David Zalben looks ready for a lazy day as he sits on a lawn chair with his feet propped up, fan on and bottle of Peroni beer in hand. But instead of high noon by the pool, it’s 9:30 p.m. and Zalben is sitting inside a tiny white display window in Miami Beach.
Zalben is spending 40 nights through July 16 crafting poetry from wire as part of his installation titled, "A Love You Cannot Live Without," at ArtCenter at 800 Lincoln Rd. The artist uses his hands and a pair of pliers to twist the wire into readable cursive type, which he then hangs from the ceiling. He spends from 8:30 to 10 p.m. each night sculpting out his stream-of-conscious thoughts, though he sometimes begins earlier and ends later.
What looks like Christmas tinsel at first glance transforms into phrases like "I want your scent of Chanel number five that feels mmmmmmmm..." or "my day of celebrating weed day started off with little sleep," when read carefully.
Zalben, whose hands are black with oil from the wire by the end of the night , said the response from passers-by has been amazing. In the last 20 minutes he worked Monday night, at least 30 people stopped to admire the work.
"I think they can feel the love," Zalben said.
People have found ways to communicate with Zalben while he’s behind the glass. Since he began to work on June 6, he has had cell phones with text messages written on them, little girls making heart shapes with their hands, and written notes pressed against the windows. One message that stuck with Zalben was a woman’s hand written message that said, "You’re a heart surgeon."
"It’s changed my life," he said of the overwhelming response.
"I overheard a couple who were trying to read some of the wordage," he said. "It drove them crazy. It really resonated with them"
Zalben was caught off guard by all the attention the work was getting. He said he does it for his "own person satisfaction."
"I don’t really think about the reaction I’m going to get with these projects," he said. "I just never expected such an enthusiastic response."
The poetry in the piece has caught people’s attention.
Marco Vega and José Salem watched Zalben Monday night. Vega said the display looked like an alternate dimension.
"It’s like putting yourself in the poetry and being inside it," Vega said.
The two men spent several minutes trying to read the writing.
"It’s like a labyrinth," Vega said.
"You want to know what’s next," Salem said.
And it’s not just casual spectators who are interested.
Susan Caraballo, ArtCenter’s director of exhibitions, is impressed with Zalben’s installation.
"I really would love to see the artists at ArtCenter being challenged a bit," Caraballo said. "We have this opportunity with the windows and David is taking full advantage of him."
She said that Zalben had already been approached by another artist to work on a piece together.
"This work lends to collaborations with artists which is really exciting for me," she said.
Zalben works between an hour and a half and three hours per night. He said the work is tiring, despite the fact that he regularly works with wire.
"My hands were feeling a little tired, which I did not expect because I’m in pretty good shape," he said after his third day of work. But he’s doing better since he found a solution.
"The beer helps," he said laughing. Zalben stuck a sign that says "beer donations" over a donations box outside the window, and people have been obliging.
The artist has been bending wire for years. His friend and local artist, Adriana Carvahalo, had crafted a tiny flower out and Zalben was intrigued. He picked up a piece, made a shape and was hooked.
"I liked the way the wire bent," he said. "I could make something quickly."
But Zalben believes the medium makes sense for his personality.
"As you dwell on being an artist you start fleshing out who you are and what you do," he said.
"I’m very impatient and it just sort of fit my character."
This is not the first time he has incorporated words into his art. For the past couple of years, Zalben has used wire to turn his poetry into art pieces. It has been more taxing on him than his other wire art, which features every day objects like light bulbs and beds.
"There’s a lot more work that goes into it," he said. "I don’t want to write about something primitive."
He said he is inspired by his sense of humor, innocence and sexuality and tries to combine the emotions in all his pieces. He also takes inspiration from other people.
"You just never know when somebody has something to say or an idea that inspires you," Zalben said.
One of his favorite moments came while talking to the dental hygienist, who told him, "Control tongue to control your fate." Zalben went back home and turned it into a wire piece.
"A muse can be right in front of you and you don’t know it," he said.
The artist, who has lived in Miami for 11 years, said he finds the city’s diverse art scene more nurturing than anywhere else he has lived.
"It’s more open to any kind of art form," Zalben said. "I was in Chicago for many years and a lot of the worked that I would do wouldn’t really fit into that environment."
Before Chicago, Zalben’s went to school for photography in Boston. Though he no longer photographs professionally, he has had people who visit his studio tell him they see it come through in his work.
"Through other people I’ve learned that there really is a connection between photography and what I’m doing today," Zalben said.
But he does not limit himself to wire. Zalben also makes paintings, often on a canvas of pieced-together Altoid tins. Inside each tin he writes a story. Because they must be installed piece-by-piece, buyers often discover the writing while they hang the tins.
"People don’t know it and as they’re installing the tins one at a time they start reading it and they see what it’s all about," he said.
But he says his work all comes to the same point. For Zalben, it boils down to the focus of his current installation: love.
“It’s cliché, but The Beatles said ‘all you need is love,’” Zalben said. “When you do what you love, you do it well. I think that’s what they meant.”