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Virgil Ortiz Revolt 1680/2180: Runners + Gliders

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
Omtua welcomes the arrival of the Recon Watchmen. ©VirgilOrtiz
Omtua welcomes the arrival of the Recon Watchmen. ©VirgilOrtiz

Thinking, dreaming, worrying about the future may be a universal human trait, expressed in myriad ways shaped by culture and history. My approach to foresight is grounded in white, western science and developed in service of government and industry. There are other powerful and compelling ways to think about the future, shaped by other traditions, and in service of other goals. Today on the blog, Pueblo artist Virgil Ortiz tells us about his use of futures-inflected storytelling to illuminate the past, as embodied in his latest project, Revolt 1680/2180: Runners + Gliders. If you are joining us in Denver for AAM2023, May 19-22, be sure to visit this installation at History Colorado.

–Elizabeth Merritt, VP Strategic Foresight and Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums

“Omtua and Catua—young runners from Tesuque Pueblo, among several other messengers, carried knotted deer-hide strips more than 50 miles to surrounding villages just before the rebellion. The number of knots signaled the days remaining before the well-orchestrated uprising. But this ingenious plan was cut short and the revolt began early. Catua and Omtua were captured and hanged, becoming the first to give their lives to the cause.”

Po’Pay: Leader of the First American Revolution, Herman Agoyo and Joe S. Sando; Clear Light Publishing, 2005

The year is 2180. The Recon Watchmen, time-traveling warriors, scour the desert in full combat gear. Their mission: safeguarding the past, present, and future of the New Mexico Pueblos, and ensuring their survival and perseverance against the threat of domineering encroachment. The Watchmen realize that the challenges will only continue, so protecting clay, culture, language, and traditions from extinction is imperative in order to preserve them for the next generations, and the Gliders, future iterations of Runners Omtua and Catua, are their foremost reconnaissance team. In Revolt 1680/2180: Runners + Gliders, I bring clay and tradition to meet cutting-edge technology, joining history with the future.

The Runners and Gliders are the messengers of the Recon Watchmen. In 1680, runner twins Omtua and Catua ran knotted cords of coded resistance to all the pueblos of New Mexico, delivering news of revolt to their kinsmen and allies all across the desert, mountains and valleys. Inspired by the original runners, the Gliders of the year 2180 are similarly gifted with extraordinary abilities of communication and flight. Together with the Sirens, whose automaton laboratory is nestled in Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, the Runners have come to History Colorado Center to deliver a message to the present generation–a call to action.

In Runners + Gliders, I blend clay, photography, and now, augmented reality, weaving together history and possibility, and confronting viewers with both past and future. This is key to my vision for the Watchmen. All my work is based on educating globally about the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. For over two decades, I’ve incorporated this subject matter into my work and art mediums. It is an awakening of the truth, and education about our history and actual events; reviving social commentary in my traditional clay works is recording a timeline of past and current events.

In the same way that we as artists embed keys of cultural significance within our work, the Runners and Gliders are able to hide within time itself. Their coveted and heavily guarded secret of portal travel enables them to deliver assistance and hope to their ancestors across time, unencumbered by pursuers or oppressors. They carry the message of uprising, and disperse truths about the brutality of imperial Castilian rule. Both Runners and Gliders take up their ancestors’ relay, dashing in and out of time through portals located across the face of the Earth.

Runners and Gliders deliver messages and key information to Recon Watchmen on the frontlines. To do this, they must avoid capture and detection at all costs. Through advanced cloaking technology and camouflage techniques, the Runners & Gliders have the ability to disappear in plain sight and elude detection. These abilities are crucial to their success, as they are entrusted with safely delivering key information from the future to the past, back again, and everywhere in between.

At the room’s entrance, we enter the perspective of the Runners and Gliders as they scour landscapes for both friend and foe. Portraits of Gliders stand guard, leading visitors into the main room. A set of life-size Watchmen line one area of the exhibit, donning high-fire clay armor, and bearing their Ha’pons (war shields) and Chargers. Projections constantly shift and change on two white busts representing the original twin runners, emulating their ability to blend into their surroundings.

Not only does my work exemplify traditional elements of indigenous design, but traditional pieces will also be displayed alongside present and future iterations. Selected from the collection at History Colorado, historic clay works will be represented from Cochiti Pueblo.

And within the physical exhibit lies a hidden realm, accessible only to those who can decipher the subtle turkey tracks marking the way. With immersive experience enabled on a handheld device, you will capture QR codes embedded in displays, unlocking an Augmented Reality beyond your imagination.

Omtua activates the cloaking process to elude detection. ©VirgilOrtiz
Omtua activates the cloaking process to elude detection. ©VirgilOrtiz

Witness the daring feats of the Gliders, standing in a storm of fire and ash. Feel the heat and intensity as you step into their world, where danger lurks at every turn. Join forces with the 10-foot-tall guardians hidden in plain sight. With their keen senses and warrior’s instincts, they are always poised and ready for battle. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these powerful defenders, you’ll feel a sense of awe and reverence for their strength and resilience. And the Watchmen themselves, who exist beyond time and space, will be felt in every movement and every dimension, embodied by 3-D scans of busts and figures floating above the displays. You’ll be transported to the very edge of possibility, where the limits of human courage and ingenuity are tested like never before. This is a journey like no other, where ancient traditions and futuristic technology converge to create a truly immersive experience.

Utilizing these age-old methods and materials connects me to our ancestors and provides therapy, prayer, and critical teachings. Tying together the past, present and the future has been instilled in me for as long as I can remember. I feel that none of it is my talent; it’s way bigger than me and I am just a bead in a necklace.

Shrouded in secrecy and sacred energy, the Runners and Gliders will also pass on crucial knowledge: to their fellow Recon Watchmen, to their ancestors, to us. In this way, we are encouraged to recognize and embrace the direness of our situation: amidst many dangers and threats to our way of life, a message of the utmost importance must be delivered, a message that ensures survival throughout time. And we may be the ones responsible for delivering it safely.

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