Fish Swastika!

Tired togs, garbage, and fascism all around but not a drop of alcohol to drink

The Bitch is all for art in public places. Here in crazy town, it's even paid for: Miami-Dade Art in Public Places was established in 1973 with the passage of an ordinance allocating 1.5 percent of the construction cost of new county buildings for the purchase or commission of artworks. Sometimes, though, the intent doesn't match the result.

Take, for instance, Miami International Airport, a surprisingly rich repository of photography, sculpture, and painting by established and emerging artists such as Michele Oka Doner, Petra Liebl-Osborne, and Maria Martinez-Cañas.

Generally impressed by the travel hub's cultural offerings, The Bitch was puzzled recently by a circa-1994 installation of fiberglass fish mounted on the walls of the American Airlines terminal. Most are arranged with tails touching to form benign geometric shapes — circles, diamonds, that kind of thing. However, a school of four clownfish near gate D47 appears to have a different ideology. The tails form a perfect swastika.

Are these clownfish in league with the Axis powers?
Rob Jordan
Are these clownfish in league with the Axis powers?

"[The fishes'] unique arrangement throughout the concourse walls evokes sculptures that are at once fish, and as abstract shapes, represent something else," states the Website of Miami-Dade Art in Public Places, the agency responsible for the installation. So what do the clownfish represent? Nothing is the short answer.

Ivan Rodriguez, director of the art program, says the installation has "no message whatsoever." Rodriguez adds he hadn't heard of anyone noticing the swastika shape during the twelve years the work has been hanging at the airport. "I think one of the reasons that piece works is it's not meant to be contemplative," Rodriguez says of the fish. "I have seen, especially kids, looking up and smiling."

Donald Lipski, the fish installation artist, says, "For me, it's always interesting when people see things in my art that I hadn't put there.... I suppose you could find Jewish stars and pentagrams if you looked for them."

Crushed by the Wheels of Construction

In The Bitch's worst nightmares, a spindly parade of orange-and-white road barricades chase her through streets darkened by towering scaffolding. The axle of her Subaru breaks in a nasty sinkhole, and she's forced to get out and run until the barricades overtake her. Metal joints clapping and orange reflectors blinking, they devour her whole.

Her dog psychologist tells her it's posttraumatic stress disorder: a small canine mind's way of coping with the rush-hour commute on Biscayne Boulevard. Yet the addled dog must admit that some people have it much worse.

Take Rosaly Guimarães, proprietor of Manhattan Café on NE Fourteenth Street between Biscayne Boulevard and Second Avenue, which is often frequented by local office workers with a fondness for tomato, basil, and mozzarella sandwiches. When her small shop and the neighboring Miami Arts Café were blocked off, the sidewalks and streets destroyed by an army of concrete-smashing machinery, the restaurateur's business decreased by 80 percent. But the worst part was that for ten whole days, garbage collection halted on Guimarães's street.

Manhattan Café is a breakfast and lunch eatery. Guimarães, in preparing and clearing food, must discard the uneaten bits. For a week and a half this organic refuse festered and street dwellers overturned the cans at night, leaving mounds of rotting garbage in piles around the restaurant. These piles, in turn, became a sort of Publix for the local rat population. So not only was Manhattan Café surrounded for two blocks by broken concrete, not only did most of Guimarães's delivery people quit because it was a hassle to reach their cars, not only did she have to pay to put signs on Biscayne, but she also had a garbage collection problem that would raise the hackles of even The Bitch's trash-scavenging hyena and jackal cousins.

After ten days, construction workers arranged to open the barriers so waste could be collected. But that concession came only after aggressive lobbying by Guimarães, intervention by the local NET office, and a heated discussion with bigwigs at the Performing Arts Center — all for something she says never should have happened.

"If it was in Bal Harbor and not a low-profile neighborhood with a couple small businesses and some bums, the city and the garbage people would have had to come up with a plan beforehand," says the disheartened café owner. "It was unsanitary, unhealthy, and illegal. No one wanted to come here."

She would sue, she says, but the construction workers now constitute the bulk of her business.

"They said the street will be open again [this week]," says Guimarães. "I can only hope that does."

What Never to Wear

The Bitch is a fashion-conscious creature. Pretentious and hypersensitive, she is keenly aware of any Tevas, pleated pants, or No Fear shirts entering her line of sight. So the Starbucks uniform — of its male customers, not the baristas — at the chain's outpost in Coconut Grove is particularly noxious.

On any given morning, up to a dozen men, waiting in line for caffeine, are dressed in exactly the same outfit: blue designer jeans, untucked oxfords, deliberately moussed hair. And these fellows do not appear to be litter- or pack-mates.

The Bitch began making detailed field notes. Of the 18- to 50-year-old white and Latino demographic, nearly 50 percent were wearing the standard uniform. A few aberrations were noted — textured shirt patterns and a few pairs of black jeans — but basically dudes seemed to be wearing the same tired duds. Then the observant dog began to catalogue this lame look everywhere — on Miami Beach from Privé to the Eden Roc; throughout Miami-Dade County, from Robert Is Here to the Aventura Mall.

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