Although collaborative artist duo SCUBA arrived in Santa Fe relatively recently in 2011, it seems about time they participate in a major solo exhibition. Comprised of Sandra Wang and Crockett Bodelson, the collaborative partners have become the darlings of the Santa Fe emerging artists scene, bringing playful and accessible innovation to the all-too-often stuffy offerings of Santa Fe’s conventional art market. The pair met in San Francisco in 2007, and formed SCUBA in 2008. Shortly after their arrival in Santa Fe, they opened the short-lived Caldera Gallery in 2012, a small artist-run space with small, affordable artwork that was thankfully disconnected from the city’s other gallery districts (though this also likely worked against them).
As gallery-directors, SCUBA initiated several participatory, inclusive projects that breathed some big-city life into the local arts and gallery-goers. Hide and Seek enlisted the audience to use maps and tools in the gallery to go on a treasure hunt to seek out artwork beyond the usual gallery wall confines. PS, I Love You involved artist-designed envelopes containing buyers’ messages being delivered by SCUBA around town like telegrams. In 2013, SCUBA initiated Rare Earth at Red Dot Gallery, in which local artists were invited to create artworks with samples of earth from around the state of New Mexico, resulting in explorations of landscape, local history and eco-conscious concerns.
Conspicuously absent from the local big-box gallery circuit (although their place as Santa Fe-based artists was solidified with their inclusion in the New Mexico Museum of Art’s Alcove 12.5 exhibition in 2012), these two have become our very own Art World outsiders. They are exceedingly hip, though not in a way that feels aloof, rather, in a way that excites and pulls audiences into their quirky visions and playful, innovative projects. Their trajectory of work in Santa Fe points to an ongoing concern for the material reality of place and genuine dedication to inclusive interactivity with both local artists and audiences.
Crockett Bodelson, Sandra Wang, SCUBA, ICEPOP, installation view, 2013; Courtesy the artists / Photo by Kate Russell 2014.
ICEPOP at the Center for Contemporary Arts continues this work by contemplating a landscape a little far afield, though no less relevant given global warming: the landscape of the icecaps. Upon entering the CCA’s Muñoz Waxman gallery, the presentation of ICEPOP is equally sparse and inviting. The quiet calm and clean, well-executed aesthetic in white, blue and gray invite close looking and lengthy lingering in this space carved out for adventure and visual storytelling. In the middle of the central exhibition space stands ICESHELF, a fourteen-foot box truck standing in a pool of water, painted white and floating like an iceberg in the lofty industrial setting. The truck has wooden siding suggestive of inhabitability, and despite its wheels it feels permanently in this place by the constructed wooden ramp leading visitors to climb within.
The far wall of the truck is replaced with glass supporting an interior wall of shelving. Light gleams through three blue and white paintings occupying space on this wall of glass, like two-dimensional experimental illustrations of ice’s qualities of transparency, refraction, and crystallinity. The shelves within display ceramic sculptures, all in crisp, organic white as though sculpted from the material they contemplate. Several anthropomorphized porcelain figures look like tiny yetis, or bundled-up Arctic explorers, gazing out over the imagined frozen landscape. The visual mélange looks like a laboratory for meditations on the characteristics of the arctic—the culmination of experiments aimed at capturing something of the visual and material essence of our melting polar icecaps.
Within the interior of ICESHELF, a map of Antarctica hangs above a table and chair bearing a tattered copy of South with Endurance: Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917. The book is a collections of photographs taken by the expedition’s official photographer, Frank Hurley, chronicling the unsuccessful voyage in which the ship the Endurance was trapped in the ice, leaving the crew stranded for a year and a half. The presence of this fascinating collection of black-and-white images of Ernest Shackleton’s intrepid men adds an element of adventure and the unknown, transposed onto a vehicle of the modern age. Book shelves outfitted with ice-related literature encourages viewers to use this space for solitary research for their own arctic adventures. Peering through a hexagonal porthole into the vehicle’s cab, the interior has been painted icy, marine shades of blue and white. Three easily missed geometrical snowflakes adorn the dashboard like a logo. This truck was built for a wintry voyage.
Though saturated with potential energy to travel and study the South Pole, the truck also embodies a sensation of loss as we recognize that we no longer live in the Golden Age of Exploration. Though the ICESHELF provokes exhilarating feelings of inspired travel, for the current generation of explorers there are few unknowns left to discover. And if there were, even a decked out box truck would be hard-pressed to get us there.
Crockett Bodelson, Sandra Wang, SCUBA, Folding Time, detail, 2014, acrylic on porcelain; Courtesy the artists / Photo by Kate Russell 2014.
Leaving behind the invitations for intrepid enterprising throughout ICESHELF, an installation of painted, two-dimensional ceramic figures in black and blue creates a meandering narrative of whimsy. Simple shapes in shades of gray depict ships, penguins, bundled-up explorers, snowshoes and dog-sled teams. The blue shapes allude to more modern, post-Shackleton research, and include an increased number of machines, such as airplanes, trucks and futuristic-looking research stations amid the whales and marine animals. These ceramic pieces hang an inch off the wall on the tips of thin nails, softly casting dimensional shadows on the white gallery walls. The clean and delicate installation has an air of fragility, echoing the feared fragile state of our melting icecaps. The exhibition excels in its use of raw and honest materials. Nothing has been over-manipulated, nothing feels hidden.
Lastly, an installation of columns of porcelain discs hang in a corner. A projector gleams on the discs from behind in a descending pattern, illuminating etched snowflake designs in each disc as it imitates the melting of ice and dripping of water. This digitalization of the organic nature of ice unnaturally speeds up the melting process and emphasizes ice’s natural resistance to changing forms. Melting Point (2013) reinforces a concern for the material reality of the globe’s icy resources and utilizes the impending age of changing landscapes as fodder for artistic creativity.
The exhibition is accompanied by a retail space new to the CCA, where SCUBA-made porcelain miniatures of the tiny explorers and tiny ICESHELFs can be purchased, as well as various offerings from local emerging artists. And, in the CCA’s signature fashion, the show is accompanied by a smattering of events contemplating ice, art, and the environment, including workshops, screenings, and presentations. It may be difficult to immerse yourself in an exhibition exploring ice and Antarctica in the middle of our own bitter winter, but ICEPOP is not one to miss.
(Image on top: Crockett Bodelson, Sandra Wang, SCUBA, ICESHELF, group photo with friends who helped with the buildout and install of ICESHELF and ICEPOP Left to right: John McKissick, Cristofer Brodsky, Ryan Hansen, Amy Westphal, Christopher Johnson, Crockett Bodelson, Ann Jag, Tim Jag, Tuscany Wenger, Sandr; Courtesy the artists / Photo by Kate Russell 2014.)