One of the earliest high-profile art biennials will re-launch this summer in a new format and with a redefined geographical focus. Founded in 1995, SITE Santa Fe was designed to host an international biennial at a time when there were only a handful of such events worldwide. Since then, this part of the art world has witnessed exponential growth, with the number of international biennials now topping 150.
Rather than mounting what would have been the institution's ninth biennial in 2012, SITE's director and chief curator Irene Hofmann, soon after taking the reins in 2010, opted to take a "biennial hiatus" to re-evaluate and redefine the institution's place within the landscape of such exhibitions. "Suspending SITE's biennial provided us the time necessary to conduct research, build a network and create a new infrastructure," Hofmann told A.i.A. in a recent interview.
The result, "SITElines: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas," represents a six-year umbrella project that will include SITE's next three biennials (in 2014, '16 and '18) and will bring together artists resident in the Western hemisphere, stretching from the Canadian territory of Nunavut in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south; plotted on a map, the residences of the artists in the show chart a path that echoes the route of the historic Pan-American highway system that cuts through New Mexico and stretches over two continents.
Departing from SITE's earlier biennial model with a single guest organizer—the list of alumni includes celebrity curators like Lucy Lippard, Rosa Martínez, Francesco Bonami and Robert Storr—the curatorial team for this year's show includes Hofmann and SITE's curator Janet Dees along with two independent curators: Candice Hopkins, who divides her time between Ottawa and Albuquerque, and Lucía Sanromán, based in Mexico City. Christopher Cozier, Inti Guerrero, Julieta Gonzalez, Eva Grinstein and Kitty Scott, satellite curatorial advisors from points across the Americas, round out the team.
The three overarching themes of the next biennial, "Unsettled Landscapes" (July 20, 2014-Jan. 11, 2015), are landscape, territory and trade. The 45 artists, hailing from 16 countries, will show historic, recent and newly commissioned works that address a diverse range of geopolitical, topographical and economic crises that have plagued the Americas over the last 200 years. The work featured will treat subjects like the depletion of natural resources, the legacy of colonization and exploitation of the landscape through development and tourism.
"Unsettled Landscapes" will showcase a number of research-intensive, "site-responsive" projects. The Madrid-born, Chicago-based artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle will address water rights in the Southwest through the process of creating a functional well. Pablo Helguera, born in Mexico City and based in New York, will offer a series of performances and an installation that refer to the period (1821-48) when most of New Mexico was a Mexican province.
Other works highlight local folklore, for example a project by Bogotá-based Colombian artist Miler Lagos who, Hofmann told A.i.A., will begin a six-week residence in Santa Fe in early June. "Using over three tons of recycled newspapers," she said, "he will create a 14-foot-tall tree sculpture inspired by a great Ceiba, a colossal tree that lived in the Brazilian rain forest near the borders of Peru and Colombia. When this tree fell, according to the mythology of the ancient Tikuna people, the Amazon River was formed."
Dees, for her part, is particularly enthusiastic about the newly commissioned installation by Kansas-born and Santa Fe-based Jamison Chas Banks. "His mixed-media Retours De Cendres Vol. 1 (Return of the Ashes) is conceived as the first chapter in a longer project that will culminate in the making of a film," she told A.i.A. "Banks imaginatively explores interconnections between the Louisiana Purchase, the exile of Napoleon and the exile of the Cherokee in what is now the state of Oklahoma."
Other selections deal with the fraught history of international trade and industry that has stretched across the Americas. Two artists, Mexico City-based British Melanie Smith and Los Angeles-based Brazilian Clarissa Tossin, address Fordlândia, an industrial town established in 1928 by Henry Ford as a rubber source for Ford Motors company. While Smith offers a new single-channel video focused on the ruins of this failed utopian project, Tossin's 2012 photographs splice together images of housing in the Amazonian town with the Michigan Upper Peninsula town of Alberta, which was designed in the 1930s to produce wood for Ford's industry.
Migration and travel promise to inflect a number of the show's works. Trabantamino is an ongoing body of work by Phoenix-born, Detroit-based Liz Cohen, who for more than 10 years has staged photos of an East German Trabant car that she radically modified after learning to work on cars in auto body shops in Detroit. The show will include her photo Rio Grande (2012), which captures the car expanded to match the dimensions of an El Camino. Video Trans Americas (1973-76) by the late Chilean artist Juan Downey, the oldest work in the show, is a 14-channel video installation that documents the physical and cultural landscapes that the artist encountered in his travels throughout the North and South America, providing an analogous map of the geographical parameters of the show.