As the winter solstice approaches, the days continue to get shorter. While some people are turning up the carols, others are quietly working on something a little more outside the mainstream, like Joel Brandon. Brandon is the lead at Mothership Alumni, a loose collective of artists that has, in the past nearly 3 years, hosted almost 20 different art shows and is producing the upcoming Paganology exhibition at Downtown Contemporary Gallery (105 Fourth Street SW).
“I like to keep things not too on the nose,” he explained about how he conceived of the idea for this particular show. “I think people get sick of the same Christmas music and stuff like that all the time. … What I've been taught is that in December there is Yule and other things like that—it's the end of the year, there's a feeling in the air. There's lots of other avenues to express spirituality.” And so, through Mothership Alumni, Paganology will open on First Friday, that is Friday, Dec. 7, with a formal reception from 6pm to midnight. Mixed media, photography, acrylic watercolor, sculpture—Brandon's model is one that promotes an open-door policy. All artists and all mediums are welcomed through an open call for work that has—across those 20 different shows—proved to be resonant with the community.
“What I was thinking about paganism in particular was that it has been around for thousands of years,” he continued. “I wanted to spotlight on something outside of what gets so much attention this time of year. I was also thinking about how so much art has stemmed from worshipping idols and things like that—like, this is where some of the very first art came from.” Though the decision to title the show Paganology was very intentional—less about the practice, and more about the study of these ancient avenues of worship and celebration.
Along with alternative modes of spiritual expression, there's also alternatives to the classic gallery routes that many artists are forced into. Mothership Alumni intends to exist very much outside of the exclusivity of the typical gallery world. Finding that path was how the collective got its start to begin with. Brandon described returning to his hometown of St. Louis a few years back. “I was doing a lot of video work and stuff like that out here, but I felt like Albuquerque wasn't matching my effort,” he said. So he thought moving to a bigger city might catalyze his career. “But after six months back out in the Midwest, I realized it was nothing like here. All the people I know here I had taken for granted, and all the amazing artists. We really have something special.”
During the annual Paint Louis Festival—where artists from around the country and around the world converge to paint the Mississippi flood walls—Brandon brought his camera and was shooting the event. There, he ran into Albuquerque native Bearface, who was painting. “I was so excited to see someone not from the Midwest. I started telling him some ideas—that I wanted to go back to Albuquerque and do an art show, and he told me I should do it. … This was before I even really considered myself an artist. That inspired me to come back and follow through with it.”
And that's exactly what he has been doing since 2016. “I realized that I didn't need anyone else to show my art. The creative culture in Albuquerque is definitely really DIY or die. We did this ourselves.” The first show that Mothership Alumni hosted, and what still remains the flagship annual show was the Low Rez Art Show, which will happen again in April. Until then, Brandon has just secured studio space at Downtown Contemporary (where Paganology will be hosted) and is looking toward organizing more shows, establishing regular hours (check up on Facebook @mothershipalumni and Instagram @mothershipalumni for these) and potentially hosting potluck art nights—to “keep the balance between the casual and the professional,” and making sure that access to art and gallery space continues to remain more equal.
“I want to promote everyone, not just myself,” Brandon said. “Thinking of the future keeps me going—just thinking of where we are going to be able to take this. People don't get a lot of these changes, but I want to make sure it's not exclusive. There's no age requirement to be an artist, [and] you can make it happen in this town. I'm sure I could focus on myself and find success that way, but it's more fun to do it together.”
Catch Mothership Alumni's latest offering at the opening on Friday, Dec. 7, and stay connected via social media to continue engaging with Paganology and all that the collective will be bringing to artists and enthusiasts throughout Albuquerque in the years to come.