Life on the Flip Side
Concurrent exhibits at 516 ARTS home in on alternative communities
The first thing you notice is a bearded man with “Hug Life” tattooed across his beer gut, standing on a homemade raft. This image, and numerous other examples of alternative living, are the focus of two summer exhibits at 516 ARTS: Across the Great Divide, a collection of photographs by Roberta Price, and Worlds Outside This One, featuring more than a dozen contributors. Across the Great Divide documents life in Southwestern communes―small, rural communities based around collective land ownership. Worlds Outside This One shows environmentally friendly and often portable methods of housing from around the world.
Getting lost in Worlds is easy. The embraceable beer gut, for example, is part of a series calledThe Swimming Cities of Serenissima. It tells the story of a two-month journey taken by 30 New York artists on three homemade rafts built from salvaged materials. The group traveled from Slovenia to Venice, Italy, on the Adriatic Sea, stopping to give circus performances along the way.
In another corner of the gallery sits “The Golden Gate 1”―an egg-shaped, wooden mobile home. There’s a surfboard mounted to the roof, while the inside packs a bed, storage, a kitchen stove, a sink and a toilet. Through the cockpit window, you can see a small steering wheel with an iPod Touch embedded in its center. Designer Jay Nelson's original concept sketches ride tandem to the sculpture/vehicle. “The Golden Gate 1” has a 10-mile traveling range, with a top speed of 20 miles an hour―yet the surprisingly compact craft hovers on wheels barely bigger than a bicycle's.
Then there’s 1013 First Street, a house built in 1903, then purchased and renovated by Albuquerque artist Justin Bagley in 2002. Bagley completely repaired the run-down house with salvaged materials and has lived there since―without gas or hot water. An old TV in the gallery plays a video of his handiwork in progress, and a photo album gives glimpses of inside of the house, decorated beautifully with handmade floors and antique furnishings. On the wall beside the album are hundreds of scraps of paper with sketches, measurements and scribbled notes.
The salvage theme carries into Jed Lind’s Small is Beautifulseries. He photographed houses from the Shetland Islands, off the northernmost coast of Scotland, where harsh weather and a lack of building materials means that many houses have old boat keels for roofs. Across the Great Divideoccupies the upstairs gallery and spans 1969 to 1977, during which time Roberta Price took more than 3,000 photos. Most are of relaxed, happy-looking hippies in the Southwest. In one, a hatchet-bearing man wearing nothing but white socks and boots is on his way to chop wood. Another bears the caption “Smokes thoughtfully while contemplating a Tarot reading.” There’s also a shot of “Further,” the bus that transported author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters across the country, outside of Santa Fe in 1969. Echoing the Shetland houses a floor below, the Drop City Commune dome complex, outside of Trinidad, Colo., was built using hoods scavenged from old cars at a junkyard. There’s also a shot of “Further,” the bus that transported author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters across the country, outside of Santa Fe in 1969.
In sharp contrast to these halcyon scenes are Price’s photographs of the October 1969 antiwar march on Washington. In one image, smiling protesters gather for the march. In another, a police officer leans against a cement wall next to a peace sign drawn in chalk. There's tension in the diptych, a brewing storm of idealism and force that would ultimately end in tear gas. The photos in Across the Great Divide look more like family snapshots than an art gallery exhibition, which suits the subject matter well. Worlds Outside This One, however, is what will keep you at the gallery longest, as each structure, photo and piece of ephemera invites a more personal sort of interaction. The two 516 exhibits blend worlds both known and unfamiliar, and both are worth exploring.