By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
It would be easy to mistake Renata Lucas's green carpet installation in CiFo's lobby for part of a major remodeling project at the downtown space.
After all, CiFo's signature emerald jungle mosaic, made of glass Bisazza tiles, has been stripped from its façade, leaving the building's exterior looking as ratty as the rest of the block.
Fortunately the shimmering skin has simply been sent to the shop for a tuneup, and the Brazilian artist's Big Small is part of "Positions in Context: 2007 CiFo Grants Program Exhibition," showcasing new work by 10 artists from Latin America. Lucas's pedestrian-friendly, site-specific rug heap cuts across the length of CiFo's entrance and acts as a threshold to the show. After hurdling her wall-to-wall opus, spectators enter a room outside which a sign oddly warns that Emilio Valdés's sprawling seven-channel video installation warrants an NC-17 rating "due to its graphic nature."
Projected across the entirety of the space in six segments that engulf the viewer, the Mexican artist's videos depict a dripping-wet young couple — Valdes is the male — as they share lunch, smoke cigarettes, and spit water into each other's open mouths.
Some segments feature closeups of their drenched, tangled hair; others portray plumes of smoke stretching toward the ceiling like fingers of yellow light diaphanously filtering through drawn curtains. The pair soon strip off their tops, bite each other's lips, and embrace, writhing feverishly on the floor. The disjointed narrative arrives via competing projections with slight variations, the stuttering rhythms creating the sensation of being stuck in a recurring dream.
Around the corner, an isolated video projected onto the lower half of an exit door reveals the duo fighting in front of a demolished building on a beach. There is a weird undercurrent of codependency in the unnerving film, as the couple shake each other's limp bodies like rag dolls. Valdes intrigues while remaining suspiciously ambiguous in one of the most entertaining works in the show.
Around the bend, Venezuela's Luis Molina-Pantin evokes luxury on the high seas with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, a series of six spectacular Lambda prints, a cruise ship model, and three DVDs. He captures the interiors of these gaudy floating playgrounds that pack in passengers with promises of extravagant, all-inclusive escape.
His photos of ship's casinos, pools, and dining rooms look like overly frosted wedding cakes. They seem to be a wry commentary on the millions of surf-and-turf-hankering vacationers who flock to our port from the hinterlands each year to island-hop, barely registering the diverse cultures they encounter along the way.
One of the most trenchant statements in the show comes from Colombian artist Adriana García Galán. In Dándole a Discursos, Segundo Mandato, she puts speeches by presidents George W. Bush and Álvaro Uribe into the mouths of dueling rooftop rappers, who elevate the knucklehead pols' slippery syntax with finger-snapping aplomb.
With his video installation Chaco Fantasma (Chaco Ghost), Paraguay's Fredi Casco transports the viewer to his homeland's mysterious interior, where ancestor worship remains alive. His film, projected onto four walls, surrounds spectators with images of a sacred Guarani procession in which participants drink corn liquor and dance while wearing devil-horned and eagle-feathered masks. As the drumbeat splits the air, voices intone, "We have come from long distances through storms and hardships with our dead following to reach you." As the drums fade, the last reveler disappears from the end of a dirt path and visitors are left alone with the trill of cicadas ringing in their ears.
In the last gallery area, Mexican artist Héctor Zamora delivers his vision of a futuristic landscape with a sweeping installation, Topografías Simuladas (Simulated Topographies), reminiscent of Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine. Zamora's hivelike gray cardboard structures of different heights span most of the floor and allow spectators to navigate among them, unlike Renata Lucas's imposing carpet barrier. As visitors walk around these curvy, geometric forms, they appear more like a fleet of minimalist space ships waiting for a signal to take off.
On an adjacent wall, Panama's Donna Conlon seems to be commenting on man's destructive relationship with nature in her Synthetic Landscapes series of color photographs snapped at recycling plants, garbage dumps, and construction and demolition sites.
One of her more striking images features a glass and bottle cap field, in which a lagoon of broken blue glass is interrupted by rusty debris like flecks of seaweed stranded on shore. In yet another picture where a plot of ground has been stripped bare of life, the rubble of a demolished building forms a tree from a cloud of concrete atop a steel reinforcing rod.
Argentina's conceptual team Cecilia Szalkowicz and Gastón Pérsico make for one of the crowd favorites. Their multimedia installation, tucked into its own room, is part office setting, part botanical experiment. For their project, Copy Paste: Random Wishes, the pair had 36 colleagues from Argentina provide laminated original artworks. The anonymous pieces are arranged in rows on a wall, where spectators are urged to photocopy one and take it home, thereby becoming part of the work.
CiFo's ode to diversity, arranged to allow each artist to make his or her mark effectively, results in an intriguing show that transcends obvious categories.