By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
A fortune cookie version of Carolina Vasquez's life greets visitors to Diaspora Vibe. On a monitor at the gallery's entrance, her 25 years in 6 mins 15 secs assaults the peepers with a video collage of the artist's life that flashes so quickly it makes the viewer dizzy. Thousands of images culled from a quarter-century of video footage depict her at childhood birthday parties, on family vacations, at school assemblies, and horseback riding. It evokes a sense of memory at once moving and intriguingly ambiguous. Not unlike subliminal advertising, the video's quicksilver snippets leech into the skull, recalling one's own faded history.
It's part of "Space Is the Place," which combines the work of 24 artists of Latin American, Caribbean, and African heritage and features an eclectic medley of video, installation, and sound pieces. "I wanted to focus on works that would activate the space and were interactive, ephemeral, temporal, and energetic in nature," curator Ayanna Jolivet Mccloud explains.
She has succeeded in assembling art that reflects the unfettered zones of the imagination and rewards viewers who play along with the at-times cacophonous presentation. A harmonic convergence of time-based art delivers an engaging multisensory experience.
Suddenly a crashing noise snaps the spectator from a deep reverie. A few feet away, a chunk of Jamilah Abdul-Sabur's mixed-media wall installation has fallen to the floor. Her Rube Goldberg-like contraption is called I'm Taking What's Not Yours. The artist molded the work's title in foot-tall plaster letters. She used an electric motor, an orange peeler, spiral wire brush, and pliers to create a mechanism that scrapes against the phrase, slowly destroying it during the show's duration. As fine plaster dust trickles downward like sand through an hourglass, one is reminded of the Steve Miller Band's lyrics "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' into the future."
There is so much going on in the modest space it's difficult to establish order. Out of the corner of an eye, the vision of a naked man being dragged on his back across a cobblestone street grabs attention. Drawn and Quartered, Claudia Joskowicz's arresting 12-minute color video, re-enacts the public execution of native rebel Tupac Katari in Bolivia on November 13, 1781. The snail-paced video pans across a plaza in La Paz until the nude figure slowly emerges on camera with his limbs secured by ropes to the back of motorcycles. As the victim disappears off-screen, a bike roars down the street, dragging a length of frayed rope implying the unseen violence.
Another work with political overtones is Rosemary Berrios-Hernandez's Encueradas, a documentary-style video capturing nude women in Veracruz, Mexico, stopping traffic and handing out leaflets protesting government corruption during the Nineties. The video is subtitled in broken English. Reminiscent of Blue Man Group, the matronly middle-age women have slathered their bodies a deep cobalt color and appear on camera giving heated interviews.
One woman, clad only in a straw sunbonnet, rails against Veracruz's then-interim governor, Dante Delgado, demanding his ouster from office. "He jailed 500 men without warrants," she growls. "We the naked people demand justice."
In a back room at Diaspora, Fulana, a Latina video and performance collective, injects parody and satire to investigate how Hispanic culture is marketed by America's mass media. The group comprises Lisandra Ramos-Grullon, Cristina Ibarra, Andrea Thome, and Marlene Ramirez-Cancio. The cutup quartet's bogus TV commercials and music videos induce howls.
Latino Plastic Cover is a commercial that pokes fun at abuelitas who cover their furniture in clear plastic. A shrill narrator pitches the protective wrap as an all-purpose solution for social ills. "Discover the luxury of freedom," the voice touts as immigrants cocooned in the stuff swim across what appears to be the Rio Grande.
Equally hilarious is Lupe and Juan Di from the Block, Fulana's biting J.Lo music video rip-off riffing on the Virgin of Guadalupe and San Juan Diego, the native Mexican peasant who was canonized by the Vatican after the Holy Mother appeared to him.
In a similar vein, Patrick de Castro is an artist who mixes humor and ritual to explore cultural identity, memory, and the inexorable passage of time. No Time No Waste is a site-specific installation in which the artist painted a corner of the gallery and an adjacent stairwell a sickly Pepto-Bismol shade of pink. He festooned the area with garishly hued silk flower garlands that create a pastoral grotto. On a pedestal near the steps, he mounted a half-naked, camouflage-blouse-clad GI Joe doll astride a chicken. Visitors are encouraged to remove their shoes and descend the steep stairwell to examine the religious artifacts and male action figures humping each other. Be careful, though: It's easy to take a spill down the narrow steps.
After having their funny bones massaged, visitors can cross over to Juan Griego's unusual mixed-media sculpture, with which the artist invites all to get touchy-feely. Hug Machine is a life-size wooden structure with a monitor featuring a video of the artist's mug placed at eye level. Two long rubber arms with menacing black latex gloves extend from the Toby the Robot-like apparatus. As visitors step on two pedals at the bottom of the structure, the arms engulf them in an embrace as Griego blinks and smiles on the monitor.
Hopscotching from work to work, one is struck by the diversity and the way video and sound pieces bleed into each other, erupting in a tangle of disjointed music and voices. A violin emits a painful warble from a birdcage containing a 16mm film and a digital video piece by Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez. Parlor Tricks captures a melancholy bride running through a garden and then locking herself inside a jail cell. She fluffs her wedding veil and powders her bare legs while Gabriela Lena Frank's plaintive music adds a haunting quality. It's as if the bride-to-be is taking a whine for a walk as she skitters through the landscape before barring herself from the specter of marriage. Beneath the birdcage, a pile of rice is arranged like pigeon feed.
Diana Sofia-Estrada breaks the spell with her incantatory Ways of Making Love in the U.S. In the video, the artist faces the camera while hugging a bare-chested man with his back to the viewer. As she ticks off a list of her favorite foods — "goulash, ginger noodle salad, deviled eggs, blue corn enchiladas," and on and on and on — her menu begins to take on the metaphorical nature of the expansive table that the curator has set here.
For a gut-busting buffet of meaty offerings, Diaspora's heaping portions fit the bill.