Last fall, Form & Concept joined the ranks of creative spaces, rather than existing as an exhibition gallery, with the creation of an ad hoc studio. Visible from windows overlooking South Guadalupe Street, artist Anastazia Louise Aranaga is busy sewing and measuring amid piles of donated fabrics. Whether it’s just for inspiration, for documentation, or just to remember her recent history, articles from various local newspapers and magazines line the walls, detailing the incident that led her to be here in Santa Fe. , working, as she once did, at the The Solaces.
“I moved my life to be here for reconstruction,” Aranaga says of the 21-foot-tall sculpture, which was the target of an arson attack in August. “I was in San Diego at the time, but I’ve mostly been to the Bay Area.”
Since arriving in Santa Fe, Aranaga has barely had time to experience much of the city. Most of his time and attention is devoted to a new iteration of The Solaces, a sculpture intended to represent refuge and consolation (hence its name) for anyone who needs it. And because of the origins of its creators, it has become a symbol of the embrace offered to members of the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.
Aranaga and Tiger artist Mashaal-Lively created the work in tandem in 2017, exhibiting it for the first time at Burning Man, the annual festival of art, community engagement and self-expression in the Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
“The whole idea behind The Solaces it’s that it’s a place of meditation, a place where you can go in and breathe,” says Aranaga.
The artists, who spent nine months constructing the sculpture, included a soundtrack that incorporates the beating of a meditative heart, which those who stepped into her robes could hear inside. Visitors’ heartbeats acclimated to the rhythm of the soundtrack after several minutes. The mantle, which draped over the metal frame of the sculpture, was made up of donated items such as items of personal value, loved ones, or that had stories behind them. It was a coat “made from human memories”, says Aranaga. The figure’s hands lift the mantle, inviting those in need of comfort to enter.
The Solaces can be considered here as a single sculpture, but it represents a plurality, hence its multiple faces, like the two-faced figure of Janus, the mythical figure that looks forward and backward simultaneously. The Solaces has three heads, representing the past, present and future. It is an iteration of what the artists envision as a fictional race of empathic beings whose presence at this time, like bodhisattvas, is a response to the suffering of the world.
“The idea behind The Solaces is that they are all connected by a root system under the Earth, much like the mycelium,” says Aranaga. “They are popping up in the world in places where love and compassion are needed.”
Spectators can get a glimpse of its second incarnation during the Last Friday Art Walk, which takes place from 5-7 p.m. in the Railyard area on March 25. The gallery invites visitors to witness the ongoing restoration and hosts the artists for an open house week, inviting guests to engage with them, ahead of the official unveiling at a celebratory event scheduled for 5 p.m. on April 1. .
Nothing fundamentally controversial is present in its meaning or design, prompting speculation as to why it was targeted late on the night of August 21 after being installed outside the gallery this summer -the. The arsonist, still on the run, left behind a red gasoline canister at its base.
The incident caused a public outcry. Mashaal-Lively, a mixed race and genderqueer artist raised in Philadelphia, found herself with many questions. The piece was installed at the end of their exhibition Entangled Futurities: Metaspores for Queer Trans/Genic Symbiontsa joint show Mashaal-Lively created with artist Pascal Emmer.
The arson was the second act of destruction perpetrated against one of Mashaal-Lively’s public artworks since moving to Santa Fe in 2019.
“There was probably about a year between the two,” Mashaal-Lively says of the first and second incidents. The first was a community room, an altar that dealt with social justice issues, which was damaged by vandals. It was a group project, set up in the Railyard and run by Mashaal-Lively.
“The vandalism of this happened a few months after everything that happened with the obelisk,” Mashaal-Lively says, referring to the controversy surrounding the public marker that once occupied the center of Downtown Plaza. “My first guess was that there might have been a backlash from cross-cultural tensions. But it’s hard to say if it’s all connected.
For their part, Mashaal-Lively is recasting and repairing the ceramic elements, such as the massive faces and hands. But one face, currently staring at the gallery ceiling from a table in the temporary studio, still has blackened soot on its edges. The artist decides whether or not to clean it, remelt it or leave burn marks.
“Part of me likes the idea of having a visible part of it instead of trying to pretend that nothing ever happened,” says Mashaal-Lively. “But we need to do some durability testing and make sure it holds up. i was talking to jerry [Wellman], which is half of Axle Contemporary, on the difference between curing and curing. Healing is that attempt to erase the history of a hurt, illness or trauma, and healing is the process of actively being with it, working for health and not trying to erase history.
The arson took place on a Saturday evening; Mashaal-Lively received the call the next morning. They arrived at the gallery and immediately burst into tears and collapsed. It was not just that the sculpture represented nine months of work, but nine months of building intention, nurturing what they see as an extension of themselves and their genderqueer communities, to offer the world something of positive value.
Aranaga would not arrive for a month.
“As I was driving down the street – and I came alone, which was a bad idea – I saw him and just lost him,” Aranaga says. “I cried for a week before I could come back. I didn’t know it would affect me so much.
“The tricky part of all of this is that when something like this happens, you don’t really know what the motive is,” says Form & Concept director Jordan Eddy. “There was a whole community involved in making it. If you ask how many hours were involved, it’s hard to measure that. So many people donated clothes for the original cape. So the grief was immeasurable.
Is there a bigger conversation that needs to take place regarding the incident and its aftermath? It’s an open question. Only the abuser knows why he did what he did. Perhaps the piece’s message just didn’t have time to sink into the local consciousness. Perhaps knowing what he stands for could remain the hand of those who seek to harm him.
“People project all kinds of things onto art,” says Mashaal-Lively. “Even though we think this project is a very beautiful piece of healing work, everyone brings their own stuff to it. Someone sees it as beautiful, and someone else sees it as scary or weird or demonic. You can’t help it ultimately. But even since the fire, there was so much more talk about what it meant and why it was so devastating. Hopefully it brings more people into the fold.
Development of a new version of The Solaces in a public gallery was important for artists because it not only provided an opportunity to spread the word, but also to engage visitors and passers-by in conversation around it.
All the donations that pour in are accompanied by stories, many of which were handwritten, which Aranaga compiles into a book, a single artifact, to accompany the carving.
“If someone were to buy it, they would get the book, which tells the story of their ancestral footsteps,” says Aranaga.
Donated items include baby onesies, an 1800s lace garment and even clothes donated by a toddler who cried when he heard The Solaces burned down and whose parents frequently frequent the gallery. Aranaga says the little girl keeps asking, “When is the lady going to get her dress?”
The last time Aranaga made the cloak, she did so without being seen.
“I lived in Grass Valley and Tiger lived in Oakland. I didn’t know what the structure looked like. I only knew we needed 400 square feet for the cape. It was a little more amorphous. With the time I had to redo it, I’m going with the feeling of a mosaic or a stained glass window. That’s why it’s so complex.
She gestures to the work tables laden with donated fabrics, many of which came from locals after the roll call and fundraiser was launched to rebuild the sculpture.
“All of these individual pieces will follow the line of The SolacesAranaga says. “These will be shapes with cutouts in between, so you can see all around, so people don’t do sneaky, sneaky things behind them, like carrying gas cans.”
Aranaga arranges the donated fabrics over a sheath of flame retardant material. Once installed, a fire retardant spray will then be applied to the entire structure. The gallery, for its part, is installing new cameras with better night visibility, better exterior lighting, and has retained the services of a security company to carry out regular visits.
“The conversation we were hoping to spark was about shelter and comfort,” says Eddy. “When it happened we knew straight away we had to bring it back and do it in a safe way.”
The left hand of the new version of the sculpture is positioned over his heart, representing safety and self-care, and the right hand reaches out to offer safety to others.
“Part of the intention with the three heads is to represent the triple nature of time,” says Mashaal-Lively. “Another part of that is that feeling of looking down in despair and looking up in hope. Part of that comes from that creative tradition of not forgetting or pushing back our ancestry, our lineage, or our current moment. We exist because our ancestors had enough hope to carry on, and that’s a major inspiration for that.