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Published: Sunday, January 28, 2001
Page: 1D


Miami is a river. It meanders through its namesake city, linking residential and industrial zones, historic districts and impoverished neighborhoods, and a cornucopia of ethnic groups. It was the river's role as an integrating force amid so much diversity that attracted the radical architectural group Stalker.

Commissioned by the Miami Arts Project, a public arts institution, the people of Stalker traveled from their home base in Rome to create an oversize domino game inspired by the Miami River.

Working from aerial photography of the river and its environs, the Stalker group, a loose band of young architects interested in alternative approaches to urban spaces, divided the river zone into rectangles the shape of domino pieces.

Having researched the various ethnic enclaves that make up Miami, they assigned each piece a traditional number value, with the name of one of 63 ethnicities instead of the usual dots. Thus, a 6/6 piece might have the word "Colombians" repeated six times and the word "Turkish" repeated six times.

The "game" was laid out last weekend on the floor of the Locust Arts Project, an alternative arts gallery near Miami's Design District, and visitors are encouraged to play with it.

"With dominos you can build a different town and make different connections. The chance element of the game creates another Miami, another river," says one of the group members. (Stalker is a collective of between 10 and 15 young people at any given time, and though they introduce themselves by their first names, such as Aldo and Francesco and Ana, their singular identities seem to melt into the collective consciousness.)

Stalker decided on the domino theme after observing, in a previous visit to the city, how Cubans and other Caribbean immigrants like to play the game in parks and on sidewalks around the city. But where the real game is aggressively played to win, Stalker's domino is unstructured and open-ended.

"Our domino can be played without strategy," they say. "You don't need to win. You can only mix." Their purpose is to have you "see the place where you work and live in a different way."

For the Stalker members, an obvious appeal is the diversity the Miami River traverses. Behind their fun approach to urbanism lies a belief in what they call "creolization," or cultural fusion. "It's a richness for the future of our society," they say in their idiosyncratic English, which often switches to their native Italian. On the walls of the Locust Arts Project gallery they have written a manifestolike statement about the aesthetics of diversity.

Stalker got together in 1995 as part of a radical movement called Pantera, after a panther that had escaped in the city of Rome, becoming a symbol of freedom for radical students. Their first project was a walk, documented in a book and video, through the neglected spaces around Rome. They deliberately turned their attention from the most monumental city in the world to its least glamorous areas, often the home of illegal alien communities.

That walk was like a safari or a commando raid, for they moved through semi-rural areas teeming with livestock and often had to cut through fences or face vicious guard dogs. In the process, they befriended the communities of "nomads," as the semi-homeless immigrants are called in Europe. Stalker squats in its own Roman headquarters, a two-story house the group shares with Kurdish families. It's a work base and center for shows and performance pieces.

The Stalkers have transformed an abandoned area near the Tiber River into a garden, making it a public space, a kind of alternative balneario (spa) and theater. Although they work outside the law, they have been protected by their reputation among established arts institutions and universities.

Last year, they began researching the Miami River project by offering coffee to drivers stopped at a drawbridge and talking to them. "In our way of making art there is improvisation, building relationships with people. It's a new way to make art that involves not experts but common people."

They also staged a performance titled "Driving About the Poem" in collaboration with local poet Adrian Castro. In Rome, their performances include an "illegal lunch," working with a Japanese artist and setting up a free lunch in a neglected space in which Japanese, Kurdish and Gypsy food was served. "We made film and video of our `action,'" they say, "and we showed it at an architects' meeting in Austria."

The Miami River domino game will undoubtedly result in more visual records and more "actions," as Stalker continues its interest in what its members call "dynamic space."

Enrique Fernandez can be reached at efernandez@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4797.

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