Justin H.Long, Her name is Rio, 2010.
This past Saturday night was the opening of the Weird Miami Visitors Center at Bas Fisher Invitational. Let’s forget for a moment that this is an art exhibition, and consider it first as the starting point for a trip.
Bas Fisher Invitational’s Weird Miami project, led by curator Agatha Wara, celebrates Miami’s eccentricities and out of the way spots with a series of artist-led bus tours. Every third Sunday, starting July 18th, a different tour takes off from the BFI headquarters in the Design District. Each one will be led by a local artist (or two) who, through the process of making their work or sheer curiosity, has gathered a wealth of random knowledge about Miami. The routes and plans are secret, but those adventurous souls who sign up for a seat will literally be riding a big yellow school bus into the backwoods and side streets of Miami with a bunch of friends and strangers.
The intention, as Wara puts it, is “to get people out of their geographic habits,” but also to open up the art scene to a more diverse crowd and create some new conversations. With a grant from the Miami Dade Department of Cultural Affairs, they even put an ad in the Metrorail. Lately, I’ve heard both artists and curators express a desire to build bridges between different groups, so that fresh ideas are circulating and we don’t all get lost in obscure insiders-only conversations. In a city that sometimes feels like a small town with big dreams, we have to keep ourselves from getting bored. But of course, boredom really is a state of mind, and on Saturday night, the Weird Miami Visitors Center, besides being home base for the bus tours, inspired me to appreciate this unusual place, this city in the tropics on the beach with candy-colored buildings, right next to the everglades (which has got to be the strangest piece of land on the East Coast).
Peggy Levison Nolan, Bar Mitzvah Boys and Prom Queens (special moments in the lives of strangers), 2010.
I was most entranced by Peggy Nolan’s photographic installation, Bar Mitzvah Boys and Prom Queens (special moments in the lives of strangers), 2010, made up of her own personal collection of other peoples’ cherished moments. That corner of the room felt like it was happening in the fifties — and reminded me of my grandmother’s sun porch which surely was inspired by Florida. She used to hang out in Miami Beach when it was only half-built and Seminole Indians wrestled alligators in the hotel pool every day at noon. And how about some fried frogs legs? Jason Hedges, in the food-as-performance tradition, was cooking them up on a camp stove all night for Untitled (Frogs Legs). He had specifically sought out the hard-to-find Everglades seasoning, in the interest of authenticity. Despite the fact that the fried frogs had disturbingly little crunchy feet, they were pretty tasty. Great topic for conversation with strangers.
Jason Hedges, Untitled (Frog Legs), 2010.
When I left the exhibition, I got to thinking about my own version of Miami, and I went on to have a wonderfully Weird weekend. My route home passed through Overtown where a bunch of girls in very short dresses were roughing it across a highway entrance ramp in their stilettos, headed to the clubs. Normally I wouldn’t have thought much about it because it happens every weekend, but it is truly a strange sight. The next morning, at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden’s mango festival, I was surprised to stumble upon a live performance by Rajesh Ramoutar and Rajesh Bhandari. They were, without fanfare, playing some of the most beautiful classical Indian music I have ever heard. Who would have guessed that our town is home to a world-class tabla player and an equally talented sitar player? Nobody was really paying attention because they were busy tasting mangoes from around the world, though of course in Miami some of the best mangoes grow in the back yard.
Just a few hours later, I found myself at DAF on Calle Ocho, one of the best dance studios in the city, for Marisol Blanco’s Afro-Cuban dance class. After dancing for Yemaya, the goddess of the ocean, my friends and I, somewhat unexpectedly, were posing for a promotional photo. We were dressed in white and gold as the goddess Oshun. Nobody knew exactly what it was for, but it was fun to hang around on a Sunday afternoon in costume. I just had to laugh and enjoy the day. Many thanks to Bas Fisher Invitational for reminding me to appreciate the strange little details[.]
Sunday afternoon, posing as Oshun.
Weird Miami featured the work of Kevin Arrow, Autumn Casey, Clifton Childree, Alyse Emdur, Christy Gast, Adler Guerrier, Jason Hedges, Nicolas Lobo & Kenneth Andrew Mroczek, Justin Long, Isabel Moros, Peggy Nolan.
For more information please visit www.basfisherinvitational.com or call (305)879-6978. To reserve seats, RSVP to email@example.com.
This post was contributed by Annie Hollingsworth, winner of this year’s Miami Writer’s Prize.