By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
Let's face it, most people are afraid of something. An IRS audit. A cheating spouse. Catching an STD from a public toilet. Something.
For everyone fear creeps in at birth. After getting all cushy as fetuses in the relative silence and peace of the maternal womb, we suddenly find ourselves brutally expelled into a harsh and unforgiving world.
Primitive people learned the meaning of fear early on. Shitty weather, wild animals, hunger, disease, and natural disasters made surviving a constant struggle. But surrendering to fear equaled certain death. So, instead, primitive man invented the mojo and, one could argue, art in the process.
To protect themselves and boost their courage, our ancestors gave nature supernatural powers. They later anthropomorphized these forces and began worshipping religious icons. The sun, moon, and Earth were converted into deities, and people began fashioning amulets or talismans symbolizing the gods' power as weapons against fear. Most cultures today rely on talismans for protection. The Christian cross, Islam's Hand of Fatima, a horseshoe, a rabbit's foot all are considered potent mojos. Hey, whatever floats one's boat and helps keep Dick Cheney, twittering bloggers, and those pesky revenuers at bay. As for me, I keep a bar of Mofo soap near my keyboard just in case the sheeyat gets nasty.
Julian Navarro's "Mojo-Hand," a series of photographs and installations on display at Hardcore Art Contemporary Space, explores the murky role that charms play in our lives and the desire to conquer the feared or unknown. His photographs depict hands holding, rubbing, and generally worrying over small red velvet bags stuffed with rice, lentils, and other contents thought to deliver luck and protection in many Latin cultures. They also contain a message: the single word simplicity.
Navarro, a Colombian native, knows a little about the supernatural. His mother is a parapsychologist, and he was exposed to the concept of "charged" objects as a child. In the middle of the gallery space, one of his installations resembles a red velvet hammock suspended from the ceiling by fishing line. It is loaded with mojos that visitors are invited to take home for good luck. I did. Each tiny red satchel feels like a beanbag or a Hacky Sack when squeezed, and fits nicely in a pocket. Across the room, black theater curtains enclose another hammocklike sheet of velvet containing a solitary mojo. The circular vestibule invites the spectator to enter a sacred space and engage in reflection.
His untitled, nearly theatrical C-prints on Plexiglas are beautifully executed and resonate with serenity and, at times, violence. In a grouping of six images near the back of the gallery, a pair of hands manipulates a mojo dangling from red ribbons as if bagged puppets on strings. The hands gesticulate from one image to the next, the fingers wrapped in ribbon as if tangled in a complex game of cat's cradle. In a chiaroscuro effect, the hands bust out of utter darkness like luminous ghosts. Sometimes the amulets look new; other times they appear tattered and time-worn, their magic washed up. One large work depicts a bruised mojo that almost seems like a ruptured organ or scarred liver. Its edges are frayed, its guts spilled. At a time when our nation is battling a sort of medieval religious war, Navarro's take on faith in magic resonates how close to primitive we supercivilized have come.
In the project room, Milcho's ode to her deceased grandmother creeped me out. The artist has earned fame for eating her own hair, and showed me a bald spot to prove it. She has a knack for the excessive. Milcho's "Ten Days" includes a video, video stills, and a partial re-creation of her grandmother's bedroom in the tight, draped-off space. On the video, the artist's 86-year-old granny inserts her dentures which also appear on a table next to a tube of Pepsodent and reads one of the artist's poems over and over. "I let myself become intoxicated by life's natural shit," the octogenarian mumbles in a raspy voice that sounds like it has been trashed by booze and cigarettes.
The artist filmed her grandmother for nearly an hour one afternoon before having to rush her to an emergency room. She died of kidney failure ten days later. Milcho cast a mold of her own torso and extremities in resin and dressed the figure in the same clothes the old woman is wearing in the video. Dozens of stills lifted from the video lace the walls, as if re-creating a lost timeline, in what amounts to overkill. A mirror hangs at an angle from the ceiling, and a video projector protrudes from the effigy's chest cavity, with the video bounced off the mirror and onto an opposing wall for the screening.
Overall the experience has a somewhat dramatic effect, but the concept would have been more poignant and seemed less exploitative if the video were shown alone. The artist may have intended an exploration of aging and illness as much as a tender homage, but for me, abuela's teeth on the table and an empty birdcage nearby tarnished the experience with shades of Norman Bates and his mama.
In the back of the gallery, in a curtained and darkened room so hidden that visitors would miss it if they were not told it existed, Ana Martinez makes an unusual statement with "Dreams." She uses digital photography, painting, and LED to create portraits of women based on nine personality types including enthusiast, loyalist, peacemaker, and challenger in a diagrammatic figure called the Enneagram. Her works look like optical illusions or hallucinogenic holograms that literally provoked me to touch them they were that strange. Her trippy pieces, with their dynamically shifting colors, reminded me of mood rings. Perfectionist depicts a linear doodle of a woman holding an umbrella superimposed over a photo of a foggy copse of trees. The images bleed into each other as the woman disappears and reappears in electric Kool-Aid hues of orange, purple, and red. Martinez's work reminded me of stoking up during midnight movies when I was a teen. I left wondering how her pieces might be enhanced if the viewer experienced them under the influence of some good weed.
Down the block, Kunsthaus Miami is showing "Natural Groupings," a tidy if unimaginatively named filler for the slow summer season that features the work of eight artists. Alonso Mateo is repped by a pair of large canvases depicting A-list celebrities. One features a flattened and elongated Donald Trump donning a snazzy monkey suit. The other shows Naomi Campbell stretched out like Gumby and stuffed into a wedding dress. Next to her, Gianni Versace is caught dead in an unflattering, poorly stitched, dreadful pea-color off-the-rack number.
Lifesaver/Misery Belt, a juicy sculpture by Ana Quiroz, looks like a cherry candy blown up to satisfy Shaquille O'Neal's sweet tooth. As big as a Wynwood manhole cover, the piece has the word misery chiseled onto its surface. On a wall above it, Dianne Pearce's A Su Esposo Le Gusta la Carne? (Does Your Husband Like Meat?) hints that the artist has a way with visual puns. It depicts a pelvic bone painted on what appears to be a stitched pillowcase.
Daniela Edburg's kooky photographs are arguably the yummiest in the show. Death by Gummi Bears depicts a flip-flop-wearing guttersnipe ready to graze from her picnic basket at a park. As the bimbo lies on her side near a bottle of mustard, a ham sandwich, and a bottle of tomato juice, streams of gummi bears climb up her legs and under her skirt, seemingly intent on invading her innards. Imitating Nicole Richie confronted by a pork chop, the woman shrieks in terror while covering her cooter to protect her chastity.
In Edburg's Death by Canderel, hands-down my favorite here, a pink-wigged minx in a tight cashmere tank top smooshes her painted face against a huge mirror lying atop her bed. The ginch's eyes are as big as disco balls from snorting fat lines of sugar substitute neatly arranged like a Macedonian phalanx. She holds a rolled-up Mexican peso in her limp right paw.
Sure, it may be the middle of summer, and many spaces are not rotating their shows, but in this patch of the hood, these galleries offer something to wrap the eyes around. And best of all, it involves no heavy thinking.