Moving Image Spectacles at DWNTWN Art Days
This was contributed by Dave Rodriguez.
Miami’s DWNTWN Art Days is a weekend of concentrated culture. I reasoned a good course of action would be to whittle things down to a familiar field, which for me means motion pictures. The following three exhibitions offered a diverse array of moving-image installations that upended the traditional cinematic experience and embraced the medium’s material properties as historical document.
Elizabeth Withstandley’s “You Can Not Be Replaced” is a two-channel video installation currently on display at Dimensions Variable. In the darkened gallery a viewer meets a variegated, kinetic grid of colors, photo portraits, and musical instruments split across two massive, perpendicular walls. The people pictured wear identical white robes and the display resembles a cult yearbook. They are, in fact, the 82 past and current members of the Dallas-based band The Polyphonic Spree, whose portraits slowly morph into glowing auras. The affirming title, mass of individuals depicted, and their dissolution into angelic light points to the value and purpose of singularities within a collective, the band acting as a microcosm for any number of larger social institutions. Over time we see dialogue implied between this humanist notion, questions of our personal legacy, and contemporary forms of identification found in gridded social media screens.
The next day I hopped the Metro to MCAD for “Miami’s Art on Historic Film + Video,” a video compilation curated by Obsolete Media Miami and culled from the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives. Charting a period between 1964 and 1983, this exhibition constructs a vivid, documentary history of art in Miami with its own built-in elliptical narratives and recurring characters and motifs. Famous creators such as Lewis Vandercar and Purvis Young make multiple appearances in news spots on public artworks and more intimate interviews, lending the piece a sense of lineage and consistency and fleshing out its historical arc. In viewing these documents chronologically we also witness the development and materiality of moving image technology. The transition from B&W 16mm images of the mid-1960s to color 16mm in the late-60s is a revelation, as is the dramatic shift to videotape in the early 80s. With each format we become privy to its signatures and artifacts: visible frame-lines, splices, scratches, dirt, and hairs in the gate with film. Electrical drop-out, distortions, and vertical hold issues inherent to video. In this way the exhibition works as both a loose, epic narrative of Miami’s artistic history and a self-reflective meditation on how that history has been constructed.
Sunday I ventured north of Downtown for the opening of “Residential Properties,” curated by Felice Grodin, held at The Fountainhead Residency. New York-based artist Carter Johnson and filmmaker Barron Sherer offered the sole moving-image fare at the intimate and eclectic exhibition. Johnson’s piece, “1352 10011 2015,” greets you in the entryway: a square, black-and-white projection cut into four congruent quadrants. The video itself is an introduction to a larger interactive project wherein the artist claims one square foot of property from an individual and is given license to incorporate it in some future purpose. The numbers of the title catalog these chunks of real estate by their appraised dollar-value per square foot, zip code, and year of the agreement. The visual multiplication of frames in the video resonates with the seizing and sectioning of real estate in physical space. The exchange of property and rights repurposes the idea of real estate speculation and hands it over to a more benevolent agent who will utilize this accumulated space beyond its coded market value. What that is remains to be seen, but this 2-minute cryptic, geometric primer seems as good a place as any to start.
“All Communities Sales Presentation,” Sherer’s video installation and accompanying outdoor expanded cinema event, serves up sly commentary on the Sunshine State’s booming housing market. The video, displayed on a small monitor and speakers atop the refrigerator, is actually a recording of a 1982 promotional 16mm film produced by General Development, a former Florida land developer, projected on a wall. Traces of this capturing process, including consistent flicker in the film image, are unapologetically, perhaps instructively, visible. It takes a few moments to realize that the helicopter shots of pristine estates and golf courses are actually running backwards, calling out the stilted and hacky nature of the film’s original purpose. As the images move in reverse they become decidedly anti-development, reverting sub-divisions to undeveloped tracts of native swamp and scrub forest. This refiguring is further advanced by the piece’s soundtrack, Chuck Zink’s “Song of Florida,” a failed effort of the 1970s to give the state a new official song to replace the romantically racist ballad “The Swanee River.” Carter and Sherer’s pieces respectively undertake micro and macro-interrogations of what constitutes the Domestic, and in doing reshape the domestic space housing their own installations[.]