Taking its name from the famous passage written by Hunter S. Thompson — and delivered in the film adapted from the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Johnny Depp’s character Raoul Duke — Eddie Negron and Marla Rosen’s "The High Water Mark" at the Bakehouse Art Complex collapses the brutality of the American environment in a concise, psycho-tropic presentation.
With a relevant and open-ended focus South Florida’s locale, their exhibition uses Thompson’s description of the high water mark (the monologue serves as a background soundtrack to the exhibition) as conceptual lead-in. Besides the orated passage, the room contains a live [non-native] Christmas palm tree that punctures the wall and enters the space at an unnatural angle — hiding the pot and soil on the other side. Stage lights create an artificial, ethereal atmosphere that contains all the colors of a Miami sunset and the still dusk that follows. Intermittently — and rather alarmingly — a large hidden tank of liquid nitrogen blasts out roaring, cool clouds of fog, reflecting the color from the lights and voraciously engulfing the tree and any visitors, leaving only a temporarily icy after effect.
The mechanisms used here are not arbitrary. Though they feign idyllic, they are violent and intrusive elements that constitute our constructed environment in this flooding city — from nightclubs to hotels, from museums to yards the blunt force of importation and climate control can be seen and felt more than their impending consequences. Negron and Rosen’s environment effectively encapsulates that, you feel it, and hear it, you are blinded by it. High water mark to Thompson meant a high crest from which a failed counter-cultural action of excess receded. Literally, it means the zenith of rising water — the highest extent of flooding in a landscape. It also has meanings applicable to hedge funds and governmental control of water flows. No mistake.
By using these familiar elements in a sophisticated and subversive manner, Negron and Rosen use the framework of exhibition making to critically examine something increasingly looming on South Florida’s mind. And it seems they’ve also set a new high water mark for the Swenson Shots 2 series. Bakehouse's Swenson Shots 2 is a continuation of the gallery's successful series of short exhibitions that last only a week. The exhibitions (which, in full disclosure, I am participating in) will feature emerging artists and give them a chance at a solo exhibition.
We spoke with Bakehouse's associate director of exhibitions Justin Long who conveyed his thoughts about Negro and Rosen's exhibition, as well as the context of this program.
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New Times: The Swenson Shots are a series of short exhibitions at the Bakehouse that you instigated since joining the center last year. Can you talk a little about how "High Water Mark" fits your vision for this series?
Justin Long: "High Water Mark" has been the most ambitious project for a Swenson Shot to date, since the shows are only up for a few days it has always been a struggle to see how much one can get away with in a week. The Swenson Shots are about experimentation, we are not scheduled a year in advance like most places so we have the liberty to allow artists to try out their newest ideas.
There is a lot of critical discussion in Negron and Rosen's show that is camouflaged within stagey presentation, and it seems your series seeks to invite philosophical and intellectual discourses within art. How have you built that into the Swenson Shots program?
The philosophical and intellectual discourses are running through all of my programming at the Bakehouse. By using a "If you build it they will come" approach, the right people have come to me and have been very open to participating. We are not part of the commercial art scene and have the freedom to explore any and every subject matter with only budgetary limitations.
This exhibition in particular required a significant orchestration and set up to run for only a week. How do you think the nature of its production and the experience seeing it fits into the idea of these short shows?
Many have questioned why the shows can only be up for a week. It is a short schedule but it is sufficient to get all that needs to be done. The ambition and courage of Negron and Rosen to undertake such an extensive install for a weeklong show I feel is a testament to having faith in the rest of the programming. The Bakehouse Art Complex is working hard to provide space for innovation and bring together the smartest and best minds of this community.
Swenson Shots 2 runs until August at The Bakehouse Art Complex (561 NW 32nd St., Miami). Visit bacfl.org for more information.