Down by the river, art takes shape
STORY BY DAMARYS OCAÑA
Published on Friday, January 26, 2001
Remember the Miami River, that body of water hidden behind shipyards and grimy concrete walls, which everyone generally disregards? That bit of geography that environmental activists have been trying to preserve as a community-building recreational space for the past couple of years?
Now, in a marriage of art and civic spirit, the Miami Arts Project is joining the effort with art installations by six artists and an Italian arts collective.
The goal, says Cristina Delgado, the nonprofit group's director: To stimulate dialogue among Miami communities about changes proposed for the Miami River, promote interaction among the ethnically diverse neighborhoods -- and to launch research of an area that the group has bigger plans for.
Ultimately, Miami Arts Project hopes to hold an open competition for artist/architect teams to propose an urban planning project for a hoped-for revitalization of Overtown.
Meanwhile, the current project's focus is on the Miami River -- and since in Miami, the river teeters on the edge of locals' consciousness, it's just as well that none of the artists that participated in the project are Miami-based.
``It's definitely an arts project, but I really believe that the arts can have an impact on civic dialogue -- whether it's just beautiful and poetic and or trying to get people involved,'' Delgado says.
To that end, the six artists -- Dan Graham, Jack Pierson, duo Andrea Robbins/Max Becher, Mark Robbins and Carrie Mae Weems -- traded galleries and museums for a bigger, more dynamic art space, and one more relevant to the spirit of the project: the street.
They created images that appear on 63 billboards of various sizes along streets and neighborhoods adjacent the five-mile river -- Little Havana, Spring Garden, Overtown. The most impactful are also the most visible. Many others get lost in the landscape.
Some billboards you're likely to see as you drive down riverside streets:
In a reference to the river and multicultural Miami, Mark Robbins, juxtaposes pictures of hard-hatted immigrant shipyard workers with images of a cruise ship or the Miami skyline, and the words ``Import/Export.'' One of the several such billbards is on a corner of West Flagler Street and Sixth Avenue.
Andrea Robbins/Max Becher's piece -- at the Northwest 12th Avenue drawbridge is a direct call to action. One of the duo's billboards asks in English, Spanish and Creole: ``Whose river is it? There are plans for the Miami River. Are yours included?'' and urges commuters to visit an online site (www.onriver.org) where they can post their ideas.
One of Graham's billboards, on the ultrabusy intersection of Northwest 20th Street and 27th Avenue, shows a picture of a crocodile devouring an alligator, with the word ``Predator'' writen across it. A reference to the fierce appetite of developers in Miami, who seem to raise a building on a daily basis, the billboard is repeated on a smaller scale facing the Metrovover line on Northeast Eighth Street and Second Avenue. The glitzy American Airlines Arena serves as a backdrop.
For their part of the project, the Rome-based group Stalker made an installation currently showing at Locust Projects art space, and last year organized several walking tours of the river.
On one outing they walked through parks, people's back yards and shipping company parking lots, documenting what they found and spontaneously creating artworks with found objects. For another outing, they enlisted local poet Adrian Castro, who provided entertainment with a poem entitled When She Carried a Calabash.
Armed with thermoses on yet a third walk, they offered free coffee to frustrated motorists waiting for the Northwest 12th Avenue drawbridge to come down -- an act of general goodwill rarely found in Miami. The walks were equal parts art happening and research.
Walking is a popular theme with Stalker, which takes its name from the Russian cult-fave movie of the same name. Like the titular character in the movie, the group's mission is to guide people to a utopian ``Zone'' where wishes come true.
Well known in Europe, Stalker was formed in 1993 by architecture and art history students, and began organizing art happenings and conducting walks in abandoned areas of Rome. The group has also established an artist and community center in a neglected area of the city. The group's most ambitious and acclaimed project to date was last year's Transborderline, a spiraling rubber and plastic tunnel through which people at the Seventh Venice Architecture Biennale walked to reach art galleries. The interior surface of the tube was filled with the written words of people living on Europe's borders.
Their work for the Miami River project is the group's first in the U.S. Its coup de grace is DominoMiami, an installation at Locust Projects.
DominoMiami is composed of large, wooden makeshift domino pieces. Instead of numbers, Stalker wrote Miami's each of 63 major ethnicities a certain number of times on the pieces. The pieces are meant to be moved around and connected according to the rules of the game of domino. So, a piece with Cuban written nine times, for example, can be connected with a piece with Pakistani written nine times.
The installation works both as a game and a puzzle (the domino pieces form an aerial picture of the Miami River) to be carefully negotiated.
Also included in the installation are a video documenting the Miami River walk and a quote from a European sociologist that has served as a sort of motto for Stalker. It touts the coming together of cultures.
You want to kiss the Stalkers for their idealism and not break their hearts by telling them that it would probably take the National Guard or Armaggedon to get people in such a transient area full of ``I'm-not-from-here'' residents, to give a damn about rivers and togetherness.
* DETAILS: Most of the 63 billboards are up along streets adjacent the Miami River. The billboards will be up through March 31, but you can see them online by the end of the month at the Miami Arts Project website, www.artsmiami.com.
Stalker's installation, DominoMiami, will show through Mar. 3 at Locust Projects, 105 NW 23rd St. Hours are Saturdays from 2 to 5 p.m., or by appointment. Call 305-576-8570.
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