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In a dumpster outside his Little Haiti studio, Sleeper — valedictorian of the 2010 graduating class at New World School of the Arts, Bert Rodriguez's alma mater — is fishing out piles of clothes he'll use for an installation and performance piece at the Fountain Art Fair.
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Sleeper's piece is titled Miniature:Monument, and it's part of a work in progress he'll exhibit during Hotbed Miami, a project organized by Bill Bilowit and Grela Orihuela of the local Wet Heat Project. The filmmakers for the past three years have documented the Magic City's booming art scene, and they challenged Sleeper and three other New World students — Jessica Laino, Limchoy Lee, and Jose Felix Perez — to create site-specific installations and performances during this year's Art Basel.
Hotbed will unfold in real time at Fountain Miami, an edgy satellite fair known for quirky performances and guerrilla-style installations that's popular with younger crowds. It's definitely not the snooty, pristine environment one associates with Basel's more exclusive Miami Beach Convention Center climes. Yet it's a high-wire act for the students to navigate under the glaring spotlight of the international art world.
Sleeper seems unfazed. He's part of a new generation of artists that was in middle school when Basel parachuted into town a decade ago, and has grown up with the annual arts spectacle as part of the landscape.
And despite the clamor and competition for curator, collector, and art dealer eyeballs, Fountain couldn't be a better venue for a fledgling artist to break out of his shell during Basel week. "We are all about the youth movement," says David Kesting, one of Fountain's founders. "This is a very different environment from the convention center, which is mostly accessible only to those with power and wealth. This is a really fun fair."
Bilowit, who'll broadcast Hotbed live around the clock during Fountain's four-day run and create a documentary film for release next year, says the drama behind the students' efforts to gain international exposure will come from how "an idea gets from a feverish brain all the way to appearing before a skeptical art viewer during Basel week."
When he isn't rooting in dumpsters, Sleeper is building what appears to be some type of geodesic dome. He plans to cover it with clothing deemed "unworthy to ship to earthquake victims in Haiti." The 23-year-old artist also will wear a Dr. Seuss-like, sculptural, full-body suit for his Hotbed appearance, where he'll comment on "consumerism and ego" as part of his piece.
All of the students in Hotbed seem to be making a statement on Basel's cultural relevance in their own way.
Perez, a 26-year-old painter and the veteran of the group, is building a ramshackle tree-house fortress and watchtower from found wood. It's intended to evoke a sense of nostalgia as well as reflect the slapdash nature of last-minute stabs at attention by desperate artists hoping to get discovered during Basel.
Jessica Laino, 24, will build an enclosure equipped with three industrial fans and sealed off by a curtain. Her pared-down piece suggests the hot-winded hype attending Basel each year and the exclusivity of the fair. Laino, who works at the Vagabond, has an alter ego named Tina White — referencing meth and cocaine — for which she dons a platinum wig and plays a vapid South Beach party minx. Laino's doppelganger "is friends with everybody, has a Twitter account and Facebook page, and her favorite quote is, 'My smile is my best accessory. Don't ruin my outfit.'"
Limchoy Lee, at 21 the youngest of the group, works in retail at Banana Republic and was painting the window of a store in Broward. She looked up to see a crowd staring at her, mesmerized, as if they were watching a performance, and that's when she got her idea for Hotbed. Lee, who has a quiet, smoldering intensity, explores issues affecting women of color and the objectification of femininity. She's planning to build a storefront enclosure, wheat-paste overtly sexual advertising across it, and whitewash the suggestive imagery with paint, repeating her actions to hammer the point home.
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