SMOCA, Arizona, U.S. 2016
Everything Falls into Place When It Collapses is Santiago Borja’s site-specific project in response to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument – a Southwest icon of Native American culture – and its complex history within the national cultural politics of the U.S. over the past 125 years.
The Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, known in the O’odham language as “Siwañ Wa’a Ki” or “Sivan Vahki,” is one of the largest surviving ancient sites in North America. It bears witness to the skill and creativity of the large community of ancient Sonoran Desert people who inhabited it, developing wide-scale irrigation farming and extensive trade connections that lasted more than 1,000 years until approximately 1450 A.D. when the location was largely abandoned.
The site consists of multiple adobe structures surrounded by a compound wall and houses the remains of the Great House, a monumental, four-story adobe structure whose purpose and function are unknown.
In 1892, the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument became the first cultural site in the U.S. to be given national protection, and in 1918, it was re-designated as a national monument by President Woodrow Wilson.
In the early 20th century, a series of roofs were constructed over the Great House, culminating in the construction of a massive, modern steel roof that was completed in 1932 and still stands today. The roof was intended to conserve the remarkable structure, but was undertaken without the advice of Native American communities, namely the O’odham peoples who are recognized as the ancestors of those who built it.
The superposition of these two physical structures – one more than 700 years old and the other almost 100 years old – is emblematic of the complicated and difficult relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. Federal Government. It is a juxtaposition of culturally different concepts of time, questions of legacy and belonging, technologies, knowledge and ideas about the future.
Borja is interested in this conversation that raises questions about different cultures – Native American, white, academic, artistic and administrative – related to archaeological remains, the rationalism of Modernism and its belief in its ability to solve problems through technological means, and the complexity of interpreting and preserving the material past – both ancient and Modernist, the press release stated.
In a space like this, complex questions about conservation converge (how, why and for whom) in which different agents end up involved: on the one hand, the heirs of those who built it – although in that sense, there is also a great risk of essentializing and flattening the readings -, the rangers in charge of protecting it, the researchers who continue interpreting its origins and functions, and the cultural and tourist industries that instrumentalize the site and generate experiences diluted in large amounts of frivolity. These situations create a series of frustrations typical of the confluence of different ways of understanding a place where so many expectations and identity claims of different kinds are deposited. It is well known how Western ethnological museums build their own identity through the appropriation of the artifacts of the other, an other that is also created as an identity, without their consent. In a way it is what the French filmmakers Chris Marker and Alain Resnais called in their classic film Statues also die (1953) the “botany of death”, culture as the process of construction of stories and devices of apprehension of death – both humans and the objects they produce.