Nativity in Postmodernity: Q&A with Raven Chacon
By Samantha Anne Carrillo
Raven Chacon is a serious postmodern artist who knows how to hustle. His work ethic and collaborative nature are things you come to respect about him. Chacon’s iconic place in southwestern art lore was cemented this year with a solo retrospective at his alma mater.
“Lightning Speak: Solo and Collaborative Work of Raven Chacon” was on display from Jan. 29 to May 14, 2016, at UNM’s Jonson Gallery. Chacon has been active in the realms of curation, performance and theory throughout his career. Since early days, when the 11-year-old music student saw experimental composer John Cage at UNM, his body of work has leaned toward the collaborative.
As part of collective Postcommodity, Chacon was a driving force behind behind artwork like four-day outdoor installation “P’oe iwe naví ûnp’oe dînmuu (My Blood is in the Water).” The commissioned response to Santa Fe’s 400th anniversary memorialized the mule deer as spiritual mediator and paid tribute to Indigenous food sources. A strung-up buck dripped blood on an electrified drum during Indian Market festivities.
That Postcommodity work debuted in 2010 alongside a sound-based museum installation wherein physics modeling of Pueblo Revolt-era weapons and interaction resulted in a golden room filled with “sonic ambush” scenarios. In 2015, Postcommodity debuted “Repellent Fence,” a two-mile land art installation of “repellent” balloons at the U.S./Mexico border and dialogue between borderlands stakeholders.
Since its inception 12 years ago, Chacon has taught and advised the Native American Composers Apprenticeship students. This year’s Apprenticeship concert is being performed in conjunction with the SITElines.2016 exhibit “much wider than a line.”
The Huntress Quartet, featuring Jessica Billey (violin), Rosie Hutchinson (violin), Heather Trost (viola) and Ariel Muniz (cello), will perform student compositions live in concert at the Armory for The Arts (1050 Old Pecos Trail) in Santa Fe on Thursday, Oct. 6, from 6 to 7 p.m. For more info, visit facebook.com/events/329206247428923.
Chacon’s important work with Native composers deserves a wider audience. In preview of this year’s Apprenticeship concert, Elbow Room N.M. asked him some questions that have been burning a hole in our reporter’s notebook.
Elbow Room N.M.: Please describe the Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project and your role in its history.
Raven Chacon: The Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project is a music education program I have been teaching for 12 years in which I recruit reservation (and now urban Native) high school students to write short experimental compositions for string quartet. As part of SITE Santa Fe’s current biennial exhibition, I am extending the project to work with five students from the Santa Fe Indian School.
This year’s Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project Concert features five new student compositions performed by Huntress Quartet. Which compositions are you most excited to hear that evening?
Yes! Huntress Quartet is a new ensemble that emerged from the larger Death Convention Singers mega-orchestra for the purpose of this project. I am excited to hear all 5 of these new works, as they are all very different from each other.
That is because each student found their own approach to begin composing the works after I demonstrated sounds and extended techniques that were possible on the instruments. We will also be hearing an alumni piece from a student who wrote an amazing noise composition for strings a few years back titled “Pink Thunder.”
Candice Hopkins, a notable artist and curator and your wife, won a Fulcrum Fund grant to develop an odd slice of property y’all own on Lomas Boulevard, where you exhibit art outdoors. What’s on the horizon there?
Candice and I accidentally acquired a strange lot, located on the corner of 13th Street and Lomas—too narrow to build on, too wide to ignore. We decided to turn it into an outdoor exhibition space called Off Lomas, where we would show works from local and nationally/internationally known artists.
With the aid of the Fulcrum Fund, we are able to program into the next year. The next project will be from Ellen Babcock of Friends of the Orphan Signs, an artist Candice and I are big fans of. Not sure what she will be doing, but you will see it soon.
In many ways, you’ve been very successful as a working artist and musician. Do you have
any advice for those struggling to make a living making art?
Just do things yourself. Work all day. Everyday. Forever. Support other artists that you like. Go see a lot of art and live music.
Your Sicksicksick Distro venture is 15 years old now. Congrats! Any tips for running a successful micro-label?
I couldn’t tell you how to make money from it, if that’s what you’re asking. It does support itself. I started it in 2001 as an opportunity to make little objects with my hands: cut paper, draw, screenprint, take photos, paint and dub cassette tapes, while documenting the music of my friends, who are all beautiful musicians. If you don’t sleep anyway, start a small label.
Samantha Anne Carrillo is a nuevomexicana writer & editor, fourth-wave feminist, and devout situationist. Find her at facebook.com/samanthaannenm