Pod Hopping in Miami


Despite general art world trends toward the performative or dematerialized work, Art Basel Miami Beach 2012 was clearly running a brisk trade in paintings and sculpture. Still, a smattering of video and some performance were thrown into the mix.

The main fair at the Miami Convention Center featured a selection of video displayed in wooden “pods” at the middle of the building, while some galleries found room in their booths to show some as well.

New York’s Simon Preston Gallery in the Art Nova section of Art Basel offered two very convincing uses of video. Atelier (2012), by Hans Schabus, featured the soundtrack from Sam Peckinpah’s famously violent 1969 film The Wild Bunch, combined with footage created in and around the artist’s Vienna studio. At Art Basel the gallery displayed Schabus’s storyboards, which match stills from The Wild Bunch with incongruously placid, unpeopled views around his studio. The storyboard evidences the precision of the video recreation, the exact calculation of the substituted camera angles for every shot.  After showing the video in an installation in his gallery this past spring, Preston screened the work on his laptop during the fair.

Preston also showed Irishman John Gerard’s almost imperceptibly moving images of the outside of a decrepit school in Cuba. Gerard created the piece by splicing together an untold number of still photographs through digital media. The resulting video moves so slowly that, but for the screen, at first glance it looks almost like a print-a memento of a forgotten modernist structure—which becomes a bit startling as the image begins to rotate, in imitation of a camera on a very long, slow dolly shot.

Somewhat similar in its deceptive use of the still and the moving image was Kudzanai Chiurai’s Iyeza (2011) at Goodman Gallery, also in the main fair. The Zimbabwe-born artist’s banquet tableau, featured at dOCUMENTA (13) this year, evokes The Last Supper but in a way that immediately conveys the complex and volatile mixture of politics, violence and corruption in Africa. The woman seated as Jesus at the middle of the table dispels any immediate identification of her with the male dictators who typically control African nations, but there is no mistaking the unfortunately familiar actions that surround her. Other figures grapple for control of an automatic weapon and engage in hand-to-hand combat nearby. Interestingly, some of the figures, move part of the time so careful study is required to detect what is happening-if anything is happening at all.

Considerably less political but no less thoughtful and well-made, Sebastian Diaz Moralese’s Ficcionaro (2012) at carlier/gebauer builds on the idea of the match cut, where film is made so that an object or action at the end of one shot has an immediate parallel in the next shot. Diaz has his protagonist go through a series of doors, and each time the doors give access to a different world from the one he exited. Filmed in various public locations in the Amsterdam-based artist’s native Buenos Aires, it’s a fun trip to take, rather like Alice stepping through the looking glass again and again.

Sao Paolo-based Brigida Baltar makes art that is explicitly based on the architecture and art forms of the theater.  For her O canto do pássaro rebelde (2012) at Galerie Nara Roesler, she staged an aria from Carmen in a jungle setting and displayed the resulting single-channel videos inside three small wooden theaters mounted on plinths.

The 18 videos in the pods, curated by David Gryn of London’s Artprojx, were a mixed lot. One of the highlights was Helsinki artist Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s Fishermen (Études, no. 1) (2007), a seemingly artless collection of shots of African fishermen battling the surf to row themselves out into open water so they can throw their nets. Sitting eight to ten men in wooden boats, they struggle to overcome the incoming waves, digging furiously with their paddles in the water, and yet nature throws them back each time. It is perhaps a study in the futility of action or the overwhelming but often unseen power of nature, the sublime. The simple action, though obviously occurring in modern times since we’re watching it on video, seems like something that has occurred since time immemorial. (Athila’s 2010 work The Annunciation, a three-channel video based on the gospel of St. Luke, filmed in her studio with untrained actors, showed at the Bass Museum of Art as part of “The Endless Renaissance,” which opened during the fair.)

L.A.-based Karl Haendel’s Questions for My Father (2011), previously shown at Harris Lieberman in New York, is a series of talking heads, men asking the questions that they might really like to ask their fathers. For example, one asks: “When did you find out you were HIV-positive?” Another wants to know about his father’s masturbation habits.  In a sense, the men are acting, knowingly representing themselves on screen, since there are some indications that the questions are not spontaneously produced on video, but there’s no denying the authenticity of the longing and isolation of these sons who seem to know so little about what their fathers are really like. The intensely personal questions dig into sexuality, self-esteem, ambition and regret.

In the context of the Art Basel, with collectors vying to beat each other at the games of buying art and wearing extravagantly priced clothing and with artists aspiring to have their reputations and prices ascend, Vienna- and London-based collaborators Muntean/Rosenblum’s Performance at Galerie Georg Kargl (2010) had a surprisingly relevant message about vanitas.  A male speaker atop a pile of sundry objects and surrounded by a troop of men in menacing riot gear declaimed through a bullhorn microphone about the ultimate pointlessness of all human effort, whether by nutritionists, insurance brokers, or, more particularly, those in the art world.

Good for a laugh was Michael Sailstorfer’s Raketenbaum (2008), which translates to “Tree Rocket.” Most of the video shows a fruit tree planted in the middle of a field, swaying gently against an overcast sky. Sailstorfer had attached explosives to the roots of the tree, and absurdly the tree is launched from the ground. It doesn’t get very far and breaks apart shortly after liftoff. Perhaps the rocket was engineered by the North Koreans. Serbian Ana Prvacki addresses those awkward social moments when, for example, spinach is caught squarely in the front teeth of your dinner companion, in The Greeting Committee (2012). Prvacki presents several such difficult encounters and then has a pair of helpful ladies who always show up at the right time to advise on how to handle the situation. (For the spinach, use your eyes to indicate the problem and a simple hand gesture to suggest a solution.)

The NADA Art Fair also showed a selection of videos, curated by Grela Orihuela. Installation in the bar at the Deauville Beach Resort Hotel, the program took advantage of the mirrored walls of the bar as video screens stationed throughout the space and a projection on the front wall played with their reflections. Though the subzero temperature in the bar made it difficult to enjoy the program at length, the quality of the selection sustained interest. New Yorker Brian Gonzalez (a.k.a. Taxiplasm) led the pack with Tell Me Your Secrets (2012), an intriguing, claustrophobic view of a white woman with blackened skin writhing in white slime and water inside a mirrored chamber.

Also at NADA, though not in the bar, L.A. gallery Various Small Fires showed Liz Magic Laser’s Distressed, a 2012 edit of a project created while she was in the Whitney ISP program, mocking consumer society with a playful air. A contingent of jean-clad performers emerge from a Diesel store in New York and proceed to abrade their denim by rubbing themselves vigorously against the stone exterior of the store and the sidewalk as bewildered shoppers stroll past. Perhaps it suggests an apt way to look at the frottage of the art fair, that quasi-sexual encounter of so much art and money rubbing up against each other.

Photo: Still from Brian Gonzales (aka Taxiplasm), Ripening, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and (Art)Amalgamated.