• Monday: 10am-5pm
  • Tuesday-Wednesday: Closed
  • Thursday: 10am-5pm
  • Friday: 10am-7pm
  • Saturday: 10am-5pm
  • Sunday: 10am-5pm

1606 Paseo de Peralta
Santa Fe, NM 87501


Hans Schabus

Deserted Conquest

Disrupting, reconfiguring, and erecting space anew is essential to the artistic practice of Viennese sculptor Hans Schabus. Since 2000, he has produced site-specific installations that rely upon effects of spatial displacement to demythologize cultural symbols. In Deserted Conquest (2007) – an installation commissioned by SITE Santa Fe and the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States – Schabus takes the New Mexico landscape as his subject matter and uses it to create a series of confrontations (artificial vs. natural; permanence vs. mobility; the grid vs. spiral form, among others). These oppositions question our cultural romanticism and idealizations of the desert landscape and “the West.”

Deserted Conquest is a multifaceted project that begins with an unexpected physical impediment. When viewers enter SITE Santa Fe they encounter the steel armature of a 40’ mobile home chassis. Tipped up on its side and bolted to the floor, the chassis, the structural support for the mobile home, is now an impenetrable fence. As viewers round the corner, it becomes clear: Schabus has literally “cut” the mobile home into pieces, and is using sections of its façade, floor, and roof to create one side of the corridor through which visitors pass.

Now stripped of its utilitarian function as a dwelling, the deconstructed, reconfigured mobile home assumes a new and confounding purpose, namely to direct our own physical movement through the space. Schabus’s choice to install a dismantled mobile home within the confines of a museum is provocative. In the U.S. the mobile home is loaded with various connotations. Historically, it speaks to the pioneering days of covered wagons, caravans, and communal living that occurred on westward treks. Culturally, mobile homes were once considered to be the choice home for people wanting to live “off the grid,” away from urban centers. Today, mobile homes connote poor economic status and are seemingly prime targets for tornadoes. Schabus is keenly aware of the multiple references that mobile homes embody; yet, despite all of these connotations, what interests him most about the mobile home is its simple construction and materiality. He has said the lightness, mobility, and prefabricated nature of the mobile home stands in direct contrast to the stone used in the traditional construction of buildings in his native Vienna.

Travel is also an important conceptual element of Schabus’s installations, and he has trekked to some notably offbeat locations for many of his projects. For his film Western (2002), Schabus navigates his homemade sailboat “Forlorn” through the cavernous, labyrinthine Vienna sewer system. In Astronaut (be right back) (2003), a video that was included in the eponymous exhibition at the Vienna Secession, Schabus moves laboriously through a seemingly endless tunnel located below the Secession building. The anticipation in Astronaut builds as Schabus, in the archetypal role of the hero on a quest, attempts to reach his destination. Despite all his efforts, however, Schabus ends up where his journey began.

In Search of the Endless Column (Santa Fe Trail) (2007), speaks conceptually to a theme present in other projects – that of taking flight and not arriving. In this twenty-hour video commissioned by SITE Santa Fe, Schabus captures his travel along the original route of the Santa Fe Trail. First used in 1821 by William Becknell, this 19th-century transportation route connected Missouri to Santa Fe and served as one of the most important commercial highways until the introduction of the railroad in New Mexico in 1880.[1] For the film, Schabus set the camera on a tripod inside the car, allowing it to record only the imagery that entered the camera’s field of vision as seen through the car’s windshield. The absence of any peripheral vision, sound, and people give the film an eerie quality: for the vast majority of the film we see only empty, open road.

A central component of Schabus’s installation at SITE is East, West, South, North (2007), a three-channel, high-definition (HD) video projection that he shot on location in Yeso, NM. The town, which is now classified as a “ghost town,” was named after the Spanish word for gypsum that lies in abundance in Eastern New Mexico. Like so many other small, agrarian-based towns in the United States, Yeso, originally a trading center for cattle and sheep ranchers, collapsed in the mid-1950s when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway ceased to stop in the town. Today, Yeso claims only a handful of residents; yet the freight trains that are operated by BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) – one of the largest transporters of coal, consumer, agricultural, and industrial products in the United States – continue to barrel through the town approximately every half hour.

As the title suggests, Schabus shot the film along cardinal points that relate to the grid-like layout of the town. In these floor-to-ceiling projections, we see the raw, expansive landscape of Yeso, and the crumbling interiors and exteriors of three of its public buildings: the post office, the church, and the dance hall. Moreover, the ambient sound accompanying the film allows us to feel the strangeness of this place. In contrast to the drab colors, the stillness, melancholic abandonment, and silence that permeate the town, midway through the film, a freight train arrives with a thunderous clang and a torrent of vibrant, clashing colors streaks across the screen. This violent eruption lasts less than a minute, yet the effect of the train’s presence is profound. It speaks to the power of commerce and capitalism that ultimately transformed Yeso into a destitute non-place.

Despite the fact that many of Schabus’s projects are site-specific installations, he strives to create a sense of placelessness that disturbs viewers’ perceptions of the space and place that they occupy. In addition to the reconstructed mobile home, videos, and assorted “found” objects that Schabus imports into the museum, he also transforms the topography of SITE Santa Fe’s white-cube interior by hauling over 70 tons of dirt into its galleries. Native grasses, assorted stones, rutted tire tracks, and random footpaths – elements common to the New Mexico landscape – also appear. As viewers traverse the gallery, their continuous movements form impressions and contours that alter the terrain. With his unlikely spatial intervention, Schabus conflates interior and exterior, creating a new geographical space that can only be defined and “conquered” by the viewer.

Artist Bios

Hans Schabus