Shitty Seaworld, Birds of Paradise, Mammoth … Art in the Police State, Exploring Climate Change Through the Arts … Desert Oracle, The Japanese Lover, Singing at the Gates. Alone, these words are cryptic, but together they comprise what’s wholly powerful about the here and now and what’s quickly becoming the past. These are some of the events, exhibitions, plays and books that made 2015 such a rewarding year to be engaged with art and literature in our high desert city.If you’ve ever wished you could reflect on the absurdity of life, the fleeting nature of happiness and humanity’s caustic sprint towards self-destruction with the most iconic of ocean mammals, well, then Shitty Seaworld went well beyond making your shitty dreams come true. A weekend-long experience put on by The GRAFT, Tannex and Small Engine Gallery, Shitty Seaworld not only featured Shamu—I mean, Camus the Whale, but a Petting Pool, a “beach” (read: small room filled with sand), even a real, living, breathing, walking mermaid. This is what a gallery experience should be, which is to say, unabashedly fun.Just as exotic as Camus the Whale were the vibrant photographs on display at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science from photographer Tim Laman and ornithologist Edwin Scholes. These images, part of a traveling exhibit titled Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution from National Geographic, prove once and for all that it really is all about sex. At least for the birds of New Guinea. The remarkable species of birds there have some of the most striking adaptations in all of the kingdom animalia for attracting mates and the two on assignment were able to capture them with advanced photographic equipment and approaches.In the darkened Tricklock show space on Gold, the “paleo fable” of Mammoth played out on stage. With pitch-perfect and thoughtful humor, this meditation on romance and wreckage was brought to life by eight staggeringly talented actresses. The show traveled all the way from Brooklyn to be reborn in Albuquerque, where I sat in the front row alternately stifling laughter and suppressing puzzlement. This play conjured questions that I’d never broached before that lingered for days.A comprehensive year in review can’t ignore violence and note reactions to it. Artists working in various media engaged in a dialogue on America’s motion towards more militarized police forces, new expressions of control and notions of justice in Necessary Force: Art in the Police State at UNM’s Art Museum. With great nuance artists approached topics such as racial profiling and our nation’s endemic gun violence while staying keenly tuned to the importance of collective healing. This exhibit proved to be profound and timely.Equally pertinent this year was 516 Arts’ programming that expressly dealt with climate change. Patrons had the opportunity to view films, attend lectures and workshops and view galleries that explored the topic from any number of angles. In HABITAT: Exploring Climate Change Through the Arts science took on a new texture that was compelling and multi-faceted.As fall approached I found myself browsing racks of vintage wears and art at Stone Fruit in Taos. There I discovered Desert Oracle, a high-quality zine that speaks to desert dwellers from California to West Texas. Published quarterly, this indie magazine details the history of the region and the issues facing it while delivering strange news from its most remote sites, lending voice to the weirdness and beauty of the desert.In mid-November I nervously dialed New York City and was connected to the enigmatic Isabel Allende. In anticipation of her speaking date in Albuquerque, I interviewed her about The Japanese Lover, which proved to be one of the most powerful reading experiences I had this year, in part because I read it with the anticipation that, for once, all my curiosities would be satisfied by having a dialogue with the author. With a warm and candid demeanor, she talked process, influence and sentiment, providing insights that I will be ever grateful for.Whether writing about a walk to Belen or the night time sounds of an Arizona prison, the words of Jimmy Santiago Baca deeply resonate, illuminating passing feelings of triumph or despair with adept, striking language. With immense scope and experience, reading Baca’s collected work in Singing at the Gates is like living fractions of his incredible life. I can’t believe that I wasn’t exposed to his works before this book landed on my desk; Baca is a poet writing the textures of New Mexico like no one else.In looking to the upcoming year, here’s hoping artists shake off restriction and embrace resolution only where it serves them and continue expanding the creative landscape of Albuquerque.
There are 39 species of Birds-of-paradise; images of many were at the NM Museum of Natural History
Tim Laman / National Geographic
Donna Jewell and Rachael Shapiro starred in Mammoth