Postcommodity – “It Wasn’t the Dream of Golden Cities”
Blood is leaking from the mouth of a dead mule deer. The arts collective Postcommodity calls this Indian Time.
In Santa Fe, it’s Indian Market, and it’s also the 400th anniversary of the city’s settlement by the Spanish. Right now, Santa Fe is doubled in size as older, tanned tourists in shorts and couture cowboy hats throng the mazes of Native American vendors selling pottery, silver, and turquoise. This year’s arts fair is expected to draw 80,000 visitors and generate $100 million in sales.
Meanwhile, behind the high walls of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts courtyard, the deer carcass dangles by its hind legs from a high, rough-hewn, four post tower. The structure marks the time with blood that wells at the tip of the deer’s tongue and falls, in steady intervals, onto a drum. The echo of each drop is enhanced into stereo thunder.
To see video of the installation, click here:
“It’s important that the materials are from the spot and that the instrument can sound like what it is,” says Postcommodity artist Raven Chacon (Navajo), a composer and experimental noise musician in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “We use it to find meaning in the history of the spot it’s directly over.”
Postcommodity, whose members also include Nathan Young (Pawnee/Delaware/Kiowa), Kade Twist (Cherokee), and Steve Yazzie (Laguna/Navajo), is a group of conceptual artists. Exhibiting around the world, they use sound, video, analytic computer modules, slain beasts, and other media to spark dialog about Indian culture “beyond the exhausted dichotomies of ‘White’ versus Indigenous,” according to Twist, a writer and artist based in Phoenix, Arizona.
The deer tower, called “P’oe iwe naví ûnp’oe dîmuu (My Blood Is in the Water)” is one of three installations in “It Wasn’t the Dream of Golden Cities.” The exhibition was created in response to Santa Fe’s quadricentennial and the surrounding fanfare. Among the city’s 400th anniversary festivities is a Cuarto Centenario Mass next door at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. The Mass is a celebration of the founding of the cathedral, and thus the formal birth of Catholicism here, in 1610. In honor of the event, members of Santa Clara Pueblo perform a Basket Dance to an audience of over 300 deacons, priests, and Penitentes.
“We wanted to move against the revisionist discourse of the 400th anniversary of Santa Fe,” says Twist. “We wanted to inject an indigenous perspective.”
Postcommodity’s three installations represent different moments in history. “My Blood Is in the Water” recalls pre-Colonial times. The second installation, “If History Moves at the Speed of its Weapons, then the Shape of the Arrow is Changing,” exhumes the Colonial era.
In “…Shape of the Arrow…,” a bare room is painted gold on all sides, warm with a lucre lure. But the installation evokes the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, and inside is a riot of electronic ricochet– a “sonic ambush,” according to the artists’ statement. The sounds are derived from data of ballistics analyses of Native weapons: slings and rocks, atlatls and darts, bows and arrows, and war clubs. The weapons are constantly attacking and responding to attack, performing near infinite scenarios of battle.
To see video of the installation, click here:
“The Spanish were drawn here by the myth [of the Cities of Gold]. The space is visually enticing, but when you walk in, you are bombarded by sound,” says Steve Yazzie, a painter and multi-media artist also from Phoenix.
The third installation, “It’s My Second Home, but I Have a Very Spiritual Connection with the Place,” reflects the present. Opposing screens show video trances trained on lands where tribes, the city of Santa Fe, and commercial interests all have competing stakes. The lens steadies on long views of the populated Sangre de Cristo mountains, capturing the lush summer green leaf. By virtue of quiet, lingering surveillance, the camera also captures the people living there. Comings and goings, small personal dramas and tensions, are recorded along with pulses of traffic and rhythms of daylight.
“We focus on nothing so you can see everything,” says Nathan Young. “And it’s also a paranoid piece, if you live there,” he adds. “That’s your home, that’s your street.”
Video, mathematical equations, and weaponry are just some of the diverse media Postcommodity uses in their work. Influenced by Fluxus and the dawn of “intermedia” in the 1960’s, Chacon, Young, Twist, and Yazzie work together to capitalize on their individual talents and expand the possibilities of expression.
“We wanted to be able to work in any medium and any form. There’s freedom in everything we do,” says Young, a musician and artist from Oklahoma.
One of the primary elements in Postcommodity’s art is sound.
“We’re heavy metal kids: We’re obsessed with music. We want to break sound into a new dimension,” says Young, who, outside of working with Postcommodity, also heads the experimental music label, Peyote Tapes.
“Sound has a unifying quality; it really aligns content,” adds Twist.
For Raven Chacon, who spends his summers teaching chamber music on Hopi and Navajo reservations and also plays with the experimental bands Tenderizor and Death Convention Singers, sound is also part of the indigenous experience. “[Sound] is a critical part of our culture. I don’t know why more Indians don’t work with it,” he says.
Like music, much of Postcommodity’s work is temporal, designed to be absorbed in the moment. While the other two installations will remain in the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts until January 2, 2011, “My Blood Is in the Water” will be dismantled by the end of the weekend. Impermanence lends weight to the encounter and conjures a sense of ritual.
Kade Twist says, “We’re having them act as re-imagined ceremonies. Transformative ceremonial experience: That’s our background, and we like to express that through art.”
Today, as the bells of the neighboring St. Francis Cathedral toll Mass, the deer’s blood falls and the electrified drum booms. The Postcommodity artists address a small audience gathered near the tower, and afterwards, serve everyone a posole stew made from meat of the deer hanging above.
“In a way,” says Yazzie, “it’s just a simple expression of sustenance.”
“It Wasn’t the Dream of Golden Cities”
August 2nd, 2010 – January 2, 2011
IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts
108 Cathedral Place
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Open 10am-5pm Mon. – Sat., noon-5pm Sunday. Closed Tuesdays from November through May.
Adults admission $10
Seniors (62+), Students with valid ID, and Residents of NM: 1/2 price
Native people, members, veterans, children 16 and under, and NM residents visiting on Sunday: Free