Imagine a tiny building in a parking lot. Inside its one small, concrete room, there are dark, military green walls on three sides. A lighter, more industrial green wall sits opposite a glass door and a large window. There is no electricity, despite wires hanging from the ceiling, and no water, though there is a pipe coming up from the floor that looks a bit like an outdoor spigot.
This building is Downtown, covered on the outside with a mural. I’ve often wondered what kind of industrial nightmare might be inside this concrete box in the parking lot of the Flying Star at Eighth Street and Silver, but I’ve never taken the time to investigate. There’s another freestanding building next to it that’s similar and covered in “High Voltage” signs. That’s been enough to keep me as far away as possible.
It takes a special someone, or in this case someones, to further tap the potential of this little shack, onto which a mural was painted by Mexico City’s Raymundo Sesma and Albuquerque’s Working Classroom almost exactly three years ago. They are Ben Meisner and David Leigh, people with familiar names in the Albuquerque art scene and an unfamiliar idea: to create a project space without all the trappings of an ordinary gallery or museum. “We're not keeping inventory, we're not keeping hours, we're not representing artists,” Meisner says. “We're just presenting projects that make sense for us, for the space and for the artists.” Through this outlook, the freestanding building becomes Generator, the shoebox diorama into which we peer, even when no one is around.
“I don't think we're trying to have a space that's really competing at the same game as other art entities.”
Leigh says, “The attempt, on my end at least, is to fill a curatorial gap that you have both here and in Santa Fe. I don't think we're trying to have a space that's really competing at the same game as other art entities.”
“We're sort of filling in this weird gap between commercial spaces and nonprofit spaces,” Meisner adds. “We're not either one.”
Generator’s first show, Impossible Objects: Various Small Fires, breaks the cardinal rule of both types of spaces by allowing the viewer to physically interact with the work. No longer simply the viewer, the audience actually completes the piece through its participation.
That all might sound a little performance arty, but it's not. It's just that the art displayed in Impossible Objects is a second-edition copy of Ed Ruscha's 48-page photography book Various Small Fires. The first edition of Fires was limited to 400 copies, and the second, which sells for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, was a run of 3,000 (and in 1970, when the second edition was printed, copies cost $3 each). When displayed, Fires is often behind glass, or the viewer is allowed to carefully turn the pages while wearing white gloves. At Generator, hand-built benches allow one to sit and to do the unthinkable—pick up the book with bare hands, turn the pages and to pass it along. The value of the book falls with each manhandling, but its true purpose, to be seen, will be accomplished. Ruscha himself lent the curators the book, which he originally envisioned to be a piece of art accessible to anyone.
The paradigm of artwork/audience and rules about keeping a distance from individual works might appear easy to break. When Meisner and Leigh walked me through the space the week before the opening, the book lay there, just a foot or two from my hand. I looked at, I felt its presence and I couldn't bring myself to ask if it was OK to look at it closer. I don't think I would have been able to touch it unless it was offered to me. Even if it had, I would’ve been cautious about picking up such a valuable and beautiful work of art. And I don't even like Ruscha's work that much. I've just been taught the rules and, apparently, am not the bold nonconformist I think I am. Fortunately, Meisner and Leigh are rebels in the best of ways, the ones that push the rest of us out of our comfort zone and into a deeper appreciation of art.