First American Art Magazine No. 22, Spring 2019 - Page 87

REVIEWS SANTA CRUZ Coyote Now: RYAN! Feddersen Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History O N A GORGEOUS, SUNNY C A L I F OR N IA DAY , I climbed the stairs of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH). My objective? Visit Coyote Now, an exhibition by RYAN! Feddersen (Okanagan-Sinixt). My expec- tations of museums and exhibitions were firmly planted when I first stepped into MAH. What I encountered at the front desk, the museum, and the exhibition uprooted my established assumptions and provided a new frame for engaging with the world through art and history. MAH differentiates itself from other art venues in a way best understood through their mission statement: “to ignite shared experiences and unexpected connections.” Consistent with this vision, executive director Nina Simon wrote The Participatory Museum. Reinforcing mission and vision, staff members genuinely welcome visitors to the museum upon their arrival. After passing beyond the staff desk at the entrance into the museum, visitors recognize immediately they have entered a new space … that they have left behind the “medieval cathedral” that feminist art historian Carol Duncan describes in her essay, “The Art Museum as Ritual.” Practically speaking, the MAH’s approach locates one as a participant, rather than a viewer, and invites every person to engage first hand with various aspects of art and history. Walking up the stairs to the Coyote Now Epic installation, a temptation to stray into other interactive exhibitions and the question, “Is this really for adults?” pops into visitors’ heads, because the old barriers between object and viewer have been dissolved. Fortunately, there are signs to help to stay focused, and other adults walking around sans children. For affirmation: Yes, we are all invited to participate! Just outside the entrance to Feddersen’s installation, text in English and Spanish covers the walls with instructive information, including the Feddersen quote, “In most indigenous cultures, art was something that you touched, it was something that you used, it was something that was part of a ritual or an action, it was something for the community and it wasn’t for one person to collect.” It also provides important contextual details, such as biographical information about RYAN! Feddersen and about Coyote. It concludes with a question about Coyote, “But what is he up to lately?” from a graphic novel coloring book, herald the epic adventure participants will soon engage. Stepping through the gallery doors, one wonders if they are in a gallery at all. From floor to ceiling around much of the perimeter of the space, a colorful, interactive mural covers the walls. The Coyote Now coloring placard explains, “Part graphic novel, part coloring book this immersive installation invites us to bring the adventures of Coyote to life!” On a brightly painted red wall, framed text instructs participants: “No stranger to mischief, Coyote’s antics often cost him his life. Because of this, the leader of the Spirit People gifted Coyote Two grey couches face each other in the center of this foyer. On the coffee table, constructed of six white plastic milk crates and a slab of wood, six books lay face up. With titles such as American Indian Trickster Tales and Coyote Tails, each book cover prominently features a sticker that reads: “RECOMMENDED B Y T H E A M E R IC A N I N DIA N RESOURCE CENTER AT UCSC” or “RECOMMENDED BY ARTIST RYAN! FEDDERSEN.” The entrance to Coyote Now cautiously peaks interest. Four canvas- like, unframed renderings of Coyote’s previous adventures, resembling imagery with immortality. With even a scrap of bone or a piece of hair Fox can bring Coyote back to life.” The text explains that Feddersen uses crayons cast from coyote bones as storytelling devices. She imagines that “through this collaborative act of creativity, we bring Coyote back to life.” This explains to participants why there are two display areas filled with a rainbow of accessible crayons and what to do with them. On this day, the once black- and-white mural of Coyote’s so-called misadventures vibrates and dances like a Jackson Pollock drip painting. Where SPRING 2019 | 85