Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Who is this Man?

“I think the medium of image and sound is unbelievably powerful and it is exciting to imagine where it will go, what it can do in terms of communicating worlds of thought.”
- Dax Thomas

Dax Thomas is 29 years old. Dax was born in the arid landscape of central New Mexico where massive rock formations and red colored earth create dramatic views in every direction, at any given moment. Casa Blanca, New Mexico where Dax lives could easily be a film location with it’s stunning vistas and quiet certainty. It was in this some what isolated community--Albuquerque, New Mexico the state’s largest city is an hour East of Casa Blanca--Dax grew up. Maybe it was being a bright, curious, independent soul, an only child--whatever the circumstantial combination--Dax seems to have found his calling in film making and found it early in life. In his words he was, “Born watching movies”.
“Going to a film in a theater early on was an actual magical thing for me. The smell of popcorn and the darkness and the wonderful feeling of not knowing what you were going to see. This is when films could hypnotize me without effort. Transfixed, I wanted to be able to make these things that made me feel so much.”
Dax started making movies when he was 9 years old. Using a used VHS camera his mother bought for him, one of his first films was a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock film, “Psycho”. So here’s this Native American kid from Laguna and Acoma Pueblos, rooted in a culture that’s almost as old as the rock formation he lives under, filming a remake of “Psycho”, what a perfect example of the postmodern Native experience.

Since the remake of “Psycho”, Dax has made several short films. His work often plays with still shots, edited at a machine gun pace and infused with an eclectic sampling of sounds and music. The results are fragmented visual and audio tapestries woven together to make social commentary. Brutally honest, a Thomas film demands that viewers go far beyond the stereotypical Native movie experience. His work responds and consequently reflects contemporary life in it’s rapid and sometimes painful transformation. The imagery and symbolism speak to a universal audience and it’s for these reasons that Dax Thomas is an important part of the Always Becoming hour long documentary. Dax has lived the Always Becoming project from day one. He understands the details of this art project and is capable of articulating the visual nuances crucial in documenting the making and telling of the Always Becoming story.

And so now we know a bit more about Dax Thomas.

Next Month:
In preparation for the February interview with architect and NMAI Sculpture Competition selector, John Paul Jones, next month’s blog will be dedicated to introducing Mr. Jones.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Margaret Archuleta Interview

Starting a new endeavor is both exhilarating and a bit daunting. The night before the Margaret Archuleta Interview I wake up and go through the “to do” list. ‘Questions for the interview typed out and in my folder by the door,' Check. 'Everybody’s confirmed to be at the right place, at the right time,' Check. I’m certain I’ve missed something and proceed to torment myself by playing the, “What have I forgotten?” game. That’s the “daunting” part of starting a new endeavor, navigating the first steps of a vision.

In the morning with the truck loaded and everything seemingly on track, we head out to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Margaret Archuleta interview.

Margaret Archuleta was a selector for the NMAI outdoor Sculpture Competition. She and other selectors reviewed applications and made selections on the finalists. In making a final decision, the selector’s thoughts turned toward important issues surrounding the competition. Issues like possible sculpture sites on the NMAI grounds, what the selected piece would represent for the museum and how the sculpture responded to the competition's prospectus.

Margaret is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History/Native Art History at the University of New Mexico. Ms. Archuleta‘s curatorial experience at The Heard Museum culminated in the successful “Remembering Our Indian School Days” exhibit which looked at government boarding schools. Archuleta also curated an exhibition of Contemporary Native Art at the White House entitled, “Honoring Native America”.

The first thing I noticed when coming into Ms. Archuleta’s house were the books. Books stacked on tables, books piled on her computer’s desk, lining the walls and filling the house. It’s clear why Margaret was chosen by NMAI to be a selector for the sculpture competition. Besides her professional experience, Margaret’s innate curiosity and ongoing learning process offers a unique and insightful perspective.

Margaret’s house is small so almost immediately there was quite a discussion on how to set up the shoot and effectively compose the visual aspects of the interview. In the end the camera was set up in the kitchen and and Archuleta sat in the dinning area converted into a study/office space. We constructed a back drop using a large painting by Native artist, Kay Walking Stick. Using some of the thicker books for weight, we placed lights around and under Margaret’s desk for better lighting. After the set up and a few glitches, we shot the interview.

Here are some of the questions we asked Ms. Archuleta:

1. Tell me about your experience with Contemporary Native Art?

2. Tell me about your curatorial experience at the Heard in Arizona, and with the White House?

3. What kind of ideas about art did you bring into the NMAI Sculpture Competition selection process?

4. Explain the Dawes Act to me...

5. When and how did government take an active role in determining the kind of art Native people made?

6. Where do you see Native Art in ten years?

Of course the questions were meant to jump start the conversation and like most interviews, the answers flowed here and there into related and non related issues. Here’s where the “exhilarating” part of making a film kicks in. Once everything is set up and at last the camera is rolling, the thrill of knowing spontaneous thoughts that have been captured on camera will be pieced together with visuals and sounds to tell a story, making the experience ripe with possibilities...how exhilarating.


I want to thank Margaret for opening up her home and generously giving us so much of her time on that day.

I also want to thank the Margaret Archuleta Interview crew members for their patience and much appreciated help -
Jai Antonio
Zak Naranjo Morse

Next blog I’ll introduce you to Dax Thomas who is the main camera man and editor on this project.

Finally, after a long day of filming, we celebrated the first steps of making Always Becoming...


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Global Links

November 1, 2008

In October I was asked by the international art organization, Res Artis to be one of three key note speakers at their annual meeting held in Amsterdam. Res Artis is a worldwide networking organization that connects artists to residential art centers. The residencies can be for short periods of time or not, in large cities or not. the idea of Res Artis is to offer the artist an opportunity to create and communicate outside of the box in a variety of location throughout the world. Meeting artists and organizers from all over the world was important for me at this stage of my career. I met artists like Roel Schoenmakers who recently traveled to African communities that had little or no infrastructure and started creating artful playgrounds with recycled materials. Because of Roel’s creative approach and vision, tires, used wooden planks and plastic netting created a small soccer arenas, benches and swimming hole. Roel invited community participation reestablishing a communal sensibility in another wise fragile environment. This kind of community activism resonated among the tribally based people in these African communities, giving them a sense of accomplishment and cohesiveness as a community.

I mention the Res Artis experience because after the remarkable experience of Always Becoming, I began asking,’ what next?’ How does the spirit and creative momentum of Always Becoming evolve into a larger format that can be seen and experienced by even more people. ‘How do I connect with a global community of artists who are using their creativity in their communities?’. The people I met and spoke with in Amsterdam opened a door for me that offered a new level of understanding while introducing me to a worldwide audience. The opportunity of hearing what artists are doing in other parts of the world and sharing the pod casts of Always Becoming, I learned that Always Becoming, like Roel’s efforts in Africa have enormous potential in the area of community based art projects. Until my trip to Amsterdam I wondered if community based art projects really made a lasting difference, now I know.

As we prepare for our first interview with Margaret Archuleta - curator and selector in the NMAI Sculpture Competition - I’m even more certain and energized with the thought that our one hour film will make important and lasting connections to a global audience.

In my next installment, we’ll have details of the interview with Margaret Archuleta and clips to share of our interview.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Another Journal

With the Sculpture project of Always Becoming, I kept a journal. It was a large, black artist book with blank pages. I filled it with phone numbers, pictures, mud-sand ratios and cryptic notes. The notes were a collection of thoughts that culminated into what the sculptures of Always Becoming meant to me, how I invisioned it's evolution and intent. The journal was intimate and at times probably too honest. The "honest" parts described the feeling of being overwhelmed when I realized the project of Always Becoming was BIG. Big in the sense that Always Becoming dared to express Native culture in a simple straight forward way. Big in the way a life changing lesson is BIG because that's what it did for me personally. Big in the way that Always Becoming had the potential to reach a lot of people with an important environmental message. Often I felt small in that kind of Big-ness. I realized this one morning when I was greeted by a dozen or so people ready to mix mud in the heat and humdity simply because they wanted to be a part of something taking shape. At times it was uncertain to me exactly what was taking shape. It's as if an unseen force was dictating the design and we there to witness, work and be together. There were days I was in awe of people's willingness to just trust the process of creating.

For me the larger question became, how to put this kind of event into a useful perspective? How do we use this information that deals with issues of creativity, process, environment and community? How can this type of community oriented art process reach a wider audience?

I've started another journal, this time it's about the documentary of Always Becoming and you're reading it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


In the Summer of 2007, on two small plots of land, near the busiest street in Washington D.C., an art project called,
Always Becoming began construction. For nearly two months in the heat and relentless humidity of a Washington Summer, a crew of eight along with a host of volunteers built five organic, ephemeral sculptures on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian on the Smithsonian Mall.

The experience of working under such unusual circumstances created an opportunity for a unique collaboration. Who would have guessed that mixing mud and layering adobes would also create a community and yet, that's exactly what happened. Children were encouraged to help mix mud with their tiny feet. People often arrived bringing food to share with everyone. Visitors to the museum gathered daily taking pictures and asking questions about the project. One afternoon a man in a suit came to the site and asked if he could help us. He put down his briefcase and shoveled gravel for an hour of intense labor. When he was done, he picked up his briefcase and disappeared back into the city. The kindness and support we received during those two months humbled me and reminded me daily that something grand was taking place. And in all of the activity- being on a noisy street, interacting daily with throngs of people - the sculptures got built.

So, as we prepare to make an hour long documentary revisiting many of the socio-cultural and environmental issues of this project, we welcome you to become apart of our discussion as we navigate through the next phase of Always Becoming.

Nora Naranjo Morse