Art New Mexico: SCUBA

There is a deeply committed sense of play in the work of SCUBA, the collective duo of Santa Fe-based artists Sandra Wang and Crockett Bodelson. When they relocated from San Francisco to New Mexico in 2011 they brought with them a collaborative approach and a performative way of engaging an audience with a kind of daring, sweet audacity reminiscent of Claes Oldenburg's 1961 installation The Store in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The SCUBA duo melds retail and pure installation seamlessly, finding alternative solutions for showing art, an approach inspired as much by the accessibility as the performative nature of the mobile/pop-up gallery trend. – Diana Gaston, New Mexico Contributor

SCUBA | ICESHELF, during the ICESHELF Smile Tour, from New Mexico to New York in 2014.

One early exhibition sent viewers on a treasure hunt, using maps and clues to find original SCUBA artworks and works by several other artists that had been buried in locations around Santa Fe. Another ongoing performative piece involves a brilliant white solar-powered box truck called ICESHELF that brings their own unique form of retail, Arctic research, and alternative living in the form of a gleaming fabricated iceberg. And like Oldenburg's store, SCUBA interjects the audience into the process of exploring the work as something more than a viewer, and more of a participant, a witness, a player, a consumer, and a link between the imaginings of the artists and the practice of the everyday world.

SCUBA | ICESHELF, during the ICESHELF Smile Tour, from New Mexico to New York in 2014.

SCUBA | ICESHELF, Converted 1989 Ford Econoline diesel truck, 12 ft.(h) x 23 ft.(w) x 8 ft.(d), 2014,
 Center for Contemporary Art. Photo by Kate Russell.

SCUBA | ICESHELF, during the ICESHELF Smile Tour, from New Mexico to New York in 2014.

Most recently SCUBA contributed to the epic playground installation known as Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, the work of a collective that grew to 135 artists. Building out a sprawling 20,000 square foot bowling alley with the support of Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin, the Meow Wolf Art Complex presents The House of Eternal Return, an immersive and thoroughly psychedelic, down-the-rabbit-hole type of installation that reimagines the art-going experience. There are visitor guidelines at the entrance that sets the tone for a new kind of art installation: Touch everything. Go anywhere, especially places that seem weird. Be nice. Try not to break anything. The Meow Wolf installation is too large, too complex, to be any one thing, but its many rooms and passages collectively explore the idea of the suburban realm giving way to the fractious and tentacled dream space of the subconscious. The SCUBA duo has always operated in a collaborative, interdisciplinary way, so the Meow Wolf enterprise that started in Santa Fe and will soon expand to other U.S. cities, will not be the only project that defines them.

In a few weeks Tamarind Institute will release a series of SCUBA editions, bringing a new layer of complexity to their already multifaceted collaborative. During their two week residency at the Albuquerque workshop they drew on the same lithographic stones, demonstrating a seamless collaboration of drawing and building. The finished prints seem oddly formal in a mid-century kind of way, and yet introduce spontaneous elements of play in the form of a miniature jump rope attached to the surface of one print, and a hand-colored Mylar beach ball on another that bounces along among a tangle of figures.

Sandra Wang and Crockett Bodelson in Tamarind Institute workshop, 2015

For those who follow their work, it may not come as a surprise that they can move so seamlessly from cartoon-like figures to sensuous, tumbling corporeal forms. But seeing the sinuous drawing of these lithographs may reveal a level of sophistication that their hipster following didn't know they had.

Sandra Wang and Crockett Bodelson in Tamarind Institute workshop, 2015


Diana Gaston is the Director of Tamarind Institute, a division of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico. She previously served as Lead Curator of the Fidelity Investments Corporate Art Collection in Boston.


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