The goals (and the title) of the first Miami Performance International Festival are ambitious, even if the event’s means are limited. But that’s fine for festival director Charo Oquet, a longtime Miami artist who launched the festival as a counterpoint to the delirious commercialism of the city’s behemoth definitive art event, Art Basel Miami Beach.
“As an artist, after Art Basel you’re left with a really weird feeling,” says Oquet. “It’s an amazing event. But it’s about the product, the commerce of art — the artist has no real place in it. They’re not encouraged to get into the middle of sales. You’re part of it but not really part of it.”
With a shoestring budget of approximately $25,000, donated space and volunteers, Oquet is gathering more than 40 artists from South Florida, the Caribbean, Latin America, Spain and Canada for performances, workshops and discussions Thursday through Sunday. All events are free, and take place at a Design District space provided rent-free by Dacra Development or at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden.
Oquet hopes the festival will help Miami explore a rich aspect of the concept-driven contemporary art world, which has embraced performance, on its own or as part of hybrid works. In New York, the decade old, biannual Performa festival has grown into a major cultural event, with scores of artists from across the United States and abroad — and performers such as Marina Abramovic — have become art world stars.
With so much of Miami’s art world activity focused around Art Basel, or popular monthly gallery walks like the one in Wynwood, experimental, edgier work is often lost, Oquet says. “Miami has gone through this huge growth,” Oquet says. “But there needs to be a conversation about art, not commerce. Art is also about the process and what artists have to say. It is not just a commodity, an object.”
Miami dancer and performance artist Belaxis Buil will disguise herself as two objects for two festival piecesl. On Thursday, she will make herself into a table, complete with a lamp and tablecloth, for I’m Neutral, a commentary on the objectification of women. Sunday, in Flora the Magnificent, she’ll use artificial flowers and caterpillars to merge with the Botanical Garden.
Buil hopes the festival will help audiences understand the motivation behind work like hers. “Performance art stems from a really intellectual way of thinking that’s turned into action,” she says. “People find it weird at first. There is a need to educate, inform, demonstrate to audiences here in Miami what performance art really is. With Art Basel, people are coming for the party scene. The whole mystery of art, of what the artist is trying to say, is going to be re-introduced through performance, and get people talking again.”
Part of Oquet’s goal is to present artists from Latin American countries where performance is not as well known or integrated into the cultural scene. The largest number come from the Dominican Republic, where Oquet was born and where she has produced a number of cultural exchange projects. Many artists have paid their own way here, she says, with the festival providing hotel rooms.
Among them is Ismael Ogando, who performs his S&M for Beginners Thursday during his first trip to Miami. He says the activity and welcome here are in sharp contrast to his home in Santo Domingo. “I like to perform on the streets … and the last thing [people] think is that I am making a piece of art,” Ogando says. “There’s no big performance scene or support.
“This is a rich opportunity to exchange ideas and visions, see how performance works in a different country and of course to make connections and show what you do.”