With its annual Grants & Commissions exhibit, the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO) is once again doing a great job of showing off cutting-edge, innovative art made south of our borders.
Fleeting Imaginaries features the eight winners of the commissions program, who hail from South America, Mexico and the Caribbean; and for the first time two artists have been chosen for a career Achievement Award.
One of the latter, Peruvian Teresa Burga (born in 1935), starts off the exhibition with a room-size installation that is a superb introduction. Her utterly dark, black-draped room has two air vents shooting out two columns of air, Estructuras de Aire. Enter the room and your movement interrupts the flow, and you and the projected air become the art piece. That this was first conceived in 1970 suggests how avant garde her position in the Lima and South American art scene is, and why it is so important that it is shown here in 2014.
But most of the other art is ultra-contemporary in terms of creation, all made in the last year.
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While your own body plays a part in Burga’s piece, it is all Carlos Martiel’s body in the most talked- about and controversial work here. Although only in his mid-20s, the Afro-Cuban, Havana-born performance artist has already made waves, most prominently at the Liverpool Biennial, where he said before the opening, “With surgical needles I sew an expensive classic English suit to my body.”
Skin, and in association, skin color, play a huge part in this artist’s work — the skin we live in, the skin others see us in. He was a Miami Cannonball (formerly LegalArt) resident this summer, part of an ongoing collaboration with CIFO, where he created Condecoracion Martiel, Carlos. This installation includes a small, wall-mounted video of a piece of Martiel’s skin being surgically removed in a Coral Gables medical office: that piece of skin is dried and preserved and set into a gold Cuban medal of honor, which hangs next to the video. That image was then tattooed around the wound. So many layers here it’s hard to begin: how the skin of black people has been tortured through the ages; how it has been studied in a creepy anthropological way as an artifact; how skin and blood-lines define us.
These two powerful, physical installations frame the other works, which address myriad other issues.
Nayari Castillo of Venezuela has some tales that are on the surface not that hard to navigate, as she has long text accompanying them. Her work, like so much made in the Americas, involves the process, integration, complications and results of migration. She is also a molecular biologist, so she follows all species as they migrate and transform, in little lab jars and in illustration. One work in her large multi-piece installation involves a tale of a Middle Eastern woman moving to Argentina, where she comes up with an ill-fated scheme to export penguins.
The Grants & Commissions program has always intentionally been heavy on nontraditional, multimedia forms. They often involve journeys, which is why when done well, they are about adventure.
Brazilian artist Marcellevs L., now based in Berlin, took his video camera out to the canals of England, where the narrow passages rarely allowed his small boat-slash-production studio to travel faster than four miles an hour. Not so different from paddling through our mangrove alleyways, where perception slows down.
Video continues to be some of the strongest work here. Claudia Joskowicz, a Bolivian artist, has a two-screen gem that is loosely, very loosely based on the John Ford film The Searchers. The searchers here, in sunglasses and other macho costuming, are not marauding the North American West, however; they are marching through church stalls and the particular identities of this Andean land-locked nation. Some of the soundtrack comes from the Canadian musical explorer Neil Young. Make sure you watch it all.
Another video, viewable in segments and possibly one of the most daring, is from Brazilian Rosangela Renno. She has filmed people on their way about life in hectic, urban Lagos, Nigeria. But in the fore of the video are two cars, honking Morse Code to each other (they don’t want to be drowned out). The Morse Code signals are also the musical translations of famous Nigerian artists such as Fela Kuti. The two cars are having a discombobulated 21st century conversation a la Waiting For Godot. It’s called Waiting For.
References to music, literary heroes and artistic pioneers are woven through the entire exhibition: The striking black-and-white sculptures in the second room, a nod to the early 20th century avant-garde Russian Kazimir Malevich from Venezuelan Antonieta Sosa, is one such example. But it stands on its own even without knowledge of its conceptual origin.
Fleeting Imaginaries combines emerging, mid-career and well-established artists who dig deep to come up with works that incorporate text, video, installation and sculpture to challenge and inspire. Read into the individual pieces what you want, it’s a fascinating tour.
Locust Projects has opened up Sunday in the Park, from New Yorker Sarah Crowner (a 2010 Whitney Biennial participant), as the centerpiece of a refreshing, three-part offering. The reference to the French painting and the Broadway play are given a new platform, with the “mainstage” floor painted as a bright abstract canvas (children from Miami helped create the piece). It is surrounded by colorful, undulating curtains and with speakers emitting a soundtrack made for the installation from Sari Carel. The theatricality is both fun and engaging.
In the front of the Design District space, Amanda Keeley has created a pop-up esoteric book shop. In our new cyber world, it’s amazing how “browsing” real books is still such an aesthetic experience, taking in the illustrations, the colors, the titles. Flip through the yellow-jacketed paperback about the radical German Baader Meinhof gang from the 1970s — when was the last time you saw something like that?
In the back project room, Mexico City performance artist Miguel Rodriguez Sepulveda continues his cultural exploration of various Latin cities. He picks out certain images that are relevant to a place (pre-Colombian images for Bogota, for instance, pop-icons for Miami) and paints them on the backs of a jogger. The paint starts to drip and wash away as the sweat of the runner mixes with the watercolor. He records this, and in segments copies the slowly disintegrating image onto cotton paper. The video and the prints make up the installation.
If you go
What: “Fleeting Imaginaries,” Grants & Commissions Exhibition
Where: CIFO, 1018 N. Miami Ave., Miami; www.cifo.org
When: Through Nov. 2
What: Shows from Sarah Crowner, Sari Carel, Amanda Keeley and Miguel Rodriguez Sepulveda, with closing performance by Peter London Global Dance Company (Oct. 9)
Where: Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami; www.locustprojects.org
When: Through Oct. 11