Welcome. You are about to embark on a journey from the traditional confines of dorm life, beer pong and midnight romps. Amid the beautiful Santa Barbara coastline, an art scene is being recreated, reborn and reinvented. But something is off.
Santa Barbara’s Off-Axis 2006 is a month-long event celebrating contemporary art, culture, design and performance. In an effort to develop creative networks in the Santa Barbara area, Off-Axis has enlisted over 30 venues and 150 artists to participate in this year’s festivities. This inaugural event is part of a community-wide partnership with the Santa Barbara Arts Commission, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Arts Fund Gallery and the University Art Museum.
“We saw Santa Barbara as an unexplored area for contemporary art,” Off-Axis Community Coordinator Rebekah Altman said. “We hope the city will become known both regionally and nationally as an arts destination beyond the traditional form. While Off-Axis won’t exist in a specific form after this month, it will exist in the public’s mind as a celebration of contemporary art.”
To coincide with the Contemporary Arts Forum 30th anniversary, Off-Axis became a celebration of both the blossoming art scene and community involvement. A steering committee was formed with the goal of appealing to a broad range of art lovers. While the budget was low, this grassroots effort became successful due much in part to word-of-mouth. With multiple non-art venues springing up downtown, Off-Axis has been successful in paving the way for other up-and-coming events in the art community.
“Off-Axis is about exploring art in our daily lives and expanding the conceptions of various forms of art,” Altman said. “We are tapping into that urge to bring community into the art world and vice versa. Art is becoming more accessible as we move toward more interactive and hands-on art.”
While recognizing the city’s historic art culture, Off-Axis was about engagement with the art and culture of a new generation. Over this past month, the streets of Santa Barbara have become havens for artists, photographers, architects, designers, musicians and performers. By breaking down the barriers between spectator and artist, visitors got a chance to experience contemporary art outside a museum’s traditional boundaries.
Espacio Central/Central Space, located at 1235 Chapala St., served as the temporary installation site for the work of contemporary artists from the U.S. and Mexico. Central Space, based on a previous exhibit in South Carolina, was about the need for artists to be constantly mobile and interactive, therefore creating themselves as the center of their artwork. The artists then created a blog at http://espaciocentralspace.blogspot.com/ which linked them to their Mexico counterparts and the international art community.
“What is held in history determines information and how we relate to things,” Central Space artist Juana Valdes said. “We are talking about the past versus the artistic interpretation of talking about the past. It is how we consume information and knowledge.”
Inside the venue, the artists created site-specific pieces where visitors could interact with both the artist and the artwork. The exhibit not only redefined traditional art but also allowed for a real sense of exploration. The pieces were straightforward and honest, amid various correlated stories. They defined central space, where the artists, curator and the public all come together to create dialogue and conversation.
“There is found space and there is lost space in your mind,” Central Space Director Rafael Perea de la Cabada said. “When you are able to carry your ideas into the physical world, you are creating found space. When you lose the physical motivation to express those ideas, you are creating lost space.”
The Central Space artists emphasized this ephemerality in their work by commenting on society’s consumption of information and knowledge. Creating objects made of waste materials, the artists stressed not only preservation of the ordinary but also promotion of the everyday. Several recurring themes included the idea of transitory material, bodies and their limits, and most importantly, centrality.
“Art brings to life many things we have taken for granted,” Cabada said. “It is about fragility and humanity. It is important to trust yourself in the process. Use what you have and you will have what you need.”
On Oct. 28 there will be a closing reception for Off-Axis at the University Art Museum from 5-8 p.m. In an effort to symbolize transition, the closing ceremony will also serve as the opening reception for the museum’s newest installment, “Mythic Visions: Yarn Paintings of a Huichol Shaman”.