First Look: Domingo Castillo

Domingo Castillo: Tropical Malaise: Prologue, 2017, video, 18 minutes, 22 seconds; at New World Symphony’s SoundScape Park, Miami. Photo Zachary Balber.

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Miami-based artist Domingo Castillo examines how 3D renderings are used in both media fictions and real estate marketing materials to visualize the city’s future while also shaping current perceptions. In Castillo’s view, Miami is a built environment onto which people project manifold fantasies. Miami Beach was first imagined as the ideal tropical tourist destination in the early twentieth century, and in the beginning of the twenty-first it lent its face to “Vice City,” a setting for the best-selling video game Grand Theft Auto, a digital locale rife with the 1980s crime chic of Scarface and “Miami Vice.”

Today, new city districts are “materializing” in computer renderings produced by real estate developers, architects, and digital designers—images deeply entangled with the politics of gentrification, displacement, and globalization. Castillo’s 2015 installation “Surface Image” consisted of two videos, Prologue: Oranges and Epilogue, screened in a setting reminiscent of a sales lobby for showcasing unbuilt condos. Both videos feature found digital renderings of urban environments—including simulated helicopter flights through a landscape of high-rises—and kaleidoscopic sequences of stock imagery. Excerpts from John McPhee’s 1967 book Oranges, a wide-ranging historical account of the fruit and Florida’s modern citrus industry, appear alongside footage of orange juice and cats.

Castillo’s previously co-organized the artist-run gallery Noguchi Breton (formerly known as Versace Versace Versace and Guccivuitton), where he and his collaborators presented material related to the vernacular culture of the Miami region. He also belongs to the research platform Public Displays of Professionalism, which produces videos and publications describing how flows of images, financial capital, and information shape cities and hedge on the future.

Castillo’s most recent work, the video Tropical Malaise: Prologue (2017), comprises digital renderings of life on an uninhabited future earth. First shown as a 7,000-square-foot projection on the exterior of Frank Gehry’s New World Center concert hall in South Beach, the video highlights the process of simulating a natural environment, showing a computer cursor tirelessly arranging forest plants and clouds. The idyllic imagery excludes any reference to climate change—a major threat to the South Beach neighborhood where the work premiered—but a robotic voice-over reads quotes from science fiction novels and articles about rising sea levels.

At a time when commercial interests dominate Miami’s visual landscape, Castillo critically contextualizes projections that mask financial or ecological realities. Through montage and aggregation, he exposes the political forces underlying these images, grounding polygonal skyscrapers and sun-kissed beaches in the precarious present.