If the artists had done their homework, perhaps they would have discovered that the "sleeping Mexican" motif was first used in the 1920s and '30s on Tlaquepaque pottery and sold by Mexican potters primarily to American tourists after the Mexican Revolution. What began as a glorification of the indigenous campesino in post-revolution Mexico quickly ended up becoming in the American Southwest a negative stereotype representing the "lazy Mexican," one who snoozed when he should have been working. Building one of them on the American side of the Mexican border is, to my way of thinking, akin to erecting a 12-foot black-face lawn jockey smack in the middle of a poverty-stricken, African-American housing project — though the idea that illegal Mexicans flee poverty and die in our deserts certainly may be another underlying theme.

F.A.R.'s most trumpeted commission was a one-woman show by actress, playwright and author Anna Deveare Smith, performed at the Herberger Theater in conjunction with the renaming of ASU's law school after Arizonan and retired U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor — the first law school in the world to be named after a woman. The performance was based on Deveare Smith's interviews of more than 40 people in Arizona connected with the law — including O'Connor herself, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a longtime Phoenix attorney, and a female prisoner experiencing the justice system firsthand.

The opening performance was under-whelming. Deveare Smith read from interview transcripts, while changing props (mainly shoes) to signify different characters. It was like having deposition transcripts read out loud, and about as entertaining. And it didn't help that Arpaio came off as a jolly, avuncular figure — at least at the first performance — not to mention that Deveare Smith ended the program with an almost embarrassingly commercial plug for Michael Crow and his vision.

Jamie Peachey
Is building a 12-foot adobe “sleeping Mexican” on the border really the best that Future Arts Research can do?
Is building a 12-foot adobe “sleeping Mexican” on the border really the best that Future Arts Research can do?

Ferguson says F.A.R. commissioned the performance and all the interviews that were conducted, transcripts of which will be preserved in a living archive where young law students can contribute interviews. I suppose they can sandwich those interviews between exploring the mysteries of the rule against perpetuities, navigating the tax ramifications of bargain sales to charities, and studying for constitutional-law exams. (I think that F.A.R. would much better serve the community by posting online videos of lectures and performances it has sponsored. This could be a lasting repository of these primarily ephemeral events.)

Substantially more engaging and truly touching was a spin-off performance by female Estrella Jail inmates inspired by Deveare Smith's presentation, which was shown on DVD to them as part of a longstanding jail arts program organized by Life Paradigms, Inc. (check out its Web site at www.ghettogirls.org). F.A.R. underwrote the organization's fall "Journey Home" workshop, which produced a poetic examination of the inmates' self-perceptions, the lives they left behind (most were young and nearly all had young children, we learned) and their views of the justice system through which they're now being processed. Better candidates for Dr. Drew's Celebrity Rehab than jail, these women spoke directly from their own personal, emotionally crushing experiences. Unfortunately, only a small group of invited guests, all of whom had to pass security clearance, were allowed to watch the performance.

F.A.R.'s latest and greatest is a call for brainstorming sessions with members of STREB who are doing a one-week residency here and from whom F.A.R. has commissioned a project called STREB: BRAVE. BRAVE, "an in-depth exploration of the circle and perpetual motion," is a collaborative effort among choreographer Elizabeth Streb, composer David Van Tieghem, the MIT Media Lab, and projection designer Aaron Henderson that's supposed to incorporate visuals set off by the action of dancers and equipment on stage. For a taste of what STREB's done in the past, take a look at www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgYW6D5IyR0. From its latest geek-speak e-mail, F.A.R.'s looking for possible local BRAVE spin-off projects.

It's hard not to wonder whether Diane Halle was aware of what eventually would be done with her money at the time she pledged it to F.A.R. Doubtful, because it's obvious that even F.A.R. didn't know what it was going to do with the money. Yes, our community can benefit from the importation of lecturers in a variety of disciplines and, for a chosen few in the Phoenix arts community, there may be an opportunity to connect with people working in other parts of the world (in the case of STREB: BRAVE, you're out of luck unless you're conversant in openframeworks, a library for coding audio-visual compositions in C++). But all this is a far cry from the original aim of the institute: being a bridge between the university and the community.

Ferguson and Knode say they're trying to elevate artistic research to the level afforded scientific research, which often ends up experimentally empty-handed. By casting elusive artistic "exploration" in terms of meat-and-potatoes scientific research, it's easy to suspect that both Crow and Ferguson hope to lure future F.A.R. program funders who will pony up bountiful bucks, betting that some idea sprouted by a F.A.R.-underwritten artist, writer, or scholar might lead to commercial application. This is exactly what has happened with ASU's Arts, Media and Engineering program, formerly known as the Institute for Studies in the Arts, which, unlike F.A.R., has its own faculty and brick-and-mortar facilities. Because of its rebirth in scientific- and humanitarian-flavored terms, A.M.E. has been awarded several notable National Science Foundation grants, as well as at least one from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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1 comments
Mike
Mike

While the critiques of the actual work done by FAR in this article, the author of this article appears to have no intimate familiarity with the purpose of the ASU Foundation which is to orchestrate partnerships between public and private funds. The funds being used to sponsor FAR could not be used for any other purpose by the University besides the purpose for which they were donated and consequently have no effect on the budget for the school itself. If they did, that information would be publicly available because the funds would be state tax dollars. Crow sees "art" as beneficial to all aspects of the community but, admittedly, knows nothing about it. Problematic though that may be, the Phoenix art community is fortunate on some level to have a University President who is actually interested in a relationship. It seems that the Phoenix arts scene, which needs higher levels of community and financial support to remain viable, would be far better served by attempting a level of integration then by running and hiding from a collection of well-funded, connected individuals who would ultimately like to see the Phoenix art scene succeed.

 
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