Having found its beginnings in 2015 at Bak Lim Sa Monastery in upstate New York, Ontopo is a speculative art platform developed through artist-led retreats that engage sacred spaces as venues for creative production and performance. Each project centers the temple as a physical space that uniquely fosters human relationships with both unseen forces and land, or topography.

Ontopo facilitates intentional spaces for creative communities to realize multidisciplinary projects, artworks, performances, and experiences in order to further foster connections to land, ecology, and the sacred. Ontopo focuses particularly on Asian Pacific Islander and BIPOC communities and creatives working in multiple disciplines. Ontopo is a query that brings artists together in the site-specific interpretation of land and unpacking the complex relationship that humans have to their built and natural environments. 

The word “Ontopo” is a neologism that shortens the word “topography” and adds the prefix “on” which is meant to translate as “on the land.”


As we observe the modern transformation of our natural landscapes and ecosystems, Ontopo is interested in creating a deeper understanding of place and the responsibility that comes with visiting, settling, and producing work in collaboration with the land. When Ontopo projects and retreats inhabit a site or space, we seek to honor interspecies kinships and a site’s past and future inhabitants. Ontopo projects and retreats aim to improvise new ways of re-connecting to land, to each other, and to one's self.


Ontopo facilitates the creation of new sound art, installation, performance, film, and participatory works. We foster our network of artists to interpret sacred retreat sites, experiment with new processes and materials, and share their work with our community. By platforming artists as teachers and creating cultures of improvised, shared experience and resource sharing, Ontopo has helped artists realize the following projects: 


Ontopo Presentations / Ontopo Offsite are collaborative projects with host spaces in New York City.


Ontopo founder Jon Santos has developed an informal classroom model born from various successful art festival projects that inform the curriculum that Santos currently teaches in the Communications Design Department at Pratt Institute to undergraduate design students. 

Ontopo’s work is supported by Common Space Studio, a multi-disciplinary design office founded by Santos around the same tenets of liberation from artistic norms or “design in the expanded field.”


Ontopo creates temporary creative centers of engagement for artists at sacred sites, where speculative experiences and artistic experimentation help participants tune into their relationships to land, past and present. Taking the form of curated group retreats, Ontopo is experienced over 3 - 5  days through site-specific works, performances, or creating space for the production of work outside of the standard art world context. In Ontopo retreats, the artist’s studio, the gallery, and performance venue come together into a singular site of experimentation. Each retreat results in new artworks and concepts produced, new social contexts created, and a deepened understanding of human connections to land and the sacred are internalized. Ontopo centers upon reciprocal appreciation, ritual exploration, cultural exchange and ceremonial remixing.

Ongoing commitments of Ontopo include connection-building between New York and Hawai’i, especially through our relationship with the Manoa Heritage Center. Ontopo’s focus on land, urbanism, and the designed world necessitate community organizing and creating subcultural platforms of resilience and connectivity.

Retreat participants, Ontopo Outlier Inn 2015. Photo credit: Jayne Lies
David Brandon Geeting
Circle of Life
Digital C-Print
Dimensions Variable

Ontopo is an off-site development platform for art production and performance.

The mechansim for discovery are a series of retreats that began in 2015 that ask participating artists to create site specific works in multiple formats and media that interpret natural surroundings and break down traditional studio space into an improvised, shared experience.

The word “Ontopo” is a neologism that shortens the word “topography” and adds the prefix “on” which is meant to translate as “on the land”.

Programming consists of mostly performative works that take place over a 3-5 day period which involves audience participation and work across disciplines.  


jon (at) commonspacestudio.com

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