April 2019 – April 2020
various locations in and around Albuquerque
To see Robert Stokowy’s conceptual artwork, structures [ albuquerque ], I went on eight hikes in eight days. I got a deep t-shirt tan, I got really lost once, and on one day I cried a little. Not even on the day I got lost, either.
Structures [ albuquerque ] is a “performative & site-specific sound installation,” according to the small accompanying pamphlet created by the Berlin-based artist. “I have done radical site-specific installations in other cities before, but Albuquerque is a special location,” Stokowy told me in an email. “It is in a valley; it has a big river, mountains, a typical downtown, very diverse neighborhoods, two interstates dissecting the city, and quickly available bare high desert.” It is very much a city but also closely surrounded and stitched through with unyielding nature.
“All sites combined form the whole installation. Instead of placing material sculptures in nature, this exhibition lets you create your own sculptures. Each piece is the imaginative result emerging from an individual performance,” says the inside of the pamphlet, which also lists the eight locations the installation can be found (you can also find the maps and directions at robert-stokowy.de). At each location, you’ll find a sign with a brief poem and “instructions” on how to create the piece. The instructions are, basically, be still and listen. “Come back at a different time of the day, week, or year,” says each sign. “The installations will be the result of your attentiveness and creativity. There is no wrong or right way.”
Stokowy chose these spaces not simply for their natural beauty, seclusion, or the effort involved in getting to them—although all those things are a part of the artwork, too. He spent a year hiking, biking, and driving around Albuquerque, hunting for the sounds that painted a certain picture of the place. Then he invited us to follow along, to paint our own pictures with these materials.
The eight different locations are in the Rio Grande State Park, the Sandia Foothills, the Elena Gallegos Open Space, the Open Space Visitor Center, the Los Poblanos Fields, the Manzano Open Space, the Golden Open Space, and the Calabacitas Arroyo. At each, I followed the directions to the sign, where I would stand and try to be still, listen, and create the artwork that, Stokowy urges us, is there to be made. At the Los Poblanos Fields, I heard the leaves of a big cottonwood tree gently applauding in the breeze and the cars driving by on Coors. At the Rio Grande Nature Center, I heard the Rio swiftly moving by and the two teenagers crouched in the brush giggling and coughing while they got high. At the Golden Open Space, I never actually found the sign but heard the brutal wind whipping around me in all that openness, the wingbeats of sparrows as they dived into the shelter of the valley, and the relief in my own voice when I finally ran into another person out there and asked, “Is the trailhead this way?” On the Pino Trail in the Elena Gallegos Open Space, I spent the whole hike to the sign feeling sad and frustrated about something unrelated. Then I took a few minutes to stand in silence and watch the clouds move fast over the city below. The heat and wind and glaring sunlight cracked me open, and I wrapped my arms around myself and started to cry behind my sunglasses.
Sometimes it takes the eyes (or the ears) of an outsider to get a fresh perspective on the place you live in. Following Stokowy through the fringes of nature in and around Albuquerque, I began to piece together an image of the place that I hadn’t seen before: the big sky and emptiness that humble me, the strong springtime winds that strip away all my defenses. I wonder what I will find out there when I visit in the fall, or the winter, or next year.