The Art of Urban

Wynwood galleries reflect the hood they live in

The Trickster archetype has been recognized by mythographers as one of the oldest expressions of humankind; a generator of forms, cultural concepts, and perhaps as enemy of boundaries. While laughter at the Trickster's folly is didactic, it can also be fulfilling. It reminds us that cultural boundaries are arbitrary. The Trickster's shadow seemed apparent during a recent Wynwood arts crawl, where the play between cultural map and margins escalated from bawdy humor to irony to satire and on occasion, to disorder.

At the World Arts Building, "Dirty South," organized by Worm-Hole Laboratory, brought together a group of local and regional artists in a lively, multidisciplinary commentary on Southern decadence, pageantry, ornamentation, and debauchery in the recently opened alternative space.

Ironically in Gallery 3, Charo Oquet's The Hidden and Revealed, a soaring installation and virtuoso baroque tribute to Elegguá (the Afro-Cuban Trickster figure), drew uninvited thunder from performance artist Jasmine Kastel, whose proposal raised more questions than offered answers. Crowned with a big red wig that looked like a hybrid between a Barton G dessert and a hijacked Rose Bowl Parade float, Kastel -- the essence of pedigreed tornado bait -- was consuming a bottle of Jack Daniel's straight out of a paper bag. With conceptual simplicity verging on ingenuousness, her intent was to "surpass conventional, socially acceptable behavior" by putting herself and others in an interesting position.

Charo Oquet's installation centers the World Arts 
Building show
Charo Oquet's installation centers the World Arts Building show

Begging the question: Yeah, but is it art? She drank more and more as the evening wore on, ate beans from a ladle straight out of the pot, and wove precariously through the crowd in faux leopard pumps, offering art patrons a shot from her paper bag. Her experiment seemed to go awry when she encountered the work of fellow performance artist Stephanie Lupu, whose performance, Erman Bastay, was a clever tongue-in-cheek satire of local artist Hernan Bas's meteoric ascendancy up the art pecking order. Lupu, cross-dressed as a young fop, was glue-sticking gay erotica onto cardboard boxes, seemingly working on the edges of the same envelope as her colleague Kastel -- who at one point became enraged and put her fist into Lupu's boxes, causing some to wonder if her performance would enter a state of 911.

That question may have entered the mediation of Trickster himself after Kastel climbed into Oquet's installation, transgressing the integrity of the work, regardless of how intoxicated she was by the piece's aura -- or the alcohol. Let's keep in mind that the Trickster (who may be regarded as a threat to the stabilities of cultural orthodoxy) is also in his most "civilized forms" the prophet, the visionary, or -- if one embraces a slight shift in terms -- the artist mining the edges of culture for new materials, at times revealing that great art can be unsophisticated.

The work in "Dirty South" included Jay Ore's Polaroid grids of boom box and disco ball, UFOs and flying saucers over cement factories, Merc's crime-scene tableaux in the ground-floor bathroom. The Chaos exhibit in Gallery 2 featured proto-constructivist makeshift sculpture by Eugenio Espinoza, Danilo Dueñas, and Sol, hinting at a geometric joke and political instability.

Not far away at Rocket Projects, "Urban Recipes," a mixed-media installation by Joshua Levine, Michael Loveland, and Raymond Saa, brought a juicy slice of Wynwood into the gallery and its courtyard. The trio of artists spent nearly a year documenting the area, successfully recontextualizing the neighborhood's vernacular narrative. The Trickster's Ariadne's Thread was evident here, where the well-heeled walked in to be greeted by live fowl inside a hippodrome-shaped coop suspended overhead, and the mouthwatering aroma of barbecued chicken, pungent in the air.

A crowd of hundreds swelled Rocket, sipping Bacardi mojitos in the outdoor bodega lounge, interacting with a garishly decked-out fruit cart that was part of the installation and morphing with the artwork in a festive dynamic reminiscent of a Bukowski bacchanal.

In the main gallery space the artists covered the walls in luscious, fat, vertical stripes of color, mimicking the palette of working-class homes in the area to evoke thoughts of both Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat and utopian diversity. Saa's cardboard lattices erupting from the walls in outward rippling waves evoked the hobo jungles of the Depression years and Brazilian favelas, perhaps reflecting the plight of the homeless or suggesting the inexorable advance of gentrification. His fascination with tropical vegetation creeping into urban spaces was represented by snaking vines and leaves scaling the gallery walls, which underscored the frailty of a compromise with nature.

Loveland explored the world of corporate billboards, highway signage, and urban information. He freighted the gallery walls with the language and history of Wynwood as effectively as a spin doctor on the chamber of commerce's payroll.

In an adjacent room Levine's obsession with surveillance ratcheted up Warhol's cliché on fifteen minutes of fame to another level, wittily suggesting that a growing segment of the population would be satisfied by nothing less than their own reality show. Several large split-screen projections were broadcast live onto gallery walls during the opening from cameras hidden in stuffed rubber chickens and squirrels mounted inside and outside Rocket, providing many a sobering opportunity to examine those psychological zones where technology may absorb self.

I left with visions of a mixed-media hangover and the possibility of waking up with a strange piece of art over the couch dancing in my head.

"Wreck," at the Rectangle ArtSpace, was the least-hyped stop on the evening's itinerary, quite literally living up to its billing. Organized by "curator" Tall Rickards, the event seemed like an outtake from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, with people playing hopscotch in the parking lot to avoid stepping in a vomit bomb and dodging a skateboard kamikaze sporting rose-colored beer goggles. And although I arrived late and wove through a couple of fights while inside in the quest of the alternative, I had difficulty accessing the artwork in this dimly lit rabbit's warren, which was more about the rave than the art when I visited.

When I went back to interview the organizers a couple of days later and get a better look at the work, most of it had been taken down, even though "Wreck" was supposed to be up through the 31st of January. My parting glance at Trickster came when I walked into a room full of people working on computers in what is to be the art space, which I was now being told officially opens in March. My observation to the organizers, who seemed earnest in their intent and apologetic during the interview, and who saw me off in a very civilized way, is to remember that our species is often defined by those who study Trickster as "the animal who laughs because it hurts."

"Dirty South" Group show through January 31 at the World Arts Building, 2214 N Miami Ave; 305-962-4754.

"Urban Recipes" Group show through February 28 at Rocket Projects, 3440 N Miami Ave; 305-576-6082.

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