AHA Fest, Santa Fe’s New Art Fair for the People, by Young People
The AHA Fest was an all day event this past Sunday, September 16, starting at 11am with booths closing up just after 7pm. It was busy and festive and if there was ever a doubt that people actually lived in Santa Fe, Sunday proved that not only do people live here, young people live here.
There was a lot going on and despite the complimentary performance schedule and seemingly endless paraphernalia siting where and when stuff was happening, I nonetheless floated around a little confused as to who was what and what was where. It seemed best not to have a schedule and just go with the flow. By four o’clock, artists seemed a little tired of explaining their concepts or perhaps just bewildered that I asked. Or maybe it’s just not the kind of event where spectators inquire about the art object with vested interest. As one booth artist confessed, it was hard to hear himself think caught in the middle of two sound stages and crowds of people. Indeed, that is kind of the point of AHA Fest—to release enthusiastic young artists from the gallery space and into the streets were they might bare their creativity en masse.
And they certainly did. Artists transformed their booths in ways that made it difficult to distinguish one from the other. Without a charismatic officiate offering a way inside, it could be a little scary finding entry ways while the dread of the other side felt mildly exclusive—especially when you have to pay to cross over. This was the case with Lara Nickel and Brianna Fristoe’s “Faux to Studi-aux” pop-up photo booth. The costumed twins looked like adorable yet manipulative Russian spies who denied entry without payment and yet refused to offer a hint as to their secret. There were more artists who warped their identity like T. C. Mcggee’s solipsistic blogging booth that revealed and concealed the person behind the keyboard with a string of T. C. Mcggee impersonators and no, that’s not her real name. Those who weren’t intentionally performing nonetheless had friends watching their booths, which amid the day’s chaos further blurred the boundary between authorship and the work.
Some artists did just want to show their work like good ol’ Luke Dorman, back for a second year, and then the extremely earnest Kat Dison and Julia Cizeski whose booth imagined a space where constructed owls descended onto antiquated ruffles and lace that invoked an eerie spirit animal of some small girl, an installation created from discarded objects.
In true art show style, money was everywhere. Works may have only averaged twenty dollars but rather than just hang them on the wall with a price attached, artists found clever ways to take people’s money. No need to inebriate the art buyer while stroking their ego and discussing market value, artist Tim Jag lets the art buyer off with a spin on his Jeopardy wheel! Ten bucks spent on a spin and won, any “original work of art” on the wall is yours. Ten bucks spent on a spin and lost, you go home a loser. Brilliant. Why doesn’t Gerald Peters do this? Cannupa Hanska set up a dart game with “original” toy prizes. Of course, it all costs money.
To assure sufficient glue to bind all these unfamiliar booth applicants, every art collective in Santa Fe was invited to bolster the energy, to showcase the community goods and offer familiar faces. Unfortunately, AHA turned down some applicants, myself included (bummer!), in favor of invitation only spots for Santa Fe-mous artists like Scuba Hi. Yes we want them there and yes a nascent enterprise like AHA Fest needs to assure success but is that progressive? Regardless, participants walked around donning floating collars around their neck from SquirrelMart in mockup black-tie style à la Alice’s Mad Tea Party. Meow Wolf’s installation debuted in the Railyard gardens with sticks protruding from the ground covered in neon paint, ready to glow at night with the helps of black light spots. Axle Contemporary’s truck blew Michael Schippling’s flurry of pastel colored packing peanuts behind its closed walls in We Are Experiencing Some Turbulence.
The long hours of grueling work by unpaid volunteers must be congratulated and thanked but it does seem that AHA Fest is having a bit of an identity crisis. Sure, it’s supposed to be dynamic but when it comes to the art, what does the AHA committee look for in their artists and who on the committee is serious about visual arts? What is AHA Fest? In true art fair style, it was full of fanfare. Is it progressive, is it supposed to be and does it matter? Yes it’s great for the artists and certainly great for the community and yes, we want to see AHA Fest become what it should be.
Editor’s Note: AdobeAirstream was not aware at the time the article was assigned or the immediate time it was published that the writer had applied for inclusion in the AHA Fest and had been turned down. The comment string was under way when I learned this and asked the writer to make the disclosure in the text above, and so I further decided not to unpublish the post but to let it stand. Readers below have commented widely as to their points-of-view and additional readers can read the string as desired (newest comments appear
first last.) I stand by the post and the writer. As a matter of policy, AdobeAirstream makes strict efforts to discern writers’ real conflicts of interest before assignments are made.