I Stole Stealth (Coyote Taught Me)


By: Zane Fischer
January 2008

On first considering the “I Stole Stealth (Coyote Taught Me)” exhibition, one might think that the City of Santa Fe’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau would allocate part of next year’s budget to taking out a hit on artist Erika Wanenmacher. Yes, it’s unusual for a city government to assassinate people, but Santa Fe has been trying to shake its new age, day spa, Shirley MacLaine, spirit animal image for a while, so when Wanenmacher dedicates a whole show to coyotes, and other potentially curious, pseudo-spiritual, woo-woo, it would seem to set the whole concept of Santa Fe being a with-it contemporary art destination back a couple decades.

Not so fast. Wanenmacher does pull from myth, does rely on tribal symbologies, does get woo-woo, but she does it with a contemporary and practical abandon, appropriating elements based on need and resonance. In doing so, she even manages to wring one of Santa Fe’s most meaningful exhibitions in recent memory from the process. On fronting a giant, three dimensional snake carving, with hatches that open from serpent’s body onto illustrations of key moments in the artist’s life, one feels confronted more by spell or shrine than by sculpture in any strict sense, but any hokeyness is, effectively and intentionally, lost in translation. We believe the artist and pine for such an acute distillation of the key moments of our own lives and fate.

When Wanenmacher turns her attention to a repurposing of the stealth fighter, it’s true that she mounts her hand-fabricated, sheet metal models on the wall like African masks, but the power they convey as objects is well beyond a notion of primitive superstition. One stealth fighter is clad in faux-wood panel, another in illustrations from children’s tales. The artist calls them masks for stealing back childhood or stealing back lumber for the forests, and she co-ops the tools of death and greedy industry into trustworthy saints. One life-sized work depicts Wanenmacher herself, naked and standing toward the viewers. Her own flesh has been assembled from dry, patchwork coyote skins, complete with replicas of tattoos, her hair made from fur. It is entirely disconcerting in its honest self-representation, in its tacit, true, terrible presence. To be riveted and repulsed, as one is from their own sense of self – what more can be asked of art?