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

To be in either the Whitney Biennial or documenta is an honor; to be in both? That’s the stuff of “art fantasy,” alum says

March 28, 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. The indigenous arts collective Postcommodity consists of (left to right) Cristóbal Martínez, Kade L. Twist and Raven Chacon. The indigenous arts collective Postcommodity consists of (from left) Cristóbal Martínez, Kade L. Twist and Raven Chacon. Download Full Image

“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.

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


Documentary featuring 2 ASU alums to premiere at MoMA festival

February 14, 2017

“Through the Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film,” from director Sam Wainwright Douglas, will have its world premiere at The Museum of Modern Art’s 16th annual Documentary Fortnight film festival, in New York, Feb.16–26.

“Through the Repellent Fence” follows Postcommodity, a transdisciplinary arts collective comprised of artists Raven Chacon (Navajo), Cristóbal Martínez (Mestizo/Xicano) and Kade L. Twist (Cherokee), as they “put land art in a tribal context” and bring together a community to construct Repellent Fence, a two-mile long ephemeral monument “stitching” together the United States and Mexico. Both Martínez and Twist are alumni of Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Image shows a poster for ‘Through the Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film,’ to première at MoMA’s annual festival of international nonfiction film, Feb. 16–26, 2017 Download Full Image

Martínez received a doctorate in rhetoric, composition and linguistics from the Department of English in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2015. Prior to that, he earned a master's in media arts and science and bachelor’s degrees in studio art and in painting, from the Herberger Institute’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering and School of Art, respectively. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in indigenous art, digital design and education in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and in the Herberger Institute. Twist received his MFA in intermedia from the Herberger Institute School of Art in 2012.

In 2015, aided by the communities on both sides of the border and with support from the ASU Art Museum, the artists installed a series of 26 huge inflatable spheres emblazoned with an insignia known as the “open eye,” which has existed in Indigenous cultures from South America to Canada for thousands of years. The spheres were evenly spaced apart and extended north and south of the border a mile in each direction, “a metaphorical suture stitching together cultures that have inhabited these lands long before borders were drawn.”

The film provides an intimate glimpse into the arduous process behind creating an ambitious artwork giving voice to the shared history and enduring culture of Indigenous societies that have made the region their home for thousands of years before a border ever divided it. In this challenging political climate, where the debate over a “wall” between Mexico and the United States has been the hot topic of the last year, “Through the Repellent Fence” is remarkably prescient.

Intercut with this thread are lush scenes, using stunning cinematography, of striking land art environments that have preceded Postcommodity’s work. The film is set to a haunting original score by Alex Maas of The Black Angels.

“Through the Repellent Fence” is an adventure in the artistic process blended with a road trip of discovery, visiting sites and diverse perspectives to explore how land art can generate community interaction and perceptual shifts in how we interpret, engage and draw inspiration from our natural world. Scenes with other artists and intellectuals working in the land art realm provide context and insight as well. These include Chris Taylor of Texas Tech University’s Land Arts of the American West program, writer Lucy Lippard and Matt Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

“I wanted to make this film to dispel the misconceptions about the U.S.- Mexico border and to add nuance to the narrative,” said Douglas. “Life in the borderlands is so much more complex and richer than the mainstream media and most of our politicians seem to understand. This is a border story that has not been told: Indigenous artists giving voice to the shared history of Indigenous people who have traveled back and forth for thousands of years, reminding the world that being Indigenous does not stop at a border. And the art they created is beautiful, participatory and brings people together. It's an art project at its finest: invigorating the public, finding common ground and reinforcing the bond between people and place.” 

Douglas is a director and editor working in Austin, Texas, who most recently directed and edited “Honky Tonk Heaven,” which premiered and won an audience award at South by Southwest 2016. He also edited and co-produced “No No: A Dockumentary,” which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and edited and produced the PBS documentary “Ladonna Harris: Indian 101,” which was executive produced by Johnny Depp and broadcast on PBS in 2014. Douglas also directed “Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio," which was broadcast nationwide on PBS in 2010. 

“Through the Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film“ was produced by Jeffrey Brown (“No No: A Dockumentary”); David Hartstein (“Where Soldiers Come From”); and Julianna Brannum, (“Ladonna Harris: Indian 101”).

Postcommodity has been selected for the 2017 Whitney Biennial.

Screenings at MoMA’s Doc Fortnight 2017:

4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 — T1, Theater 1
Post-screening discussion with filmmakers and Postcommodity

2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19 — T1, Theater 1

Ticket information: