“This was a play on the pop cultural references of New Mexico,” says Sandra Wang. “You know, pickup trucks and aliens!” At her feet is a little white box full of soil sourced from a streambed in La Cienega. There’s a tiny silver truck marooned in the dirt, with green aliens peeking through its windows. Wang and her partner Crockett Bodelson, who create and curate art under the moniker SCUBA, made 360 sculptures from local adobe and clay when they moved to New Mexico from San Francisco in 2011. They called the body of work Why Does It Matter, and their creative process became a method for literally feeling out the landscape.
“For SCUBA, this piece was about getting to know our new home and playing with local materials,” Wang says. “In my case, I was experiencing New Mexico from an outsider’s perspective. Because Crockett’s from here, he got to see it from a renewed perspective.” From Oct. 19 through Nov. 19, SCUBA presents an exhibition of 10 New Mexico artists at David Richard Gallery called Outer Local as part of the space’s Santa Fe Art Project exhibition series. Titled after the extraterrestrial pickup truck at its heart, the show challenged its participants—newcomers and natives alike—to reexamine their home turf. Last Saturday, Oct. 22, the curators convened several of the artists for the first in a series of public discussions of the show.
Albuquerque photographer Jessamyn Lovell steps up first to address the audience. Her images in Outer Local are outtakes from a project called No Trespassing, a body of work that chronicles Lovell’s hunt for her estranged father. “I feel like [Outer Local] offered me permission to be more free in interpreting what place meant to me,” says Lovell. The images in the show reconstruct an emotional and symbolic context that exists apart from strict chronology. The artist, who is originally from Syracuse, New York, sees her interactions with the New Mexico landscape in a similar light.
“We all kind of insert our own narratives,” Lovell says. “When I drive I-25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, I have a very different experience than someone who grew up here. I’m always going to be an outsider New Mexican in a way, until my history and my son’s history starts to become more rich with this place. I don’t know if I’ll ever look out and see a roadrunner, and not feel like it’s super exciting and exotic.”
Kristen Roles, who also hails from Albuquerque, is up next. She’s working towards her MFA in photography at the University of New Mexico, where Lovell is a lecturer. “I’m thinking of local materials in terms of their proximity to our bodies,” she explains, gesturing to a series of images printed on temporary tattoo paper fluttering on the wall. The abstracted images on the paper are the warped residue of a past life: Roles had planned to move from Tampa, Florida, to New Mexico last year with her partner, but he tragically died.
Roles boldly discusses the process of exploring the New Mexico landscape, while conducting a simultaneous journey into her past. “Being embedded in this landscape has been an escape in a sense,” she says. “Even on Central Avenue, which is a mess of cars, I can glimpse the mountains over the top of the Walgreens and it’s this astounding moment.”
SCUBA ushers the crowd into another room, so artists Derek Chan and Parker Jennings can round out the afternoon. Chan is originally from San Francisco, and moved to Roswell from Chicago in 2012 after completing his MFA at the University of Illinois. He did an artist residency in Roswell, and developed a profound affection for the little town.
“It’s a very mundane, agricultural town that is fueled by oil, but there’s also this sense of awareness around aliens and the metaphysical and the spiritual,” Chan says. “I feel like I always carry that balance in my work.” After his stint in Roswell, Chan moved to Santa Fe, where he’s been creating handmade books, large-scale paintings and videos that investigate the New Mexico landscape and culture.
Aside from Bodelson, Jennings is the only artist speaking at the event who grew up in Santa Fe. He works as a carpenter at the Santa Fe Opera, and despite his native Santa Fean roots, he’s always felt like an outsider in the art community. “This is the first show that I haven’t had to come and hang my work myself,” he says. “I guess this puts me closer to being in the art world … but focusing on more subversive work has been really important to me.” The plywood wall sculptures he made for Outer Local, with geometric cutouts and spray painted patterns winding across them, are certainly the show’s scrappiest and most experimental work.