The sound and multimedia installation of "If History Moves At the Speed of its Weapons, Then the Shape of the Arrow is Changing (2010)"

The sound and multimedia installation of "If History Moves At the Speed of its Weapons, Then the Shape of the Arrow is Changing (2010)"

Postcommodity at Museum of Contemporary Native Art

While driving from Denver back to Santa Fe, I was listening to the Wisconsin Public Radio show, “To The Best of Our Knowledge.” The discussion constellated around national parks, exile, “wilderness,” and specifically the imposed definition, by white people, that “wilderness” ever implied absence of human habitation. Mark Dowie wrote a book on this, Conservation Refugees: The Hundred Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples (MIT Press, 2009) — and in his other writings such as in Orion Magazine he sums the problem up:

It’s no secret that millions of native peoples around the world have been pushed off their land to make room for big oil, big metal, big timber, and big agriculture. But few people realize that the same thing has happened for a much nobler cause: land and wildlife conservation. Today the list of culture-wrecking institutions put forth by tribal leaders on almost every continent includes not only Shell, Texaco, Freeport, and Bechtel, but also more surprising names like Conservation International (CI), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Even the more culturally sensitive World Conservation Union (IUCN) might get a mention.

Liberals might protest that the effect of reiterating histories of displacement pursued both by extractors and conservers is to minimize attention to today’s big-ticket crimes against the environment and civil rights.  (To crib Jonathan Hurley, “I Have a Nightmare.”) Yet the new multimedia installation “It Wasn’t The Dream of Golden Cities” by Postcommodity Collective at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe,  reads in precisely such complexities as media babble over the Glenn Beck-ies at the Lincoln Memorial and fake snow-making on sacred peaks, and so on, can obscure.

Still from Its Still from "My Second Home But I Have A Very Spiritual Connection with this Place."

Still from It’s Still from “My Second Home But I Have A Very Spiritual Connection with this Place.”

I saw the Postcommodity installation on August 21. With Santa Fe’s Indian Market weekend playing the part of marketplace, and Santa Fe City’s 400th anniversary installed as the civic “celebration” codifying which stories live here and which ones rent, the timing of this installation is apt.

It lives in the just reopened MoCNA north of the Plaza across from Cathedral Park. The owning of “indigenous narrative,” as authored by Postcommodity (Kade Twist, Nathan Young, Raven Chacón and Steven Yazzie), grows instantly complex too — informed as they are by philosophical precepts of phenomenologists,  Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Michel Foucault  — thinkers and writers on semiotics, the appearances of which pulsate in and propel this vivid installation.

In the gold room If History Moves At the Speed of its Weapons, Then the Shape of the Arrow is Changing (2010), a “sonic ambush” takes place.  This gallery in which you stand, your body surrounded, mesmerized, held by sound, is nextdoor to the  “ethereal meditation”  of a two- channel video, Its My Second Home But I Have A Very Spiritual Connection With this Place, in which images read still.

The sound of “History Moves” is an elaborate composition, multiple compositions that derived from taking Pueblo Revolt era (1680) weapons and assigning them algorithms ensuing in the music of ta-ta-ta, slide hiss tap, boom, body fielded by sound. Think the fleche of arrows.  Think movies youve seen as iconic as The Searchers in which John Wayne plays the frontier macho who rides furious across landscapes to claim back his niece Natalie Wood from Apache chief Cicatrix. What is up in construing even words like “revolt era,” and “sound ambush,” are cinematic memories. The weapons — atlatl and dart, sling and rock, bow and arrow, and war club — underwent “ballistic analysis” that ensued in new beats for not knowing what hit you. And the room painted gold, with each speaker lofted on its own gold pedestal, has a sequence of seven  (the seven weapons, the seven “golden” cities).

At the fulcrum of noise and sound, where postcommoditys moves of history scamper,  is a  field so compli-populated by “embedded” voices that question number one must ask: in what way is an “indigenous voice” collective , teller of  “true” narratives, framed. They have addressed this question with pointed restraint of means and powerful impact on delivery. Its easy to say phrases out loud like “contested geographies”, “intersections of land and the marketplace”, but hey right outside, Indian Market weekend, theres the  pageant of new kachina dolls,  weavings and jewelry, that skinny turquoise necklace the friend of my friend fingered as she recited having lost her last one, the vision I had – or was it a dream I thought I had, or a picture I really once saw? – as I got near the guard kachina who comes out with the mudheads. Is a new narrative a first appearance or a re-delivery of identities to a site on which we, the minority other now, can really meet them?

So. The collectives statement about this show calls out their stance as being aimed at  “revisionist discourse reaffirming the Western imaginations obsession with teasing out gratifying and generative functions from Spanish colonialism…”

To the point the video installation, Its My Second Home But I have a Very Spiritual Connection with This Place, is a title that itself will elicit a smile from most of us who (even if we take our seeker sides lightly or very seriously)  must still chuckle at how much the city of Santa Fe derives its “special” from the imposed sense of inhabiting what we think of as “wilderness” before.

The two-channel video takes long shots of areas of Santa Fe, purported appearances of “second homes” amid the landscape,  young people sitting on fallen aspens. The  quietude meets mournfulness of the imagery slowly permeates, insists for you to watch because it seems to be dawn or twilight, because the tension of the work gives you the feeling something might come out, something might happen, in this instant in which you stand in a kinesthetic motionlessness of time, or is that history?, arrested.

(top image:  The sound and multimedia installation of “If History Moves At the Speed of its Weapons, Then the Shape of the Arrow is Changing (2010)”)

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  1. Sallyann Paschall says:

    The History Moves at the Speed of Weapons piece was interesting. I loved the whole concept. I saw people open the door to the gallery and then flee – they didn’t take the time to even look around or stop and really listen. The piece reminded me of the time in Art School when we were required to listen to John Cage music. The professor promised that those who left the room would flunk the course. And we ended up much more…

  2. Lara Evans says:

    I was there on the same day! Great write-up…keep it up! (One typo: I think you mean gourd kachina instead of guard…but I usually have to do 3 or 4 corrections to my own blog for that same kind of thing.) I put a link to Adobe Airstream on my art blog, too