ragano says some 560 submissions will be narrowed to approximately 100. In honor of the 10-year anniversary, they also are putting together an archive of catalogs and files from all the artists of the last decade. The new space will see concurrent programming during the festival and, as was the case last year, Currents' many partners will also host exhibitions and other events showcasing the city's growing emergent media ecosystem.
Despite the festival's growth and influence, Amster describes it as "pretty mom-and-pop."
But, Ragano adds, "it's taken on a life of its own, so what we're trying to do is keep up with it."
Now with the space on Canyon Road, he says, "it's like it has a home."
Currents 826 Grand Opening Reception
5-8 pm Friday Dec. 14. Free.
826 Canyon Road,