Much Wider than a Line
SITElines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas
SITE Santa Fe
Santa Fe, New Mexico
art review ABQ, 2016, Vol 1, p. 6-7
SITE Santa Fe’s reimagining of the typical contemporary art museums biennial, “Much Wider than a Line” is a vast investigation into the cultural art history shared by the Americas, and tackles issues of gender, class, race, colonialism, and immigration. These deeply rooted and often-problematic social justice issues that plague our hemisphere are the catalyst for all the artwork displayed in the exhibition. A collection of 35 artists hailing from 16 different countries, “Much Wider than a Line” weaves an intricate and complex quilt of shared experience and of histories we oft try to look away from. The works collected within the exhibition seek to shine a light on our past and present indiscretions and the interconnectedness of our seemingly separate worlds.
The fiber art in the show is the most successful at playing on the ideas of social and historical interconnectedness. Gathering of a history through sewing, or the weaving of a tapestry and therefore a story. Most notably Xenobia Bailey’s piece “Sistah’s Paradise’s Revival Tent,” 1999-present and ongoing, is a knit sculpture composed of a large central tent hanging from the ceiling and a large floor and wall piece. The yarn is a bit garish in color with yellows, oranges and reds interspersed with bright saturated greens and brown hues, very reminiscent of late 70’s macramé fashion, and second wave feminism. The revival tent harkens back to a Southern history of social gatherings and safe spaces for African Americans. These were often used as places of worship and had religious and communal ties. Bailey seems to be recreating this idea of safety while knitting modern slang and phrases culturally significant to black feminists into the body of the tent, in a way signify this as their space. The piece is warm, inviting and
begging to be noticed, it feels like a performance of radical knitting, a generally peaceful and meditative undertaking. Through this act, one we typically see reserved for our collective “grandmothers,” Bailey flips the script of the angry black woman narrative. Instead using this piece as a soft, subtle plea to notice and take care of one another, gather and educate, within this sacred space.
Within sight of Bailey’s work sits a grouping of works by artist Margarita Cabrera. Cabrera born in Mexico and living and working in El Paso, Texas, creates life-sized rigid fabric sculptures of cacti, plopped in what appear to be terracotta vases. In contrast to Bailey’s work, which looks inviting, Cabrera’s pieces are representations of plants that purposefully and
aggressively seek to protect themselves and scare others away, yet, they are made of fabric and so lure us into a false sense of security. The artist is inviting the viewer to get closer and take a second look. Upon doing so it becomes clear that these are not merely fabric cacti, rather, they are constructed of decommissioned border patrol uniforms. An unsettling realization, this seems to mimic the discomfort and insecurity undocumented immigrants must face on a daily basis. Merging two seemingly aggressive things both in material, the uniforms, and form, the image of a cactus, Cabrera is able to elicit fear and anxiety from these objectively beautiful art works. As you move about the pieces, you get the feeling of no sanctuary – there is no safe space to be found here, with the potential to bump into one of the cacti, or border patrol at any time, the viewer is always on edge.
Throughout the exhibition there are a great plenty of examples of work dealing with historical and current cultural issues that isolate oppressed individuals and yet connect us all across this continent, because of how pervasive these systems of oppression are. One interactive communally sourced piece deals directly with the North American slave trade and the processing of cotton into fabrics, weaving together a narrative much in the same way the overall show seems to. On the whole the work in the exhibition is strong, though some of the pieces are more considered and applicable to the overarching theme, where others feel to be a bit of a reach. The curator’s have given the audience many a hard pill to swallow, and things to contemplate. In addition to the artwork within the galleries, some of the pieces are accompanied by poetry written in response to the work. So it seems the ideas of interconnectedness are not just evident in the work of the visual artists, but also in the institution that houses it. Deepening the cultural experience of the visitor and allowing them to experience art in many different forms. This exhibition is well worth dedicating several hours on a Saturday to, and will most assuredly keep you thinking for the rest of the week.