BY CHRISTINA PROCTER
Within the psychology of spaces, vaults generally occupy a private, secure zone. But the nonprofit Thoma Foundation is looking to change that: It’s opening a vast digital and multimedia art collection to the public, free of charge, at a larger scale than ever before, having moved its exhibition space from an adobe gallery in Santa Fe’s Canyon Road art district to a two-story contemporary building in the Railyard. Art Vault is a new concept in a new space, occupying the 3,500-square-foot former home of Gallery Fritz. “The former space was literally a house,” says Jason Foumberg, digital arts curator for Thoma, referring to the venue’s former name, Art House. Though it had the benefit of intimacy, Foumberg points out that digital art, which can scale up to the size of a skyscraper, needs room. Now, Foumberg and the curatorial team have space to play.
On display through April 2022 are the two exhibitions he’s curated for Art Vault’s debut, which are sure to pull passers-by in for a second look, or touch, in the case of Eau de Jardin (Two Plants). The piece includes two live, hanging plants connected via sensors to an LED painting that visitors manipulate by touching the leaves. Created by Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, it’s part of the first-floor exhibition Networked Nature. Integrating the work of 22 artists from around the world, the installation explores how machine learning, artificial intelligence, and virtual environments can mimic and reinforce the natural patterns that permeate our lives.
On one 45-foot-long wall, a floor-to-ceiling, two-projection video panorama of birch trees, Blind Eye, by Jennifer Steinkamp, cycles through the growth, death, and rebirth of a forest. Around the corner, and somehow in concert, another wall is installed with 73 automobile headlights and taillights that have been customized with LEDs. Created by Madeline Hollander, these are controlled by real-time software to illustrate New York City traffic data at a particular intersection in SoHo. Even in our driving behaviors, fundamental patterns emerge.
On another wall that reaches the second-floor ceiling, a vertical projection by Daniel Canogar features animated human forms climbing toward an actual duct on the ceiling, then vanishing. Meanwhile, within a black-box room, a video projection created by Argentine artist Miguel Ángel Ríos, Piedras Blancas, shows a herd of 3,200 concrete orbs cascading through the mountainous terrain of Morales, Mexico.
There’s also a “vault within Art Vault,” Foumberg says, though it is temporarily closed as of press time due to COVID-19 concerns. It contains Linear 9 by Santa Fe–based artist Peter Sarkisian, with nine freestanding sculptures, including miniature video dioramas that tell different parts of a story that spans eons. “In all of these works, we see how artists are learning from systems,” Foumberg says. “We’re more connected than we may think.”
Upstairs is the exhibition Saint Somebody: Technologies of the Divine, which looks at how we create icons, from an 18th-century oil painting of a saint to an animated video projection called The Garden of Emoji Delights. Contemporary woodcarvings of saints by José Armijo appear alongside a video projection of Britney Spears’ changing facial expressions, caught within a picture frame. Overall, the exhibition explores how we try to connect with what’s beyond tangible reality. One way we do that is through icons, and as the exhibition states, these exhibits “call us to action,” whether through “prayers or clicks.”
Meanwhile, the progression of the show raises the question: As we look to the future, are we remembering where we’ve been and who we are? What do our highly specific cultural and religious icons show us about our connected roots? The Art Vault may not have all the answers, but it’s certainly collecting data, revealing patterns, and bringing more art of all kinds into the public eye.