In front of the long, thin chains hang from the ceiling, each connected to a lightbulb above. There’s hesitation as the museum visitors wonder if they’re really allowed to touch them. Once one person does, the rest follow, clicking on and clicking off the bulbs, forming patterns of light on the ceiling above. Within moments, giggles ensue. People stand within the long chains, causing them to ripple, crash into others, bending, twirling, spinning as lights flicker and photographs ensue. The work, Vaga Lume, is one of the final works in a greater exhibition of Any Moment Now, by Valeska Soares, at Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) in downtown Santa Barbara. While Vaga Lume is so captivatingly playful, other works in the exhibition elicit even more poignant feelings: of a sense of passing time, sentimentality, and love. The prior rooms contain unexpected juxtapositions of hard and soft, as what appears to be a cotton pillow is made from heavy marble. In the “pillows,” impressions of someone’s head to evoke a sense of absence, while a nearby arrangement of acknowledgement sections from books give their love or advice to editors, mothers, friends, and readers. Other rooms exhibit dying roses or a wall of book covers, each with titles dedicated to representing time during a year, like Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Far Away and Long Ago, by W.H. Hudson.
Valeska Soares’ exhibition comes to SBMA through the “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” an initiative from the Getty Foundation. In what I found to be a serendipitous event, the museum here, the Art, Design, and Architecture Museum (AD&A) on UCSB’s campus, has its own LA/LA exhibitions that carry similar stories—of sentimentality, love, sacredness, potential loss or tragedy, as well as a tone of hope for the future.
Chumash history in Santa Barbara might often be seen as something demoted entirely to history, long, long, long ago… Yet Sacred Art in the Age of Contact emphasizes the continuity and resilience of Chumash art and culture. Through historical material, audiences gain insight into what the Chumash held sacred, the parallels between their spirituality and of the Catholic missions, and the obstacles created for Chumash culture when the Franciscans established the mission system. On either end of the exhibition are examples of contemporary Chumash art and audio, which work to highlight the continuance of Chumash art and a larger hope for revitalization of the Chumash language, respectively.
The exhibition, The Schoolhouse and the Bus, likewise touches on history and future. The bus was a work of social practice called Skin of Memory, by Suzanne Lacy, where in 1999, people volunteered objects precious to them to be a part of a museum in a small bus. The work hoped to provide healing or create a larger local identity in a neighborhood torn apart by the Columbian drug trade of the 1980’s and ‘90s. The objects at the AD&A museum now are the same objects those first participants donated. Objects sacred to those of the community, like bibles, a coffee pot, a pair of jeans, and more were donated. Some may seem to have unknown importance, yet what is easily recognizable are the potential stories they carry. Through seeing their neighbors’ sacred objects, participants of the project felt they gained a connection between the owner of the objects and felt able to deal with their own tragedies through seeing the objects of others. In The School of Panamerican Unrest from 2006, Pablo Helguera took social practice to another level. He transported a mobile schoolhouse from Alaska to the tip of South America, visiting countries along the way and working with them to create addresses in which multiple cities wrote of their history: how they have been represented, are represented, and how they want to be known or of their hopes for the future.
Serendipitously, some of the exhibitions in Santa Barbara this fall intersect and connect with one another in beautiful ways. Playing with the idea of history and future, they each delve into questions of fragility and yet, highlight moments of resilience or love. Themes that, for what appears to be our increasingly divisive time, appear more and more important for this year and ones ahead.
-Caitlin Mitry, Education Outreach Program Intern