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Double the wonder: ASU artists' collective chosen for two of the top art exhibitions in the world

March 29, 2017

In the contemporary art world, exhibitions don’t get much more esteemed than the Whitney Biennial and documenta

Over the course of an artist’s career, it’s an honor to be included in one; in both, overwhelming. But both in the same year? That’s the stuff of “art fantasy,” said ASU alum Cristóbal Martínez.

“It’s like being invited to plug your idea into an amplifier,” he said.

Martínez is one third of the indigenous arts collective Postcommodity, formed in 2007 “to look at indigenous narratives of self-determination” and use them as "a place of creativity and a means of sharing knowledge systems," in the words of member and co-founder Kade L. Twist, also an ASU alum. 

The Whitney Biennial is “so important for American discourse,” Twist said. “And to have your contributions included in that is a very heavy experience. … It’s one of most gratifying moments of my creative life.”

He adds that to be included in documenta in the same year is “crazy.”

In addition, the group opened a solo exhibition March 25 in New York City, commissioned by Art in General. Titled “Coyotaje,” the exhibition continues Postcommodity’s ongoing investigation into the military and economic life of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, this time highlighting the complex dynamics among U.S. Border Patrol, the communities living in the San Pedro River Valley region and individuals moving across the border. The show runs through June 3.

For documenta, an exhibition of contemporary art based in Kassel, Germany, that takes place every five years, Postcommodity is installing a piece in Athens, Greece, that interacts with the archeological site of the philosopher Aristotle’s Lyceum, or school. The foundations of the school were discovered in an Athens park in 1996.

“This is the first time a work of contemporary art has been allowed to dialogue with an ancient Greet heritage site,” Martínez said.

Titled “The Ears Between Worlds Are Always Speaking,” the piece is centered around walking, Martínez explained, and Aristotle’s idea of a peripatetic, or walking, classroom. The work itself is a long-form, two-channel opera projected onto the ancient ruins by two long-range acoustic devices mounted on rooftops around the site’s periphery. “Movement takes the form of sound” is how the documenta organizers describe it. They go on to say, “Transmitted through highly precise military-grade speakers, stories of forced displacement, imposed journeys, and transformation are broadcast—sometimes sung, sometimes spoken, and at times merely indicated by silence.” The piece will be up April 8 through July 16.

Heather Sealy Lineberry, interim director and senior curator for the ASU Art Museum, said that Postcommodity’s work in the 10 years since the group’s inception has been “increasingly ambitious, site specific, performance based, technology based, always grounded in indigenous perspectives and concerns, and conceived in a deeply collaborative practice.”

“It is no surprise that their work is now central to some of the highest profile art museums and exhibitions around the world,” she said. “I have learned so much from working with them.”

Sealy Lineberry cited the “incisive questions” Postcommodity brought to the museum’s 2009 project “Defining Sustainability.”

“Their installation 'Native Confluence: Sustaining Cultures' was a simple yet profound gesture of cutting a hole in the gallery floor, revealing the earth and its indigenous history, and questioning the narrow Western perspective of sustainability science,” she said.

The group’s monumental project on the border, “Repellent Fence,” further cemented Postcommodity’s international reputation, Sealy Lineberry said, and “extended their collaborative methods to working with the complex web of social and political bodies spanning the U.S. Mexico border and, once again, brought to broader attention and understanding indigenous histories and current realities.”

A new documentary, “Through the Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film,” follows the artists at work along the U.S./Mexico border. The film's first Arizona screening is Saturday, April 22, at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

News about Postcommodity in the Whitney Biennial: 

ASU Now reporter Emma Greguska contributed to this story.

Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
Deborah.Susser@asu.edu