Artist Nathan Young newly activates the Wheelwright Museum’s collection of silverwork and jewelry with a site-specific installation Activation/Transformation.
November 6, 2021–April 3, 2022
Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe
The closer to the sun, the brighter the silver. Whether considered literally or rhetorically, the sentiment is fitting for Activation/Transformation, a new installation by multidisciplinary artist and composer Nathan Young (Delaware/Kiowa/Pawnee) at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe.
Upon invitation from the Wheelwright, Young has created a site-specific interpretation of the museum’s collection, choosing to focus on silverwork and jewelry.
“In Santa Fe, what I see is, we’re up here closer to the sun, and silver shines brighter. You see it in the community of the city; it’s a signifier of place, and it’s also functional. My intention is to focus on this style that was developing at the same time that this place was emerging.”
Young works in the expanded field of art, incorporating media such as sound, video, installation, and experimental music, often engaging “the spiritual and the political, re-imagining Indigenous sacred imagery in order to complicate and subvert notions of the sublime.” His practice embraces research as well—he is currently a PhD candidate in the University of Oklahoma’s innovative Native American Art History doctoral program, where his scholarship is focused on Indigenous sonic agency.
Some readers and museum-goers may recognize Young as a founding and former member of the artist collective Postcommodity or his curatorial and organizational work with Tulsa Noise and Tulsa Noisefest.
For Activation/Transformation, the artist researched the Wheelwright’s collection and found a Santa Fe silverwork style that radiates, in many cases through stonework and patterns. The pieces he selected for the installation include ones that serve a range of functions, whether as personal adornment, decor, for horse work, or cutlery, to name a few.
“The idea of a style emerging from a place was really what was most intriguing to me,” says Young. “The ideology of Santa Fe art is something that I wanted to explore because it’s distinct—there’s not another aesthetic like this.”
The artist was baptized and received his Delaware name in the Native American church, a community through which he has come to meet and know many makers. He cites those experiences as the beginning of his direct engagement with collections.
“I’m interested in the way things function. And to me, the silverwork is the stuff that moves with people and with animals to make place,” he says.
As the site of the installation, the Wheelwright identifies itself as a catalyst for Young’s creative investigation of the collection, says Wheelwright chief curator Andrea Hanley (Navajo) about the installation. “We are looking to create space that reflects the museum’s history, celebrates current artistic endeavors, and experiments with future methodologies of emerging Native art.”
To create that space, Young points to ideas of “museumification” as theorized by Boris Groys who posited that by removing artworks from the realm of use, museums in essence protect art from the forces of time. The potential for artists to engage a museum collection as a site of activating and reactivating is potentially limitless. Through Activation/Transformation, Young resists a universal art history by activating connections among people, place, and time.
Activation/Transformation opens on November 6, 2021 and will remain on view through April 3, 2022 at the Wheelwright Museum, 704 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe.