Pop! Go the Easels

Diaspora Vibe puts a new Bahamian art collective to work

To create his installation Like Taking Sand to the Beach, Blue Curry carved a 16-by-12-foot section of Yamacraw Beach in the Bahamas into a grid, excavated a ton of sand, and separated it into 165 labeled plastic baggies for a 5000-mile trip to Germany.

There the section of beach was meticulously re-created in a gallery space, giving visitors an opportunity to visit the island nation without having to cough up a deutsche mark for airfare.

After the exhibit, Curry reversed the process, collecting the sand for return to the beach from which it came. A quarter-ton of the Bahamian seashore was missing, likely carried away in the shoes and pant cuffs of those who caught his show.

Blue Curry gets set up for beach blanket bingo
Blue Curry gets set up for beach blanket bingo
Sleeping or Dead II: We prefer to call this a dog nap
Sleeping or Dead II: We prefer to call this a dog nap

Details

Through September 22. Diaspora Vibe Gallery, 3938 N Miami Ave, Miami; 305-573-4046, www.diasporavibe.com.

In other words, Like Taking Sand to the Beach fits the definition of "Work!" — an exhibit featuring painting, sculpture, installation, video, and photography created by the Popopstudios co-op on view at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery.

John Cox launched the Popop collective in 2004 with a group of five like-minded artists — including Nassau natives Jason Bennett, Blue Curry, Michael Edwards, Toby Lunn, and Heino Schmid — all of whom were fed up with what they perceived as a head-in-the-sand indifference to contemporary trends in Bahamian art.

Rosie Gordon-Wallace says she spent 18 months organizing the show and that the title of Curry's installation stems from a colloquialism describing the futility of a pointless action. Curry's ambitious project seems to cycle through several themes, at times addressing notions of paradise, commodity tourism, rapacious development, the environment, as well the nature of art.

Four video screens show the evolution of the project — from the initial collection in the Bahamas, to the installation and retrieval of the sand in Germany, to its return. Its stages at times look like everything from an archaeological dig, to a cleanup after a frat house luau, to an enviro-giddy beach reclamation gig.

A large digital print next to the videos depicts a cordoned-off segment of Yamacraw covered in a black tarp that reads, "This section of beach temporarily on loan for international exhibition. Apologies for any inconvenience caused."

Diaspora is also displaying the empty labeled plastic bags Curry used to transport his sand, arranged on the floor to evoke a sense of its tremendous scale.

"What impressed me most about these artists was not only the quality of their work," Gordon-Wallace says, "but the level of intellectual discourse between them and their seriousness in carrying their message to a wider audience both at home and abroad."

She points out that the Popop members obtained their art degrees in the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands, and that their work commands attention on an international stage.

At Diaspora, signs point convincingly to the group's vision for promoting the alternative Bahamian arts scene as being far-flung.

Curry's inventiveness and playful approach to materials also bore into the skull in Scleratinia Faviidae Futura Tecnoformis, a nifty installation in which he has recalibrated a chunk of brain coral with electronic gadgetry as a comment on the collision between technology and nature.

The quirky work's title spawns clues about its proposed function and how remote sections of the Bahamas, virtually untouched for millennia, are becoming overrun with broadband Internet connections and plasma TV sets.

Curry found the piece of fossilized coral at a site earmarked for an exclusive marina and golf club. He tricked it out with a lens, a tiny TV screen, speakers, and digital video that runs more than 30 minutes long. As one looks into the coral's hollowed cavity, the imagery shifts from the structure's pocked membrane surface to electronic snow. A shrill bug zapper noise curdles the ears. Curry's work is the most blistering in the show.

Another artist who steals attention is Schmid. He is represented by three large mixed-media-on-paper works, a video, and a sound piece.

Schmid's Monition Series focuses on "potcakes," Bahamian wild dogs, as metaphors for disposable life. The ubiquitous canines are admired for their scrappy ability to survive in inhospitable urban climes. They are also victims of these gritty landscapes, because the humans who share close quarters with them often beat, maim, or poison the mutts.

In the rear of the gallery, Sleeping or Dead II, one of Schmid's pared-down drawings rendered in dirty-mop-water hues, depicts a potcake splayed out on its side. A sound piece, blasting the rattle of trains, traffic, and swarming flies, ratchets up the work's roadkill vibe. In the front space, Schmid's lurid video of one of the dead animals might do little in the eyes of many spectators other than to send the artist into the realm of concept thug. In it a decomposing white dog, shot in extreme closeup, lies as hundreds of flies, rubbing their legs together before the feast, crawl in and out of the creature's nose and mouth. The artist's dicey gamble turns into overkill.

Isolated at eye level on a wall curving into Diaspora's office space, Edwards's Lundby Strand gets short shrift from the gallery. The five-minute digital video is shown on a small screen housed in a white wooden structure that at first glance looks like a fuse box. The piece is easy to miss. The video was shot randomly over the course of a month at a former shipyard in Gothenburg, Sweden.

As one peers into the tiny screen, pile drivers move dirt and massive tangles of steel while sparks fly from workers' power saws slicing through metal.

At times, shaky camera work, soft focus, and jumpy editing cloud the quality of the imagery. Wall text informs that the area where the film was taken has been transformed into a multipurpose venue for a car garage, cafés, a gym, office space, and television studios. One guesses that it might be a commentary on economic development initiatives in the Bahamas.

Of the trio of painters here, Popop's founder, Cox, is the only artist with something original to say. His large mixed-media canvases depict the artist adopting a pugilistic stance and duking it out with his doppelganger.

Works such as Faith, Hero, Brawn, and Perseverance are freighted with rusted chains, heavy-gauge wire, and wooden sticks swaddled in brocade. Their surfaces swirl with rivers of unsettling pink and brown hues, delivering a bang-up contrast to the slicker works in the show.

Although the exhibit is bruised by a bit of group-hug veneer, the Popop stable hints it is willing to go the distance to make itself heard.

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