the 1946 story by Argentine author Julio Cortázar from which SITE’s biennial exhibition takes its name, a brother and sister live alone in their large family home until mysterious sounds start to emerge from different parts of the house. The siblings don’t seek out the creators of the sounds, which are muffled but may include conversations. Instead, they run from them.
Curtis Talwst Santiago’s installation in Casa tomada also considers the conceit of the voices within a house. Here, voices emanate not from unseen beings but from the worlds encased in jewelry boxes, part of Santiago’s ongoing Infinity Series. Each box contains a diorama, with featured scenes spanning current events, pop culture, art history, the political, and — embedded within all those realms — the personal. More than 40 jewelry boxes will be on view at Casa tomada, in a glass enclosure.
“My vision was to have you walk into this glass house, and I have all these stories being presented along the walls, loosely playing on the idea of ‘if these walls could talk’ — the stories that happen around the table, just the stories that homes contain, setting these boxes as homes of different worlds and different moments,” Santiago said. “Normally institutions and museums have them behind glass on pedestals, to represent them in this sort of precious antiquity lens. I’m looking to have this feel more like if you’re invited into someone’s home, they’re granting you a certain sort of access and closeness and proximity to their story.”
Santiago, who is from Edmonton, Alberta, and is now based in Lisbon, began the Infinity Series after a chance occurrence: A vendor he was buying collage material from gave him a ring box and told him he wanted to see what Santiago did with it. Santiago said that what he loves about making art is embodied in the jewelry boxes that became his pursuit. “They’re sculptural, they’re painterly, they’re performative. There are a few things I’m able to do within that medium that keeps it fresh for me.”
His first jewelry box was a portrait of his then-girlfriend emerging from water, a Venus-like figure that anticipated the series’ incorporation of art-historical imagery. Among the works featured in Casa tomada are Olympia, Are You Ready?, in which Édouard Manet prepares his painting of two women, one in nude repose and one carrying a bouquet, and Deluge VII, a stormy seascape reminiscent of 19th-century paintings of the merciless natural world. The boat in Deluge VII is overcrowded with refugees in orange life jackets. Santiago frequently brings art history into the present moment, as in his works Be Alright and Execution of Michael Brown (neither is in Casa tomada), which allude to Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808 and Manet’s The Execution of Emperor Maximilian in their incisive depictions of police brutality against black men and women.
To create his art, Santiago uses a wide array of media — everything from plastic to hair. On his use of varied media, but also perhaps speaking implicitly to his works as a whole, he said, “Anything has the potential to be something larger than it is when you bring it down to that scale.” — Grace Parazzoli