It's a somewhat lively weeknight on the corner of Miami Beach's Tenth Street and Washington Avenue and sound is all around. Hip-hop blares from car stereos. Miniskirted drunken women amble along the sidewalk muttering loudly. Motorcycles transporting fat guys thunder down the road. An action-packed evening for a place that usually wakes up for weekends, when the streets and sidewalks vibrate incessantly.
Part of that dynamic energy was what conceptual artist Annie Wharton hoped to capture in her installation Plastic Theater, occupying the gleaming steel Bridge Tender's House in front of the Wolfsonian-FIU museum. A show devoted to Futurist Fortunato Depero is on display at the main museum, which features art from 1885 to 1945. The Futurist movement, founded in 1909 Italy, extolled the virtues of the mass market, machines, and violence, and was determined to propel its nation into the world of tomorrow.
Outside in the tender's house, Wharton's installation is resolutely today with an eye toward yesterday. Three strips of opaque Mylar, depicting female marionettes, hang from the ceiling. The long-haired, luscious-lipped gals wear elegant chemises and high-heeled, knee-high boots. They stand in quasi-martial arts fighting poses in front of a blue fabric background. White cloud-shaped pillows are strewn about. Bathed in a pink light the women, though constricted, appear to be boogying nonchalantly in the sky. The sound to which they move: Wharton's voice reading Depero's poem, Colori, over a dark musical track by British drum and bass artist Grooverider, mixed by New York-based junglist DJ a GraM.
The multimedia brew of puppets, music, poetry, light, and set design refers to the Futurists, who employed all sorts of elements to get their frequently fascist point of view across. One major difference: the portrayal of strong women. Futurists did not often employ females as subject matter. "I wanted to focus on the strength of the contemporary woman still hemmed in by strings but dancing nonetheless, triumphing over situations," says Wharton, whose current works incorporate typical tools of housework and whose past pieces have ranged from mammoth metal sculptures to photographs and videos of female prizefighters.
Unlike the sensory assault that is South Beach, Wharton is a bit less in-your-face about the way she does things. "My work is quiet and contemplative these days," she explains. "I don't like to bombard people." Nor does she like to rely on the commonplace. In a discussion of marionettes (hers are inspired by a German photograph from the Twenties), the name of the famed Italian puppet inevitably comes up. How would Pinocchio figure into all of this? He wouldn't. Wharton shakes her head from side to side and scoffs: "He's a guy!"