Santuario: Timelessness and Transformation

Careers are always strange and unpredictable things. When I went to film school at UCLA, I never imagined that I would someday be writing scripts for videogames; it was, after all, the era of Pac-Man and Centipede. Power pellets and poisoned mushrooms aside, neither game was a media experience heavy on narrative.

The Santuario - in glorious daylight.
The Santuario – in glorious daylight.

The first time I came to Santa Fe as a Visiting Professor of Screenwriting, more than a decade ago, I (like nearly every tourist) visited the City Different’s beloved Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (typically known as the Santuario), the ancient Catholic church set along the Santa Fe River. Built at about the time the Declaration of Independence was being signed, the chapel served Santa Fe’s poor farmers alongside the river bank just west of downtown, and was devoted specifically to Our Lady of Guadalupe — whose own semiotics knits together Indian, Spanish, and Mexican cultural identities and puts a distinctly New World stamp on Catholicism.

Through nearly 250 years of history, the Santuario had its ups and downs, while experimenting with different facades. But more than anything, it endured, while continuing to symbolize a yearning for the transcendent.

And as I visited, never did I imagine my career would be intersecting with this site, this building, this history…

Santuario - freeze frame 1
View from the courtyard.

But cut to nearly a decade after my first visit, where I had now co-founded Santa Fe University of Art and Design‘s Outdoor Vision Fest™ (OVF), and we had just launched an amazing projection-mapping of the Ricardo Legoretto-designed Visual Arts Center. The artists from Istanbul Bilgi University dreamed of projection-mapping Santa Fe’s iconic Cathedral, or the Palace of the Governors — places fecund with meaning and history.

Cut to nearly 3 years later, when the possibility arose to use the Santuario facade as a canvas for a visual and aural meditation on endurance, eternity, the past and the future, the history and iconography of the site itself: the bell, the sky, the river, roses.

New Mexico Arts was underwriting grants for premiering installations at Santa Fe’s annual Fantase Fest, an initiative of Creative Santa Fe. Under the umbrella “OVF Collective,” I wrote the grant proposal, and my colleague Professor Brad Wolfley and I conceptualized key elements of the installation. Film student Can Kesim (who originally studied at Bilgi) then constructed the awe-inspiring 9-minute piece (using Cinema 4D, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere and Mad Mapper), building on the skillsets developed in previous installations for OVF.

View from DeVargas Park.

“Santuario: Timelessness and Transformation” debuted June 20, 2015 at Fantase. The Santuario facade crumbled, reintegrated, and became a portal for contemplation of yesterday, tomorrow, and the transcendent. A bell tolled across an electronic soundscape that seemed to come out of the earth and also suggested the endless reach of eternity.

Hundreds of residents and visitors lined Guadalupe Street to watch, marvel, and shoot photos and video: knowing that this had never been done before in Santa Fe. You can see a sampling of those captures here (you’ll have to sift through them a bit). Just before midnight, several aerial dancers from Project in Motion came over from their just-concluded performances at Fantase, and interacted in the courtyard with the installation: a fitting conclusion to the evening.

The next step in the project’s evolution is the creation of a single-channel audio-video piece to go on permanent exhibit for New Mexico Arts’ Art in Public Places program. And several other polished video pieces will be spawned out of the Santuario installation.

Santuario Credits
Roll credits.

I have visited (and lingered at) many locations that are often termed “sacred sites” or “sacred geography” . . . the cathedrals at Chartres and Canterbury; Chaco Canyon; Tikal and Uxmal; the great pyramids in Egypt. To have the privilege of re-imagining one of these sites — to wrap a visual and aural poem around the ancient architectural bones of a building that pre-dates the founding of the United States and represents many generations of Santa Feans’ hopes and prayers — is something else indeed. My thanks to Can Kesim, Brad Wolfley, Creative Santa Fe and New Mexico Arts for making it happen.

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