Sketch for John John, 2008 by Robert Chambers. Image courtesy of Robert Chambers’ studio.
Technically part of the US yet surrounded by oceans and marooned at the end of a long peninsula, South Florida with its topical heat and annual hurricanes is about as discouraging to the pursuit or preservation of art as one can imagine. Really more Caribbean than American, Miami in particular is one of the few places in the States in which you can truly escape the rest of the country. For the most part the distance is inconvenient, especially if you have to drive to your destination, but on the flip side, being stuck down here—constantly looking up to the rest of the art world—does afford you some perspective. There are many venues down here that despite having super powered air conditioning and hurricane proof windows appear superficially to be regular, everywhere kind of spaces. There are a few galleries and collections with sculpture gardens which boast impressive flora—orchid, avocado, banana, mango, palm—but mainly there seems to be, like everywhere, a compulsion to be like everywhere else—to follow a model (the white cube) which is more or less accepted as the best, most unobtrusive platform for contemporary art. There is one place at least, however, which embraces the locale and its inherent problems with gusto.
Scheduling annual outdoor exhibitions The Yard @ CasaLin not only refutes the supposition of formulaic exhibition standards, but displays site specific works which are often designed to weather the storm, so to speak, or not. Clinging to the very South East tip of Miami’s Wynwood Art District at the very South East tip of America, CasaLin is an improbable gem and a perfect embodiment of what a Miami art space can be.
Last Saturday CasaLin, founded in 2003 by Lin Lougheed, opened this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach exhibition “Yard Work” featuring works by Miami artists Robert Chambers, Julie Davidow, Ralph Provisero, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, Mette Tommerup and Frances Trombly. Commenting upon the current state of the world economy and the inherent social, financial and ecological hurdles that we face, the artists question the feasibility of our continuing struggle. Juxtaposed with the unending struggle to maintain the unruly nature of the urban tropical garden in which they are situated, the dysfunctional and sometimes downright fatalistic works stress the balance and question the necessity of toil by drawing comparisons with past; seemingly illuminating the inevitable abject futility that undermines our quest for progress. Excerpts from the press release explaining the works are combined with our own interjections below.
Robert Chambers, John John, 2008. 2 modified John Deere tractors, steel, paint. Photo by Robert Chambers.
Playing with the political and economic engines of our country’s past, Robert Chambers sheds light on the present state of our county in his sculpture “John John” in which two John Deere tractors are literally at a physical standstill, collided into a fusion of past and present. The John Deere Model A tractor was the epitome of the bare bones, highly effective, American heartland farming effort. Both machines used to create the piece originate in 1936, during the height of the depression. Although purposefully stationary, the piece does, as with many of Chambers pieces, actually work to some degree, as demonstrated above by Miami Artists Bhakti Baxter and Nicolas lobo.
Julie Davidow, Web, 2008. Manila rope, dimensions variable. Photo by Frances Trombly.
Exposed to the elements, Julie Davidow’s Web, woven of manila rope, a fibrous, organic material that seems to grow from the coconut palms between which is it situated. Over time, this fiber will slowly decompose as it remains exposed to the elements. The web references the endless construction and destruction, growth and regeneration found within the garden itself while reflecting the inherent fragility and strength of our ecology.
Ralph Provisero, Earthburner. Plants, earth, two jet thruster fairings. Photo by Frances Trombly.
Aside from their formal qualities, these apparently simple, truncated cones are saturated with contrasting contemporary references. The interiors of the nickel-titanium jet airplane thruster fairings are recycled as planters. As we being to finally see the first concerted steps towards alternative and sustainable energies, Earthburner is suggestive of a memorial to the relics of heirloom technologies. The alloy shells that once burned tons of fuel a day are now rammed with earth; from their center’s brightly colored plants reminiscent of exhaust tapers project upwards.
Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, A Wooden Deck, 2008. Wood, dimensions variable. Photo by Frances Trombly.
Where less is more in a pragmatic landscape, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova gives a nod to frank Stella with A Wooden Deck. Questioning ideas of value through non-artistic forms of making the piece consists of a typical backyard deck in which the planks of wood echo the lines in one of Stella’s black paintings. Just as the thickness of Stella’s stripes were determined by the industry sized brushes that he was using, the stripes on the deck are determined by the industry sized planks which it is composed of. The work continues Rodriguez-Casanova’s ongoing practice relating to domestic structures and clichés with the language of minimalism.
Mette Tommerup, Epiphyte with Intentions, 2008. Garden hut, Spanish moss, air-plants. Photo by Robert Chambers.
By transforming a garden shed into a host and habitat for a variety of indigenous epiphytes such as moss and air-plants, Tommerup creates a metaphor for humankind. Although man made in every aspect, the soft architecture is enveloped by the natural, drawing focus upon the structure’s participation in a dually symbiotic relationship, a refuge within a refuge.
Frances Trombly, Toilet Paper Prank, 2008. Embroidery on fabric, dimensions variable. Photo by Frances Trombly
Toilet Paper Prank pulls a double prank on the viewer by toilet papering a tree with a painstakingly manufactured cloth imitation. Continuing Trombly’s current exploration of the abiding trend in our culture to produce disposable objects, the piece, which gives the first hint in the exhibition that things may not be as simple as they seem, talks about the value of beauty, the origins and the final destinations of the disregarded, throwaway and mundane fabrications that surround us.
Frances Trombly, Toilet Paper Prank, 2008 (Detail). Embroidery on fabric, dimensions variable. Photo by Frances Trombly.
Consisting of layered fabric embroidered with a generic toilet paper pattern, the likeness of the handmade replica, as with much of Trombly’s work is enough to initially ignore the piece before compulsively getting so close to it that your nose touches it – making us all the more thankful that especially in this case it is an imitation—or at the very least, unused.
Apart from works standing out as individually strong pieces, in particular John John, A wooden Deck and Toilet Paper Prank, there were many happy, site specific symphonies between the works themselves and their environments. Rodriguez-Casanova’s deck and Provisero’s planters, for example, both hark to industry whilst at the same time embraced their somewhat parallel environments; and the significance Chamber’s John John, a visual and contextual symphony all of its own which also referenced industry, is fortified by the possibility that the artist, much to everyone’s surprise, has actually made a political work.
Despite the obvious general consensus of which piece was the favorite, we at ARTLURKER found most pleasure in the relationship between Trombly’s and Tommerup’s contributions. Hanging from the tree like moss, Trombly’s toilet paper, juxtaposed with Tommerup’s covered cabin added a humorous, if perhaps unintentional depth—our fecund imaginations lubricated by tropical humidity and a presiding lavatory theme drawing the comparison between the moss hut and a military latrine[.]
An additional opening reception for Art Basel will take place on Thursday December 4th from 10 am until noon during which a Cuban breakfast will be served. Everyone is welcome. Exhibition runs through December 7th.
For more information please visit: www.casalin.org