Metal clangs on metal in a sound loud enough to vibrate through the body. Strobe lights cut across the darkened gallery like lightning at night. The heart races a little, as if in fight-or-flight mode. Despite the urge to run, it’s easier to stay rooted in morbid fascination.
Miami artist Antonia Wright’s newest performance piece at Spinello Projects is a riveting look at the violence and fear that surround crowd control barricades and public protest. The viewer can well imagine the moment when chaos erupts, that moment when peaceful demonstration turns to violence. Titled simply CONTROL, the work features an 8-foot-tall metal barricade that separates the audience from any physical danger. Several smaller barricades, propelled by an air compressor outside the view of the audience, sling-shot through the gallery and ricochet off the bars of the super-sized barrier.
While the darkened room, blinding lights and loud noises are reminiscent of haunted houses -- and the first time the barricades collide feels like a horror film jump scare -- the performance is so much more than that. It’s an invitation to explore current mores, where crowd control barricades are so commonplace they blend into the scenery. They are used to separate people of opposing views, establish orderly queues, and even ban entry in certain cases. They are so ubiquitous that even Tiffany & Co. prettified them with coverlets featuring the jeweler’s logo on its signature robin’s egg blue background.
Wright’s show is not for the faint of heart or infirm. Viewers must sign a liability waiver, and Wright even posted a sign cautioning the public. It reads like a warning label about a potent drug with bizarre side effects: “The performance is not recommended for those with the following conditions: Epilepsy, Heart Condition, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sensitivity to Light and Sound.” Viewers have two opportunities to see the show during Art Basel, Monday, Dec. 4 from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to noon.
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Known for her performance art in which she is the key actor, Wright embarks on a new artistic venture with CONTROL. Her previous works, recorded on video, show Wright plunging into an iced-over Lake Champlain, performing tai chi while cloaked in 15,000 live bees, and even hurtling naked through a pane of break-away glass.
“It’s a departure from my other work in that I’m not using my body,” she said. “I’m trying to give the audience what I feel in a performance.”
She explained the origin of her latest project, which has been in the works for the past two years.
“I’m always trying to find objects or symbols that convey what’s going on now, as a response to the world we’re living in,” Wright said. “I started noticing these barricades, and I started realizing they’re everywhere. They’ve totally infiltrated our landscape without anyone really questioning it.”
Soon she began chronicling events wherever barricades appeared. Her research, which is not on exhibit, shows a screen shot of barricades ringing the tent city at Zuccotti Park in New York during Occupy Wall Street. There’s a dramatic image of law enforcement officials spraying plumes of tear gas on demonstrators who appear to be using the metal barricades as a battering ram during demonstrations in the Ukraine. A man wearing a “Black Lives Matter” sweatshirt appears ready to hurl one of the barricades. Rows of barricades confine a pro-life crowd on a New York sidewalk, where people stand in a less agitated state. Another image depicts the massive Women’s March on Washington, where several crowd members use the barricades as a resting area, leaning over the rails while voicing frustration with the 2017 elections.
Barricades, derived from the French word for barrel, were first used in 1588, according to Wright. Nearly two centuries later, they figured prominently in the French Revolution. Sometimes barricades become glamorized or turned into art. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables revolutionaries gleefully glorified the building of barricades, with scenes of people emptying their homes of large furniture, throwing armoires and even a grand piano into the street. Christo and Jeanne-Claude erected an Iron Curtain of oil barrels on a Parisian street where Racine, Delacroix and Balzac once lived.
Wright’s version pushes back against the barricade and the control it exerts against the common man.
“They’re called ‘crowd control barriers,’ and that’s part of the name – control,” she said. “When you start thinking about control then you start thinking about the opposite, which is resistance. And you see them in a lot of protests.”
Her use of light also focuses on control. She got the idea while reading Michel Foucault’s books about Panopticism – from the Greek, meaning all seeing -- where prisoners remain under constant surveillance.
“In the Panopticon there’s a lot of lighting techniques that are used for surveillance,” Wright said. “I was really inspired by that. I thought that the lighting really added an emotional quality to the work – like you’re getting shot at in the dark.”
A thoughtful, thought-provoking performance, CONTROL touches on many themes, but the overriding one was once voiced by John F. Kennedy: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
IF YOU GO
IF YOU GO
Vernissage: Monday, Dec. 4 from 6-10 p.m., with performances starting at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 9, from 10 a.m. – Noon.
Bonus: Explore the work of three other local artists who are also exhibiting at Spinello Projects: Agustina Woodgate, Sinisa Kukec and Naama Tsabar. Woodgate created “cosmetics” from the colored dust of erased maps. Kukec’s large-scale work of polished aluminum is a thing of beauty created through a public stoning, where participants were encouraged to throw rocks at the work in a controlled setting. Tsabar’s video features music and collaboration involving conjoined chrome-plated electric guitars.