The Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve, Santa Fe
Sept 1-Oct 31, 2018
Axle Contemporary Mobile Gallery, Santa Fe
Sept 2-23, 2018
It’s a pleasure to be taken by surprise in a place I had never heard of before—the Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve in La Cienega. Managed by the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, this thirty-five-acre gem is a kiss away from I-25, yet it’s a haven for flora and fauna that grow out of, or inhabit, three distinct ecological zones: riparian/wetland, transitional, and dry upland. While cottonwood trees are increasingly in peril up and down the Rio Grande because of the prolonged drought, at this nature preserve there are massive and very healthy examples of them—“the grandmother cottonwoods,” as a friend observed.
This is Axle Gallery’s third iteration of Wilderness Acts: Art in the Land, a series of site-sensitive installations, and this one features fourteen artists and one poet. The work encompasses sculptures in wood by Munson Hunt, Susannah Abbey, Rick Yoshimoto, Chrissie Orr, Gina Telcocci, Dana Chodzko, and Frederick Spaulding; an adobe beaver by Kathleen McCloud with Tereza Sandrin North; dragonflies made from gourds by Susan Bruneni; small off-white canvas pieces nestled in the grass by Brian Fleetwood; seeds in shattered clay vessels by Cannupa Hanska Luger and Ian Kuali’i; and one conceptual work by Paula Castillo with Terry Mulert—poetry pinned to trees.
The wood work, though, dominates, whether in the massive and angular blocks of blackened timber by Hunt, Reclamation (small) 1, 2 & 3, pieces that exert a fierce gravitational pull, or in Telcocci’s airy hanging basket-like piece, Mudma, suspended in tree branches. These two sculptures are characteristic of both artists—the dense, black totemic structures of the former and the delicate, curvilinear, hanging pieces of the latter. The work of Hunt and Telcocci present an engaging contrast in form, placement, and execution, yet the sculptures of each would translate easily from the context of a nature preserve to an urban setting, while never shedding the works’ organic origins or their elemental inner dialogues.
It’s hard not to like all of the work in Wilderness Acts. The underlying specificity of every artist to speak to and with its matrix—and what a wonderful, generous matrix it is—adds a gloss of sympathetic magic to pieces that, put in another context, might not hold up. At first, I mistook Fleetwood’s curious phallic forms, Anemopsis, for a species of fungus—some type of mushroom perhaps—but looking up the title of his piece, I found out he was referring to the cone shapes in the middle of the flower petals of yerba mansa plants. The work UP/ROOTED, a collaboration by Yoshimoto and Orr, was in reality a shotgun wedding of two distinct sensibilities that tried to blend a sleek modernist needle-like form, jutting into the air, with an earth-hugging arc woven of old weathered wood. Neither piece really served the other. The “needle” tended to eclipse the arc, a decidedly lovely structure that deserved its own unique space in the preserve. I wanted to pick it up and place it in a clearing by itself so it could speak its own Andy Goldsworthian dialect without being subservient to a competing narrative.
In a site like the nature preserve, all the work is part and parcel of a discourse about sensitivity to place. The languages are many but the messages are the same—to honor nature and its diverse offspring—embodiments of our evolving ecosystems presently cradled in a world where everything is uncertain and risk is everywhere. The beauty in diversity, however, whether manifestations of nature or culture, is not yet in short supply. One look at the breathtakingly delicate spray of violet-tinged rice grass that grows along the winding path in the preserve is as much affirmation as you could ask for that, in nature as well as in art, the vision is real. It alone exists.