A stage visionary redefines the way South Florida sees theater. A thrift-shop connoisseur turns his love of collecting into an art career. A musician describes himself as "half Cuban Native Indian, half German Anunnaki wolf."
You can say a lot of things about 2014's MasterMind Award finalists, but you can't call them boring.
This year, New Times celebrates the fifth edition of the MasterMind Awards, presented by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. We will hand out three grants of $1,000 to outstanding local creatives. For the 2014 awards, New Times received more than 100 submissions, an impressive pool of talent from which a group of editors and critics selected nine finalists and 20 honorable mentions. (Check out profiles of all our picks at cultistmiami.com.)
The three winners of this year's awards will be announced onstage at Artopia, presented by Miracle Mile and downtown Coral Gables, this Thursday, February 27, at the Coral Gables Museum. The nine finalists will show their own work at the event in a display of some of Miami's best and most noteworthy talent. Here are the people you can expect to see.
There's a fine line between collector and hoarder. But Kevin Arrow has elevated his love of finding, keeping, and chronicling Miami's random stuff to a literal art form.
Arrow, 51, has spent decades perusing thrift stores, capturing photo slides, and picking up stuff off the street since he arrived in Miami in the 1970s. Some of it informs his artwork, such as the zines he produces. Some of it, like his collection of more than 80,000 photo slides ("I stopped counting years ago," he says), is a work of art in its own right. And some of it is just interesting stuff he has to have, such as the collection of "super-rare record singles" he discovered on a recent thrift-store trip.
"Whenever I go [thrifting], amazing things would manifest for me, and a lot of times these things make their way into my own work," he explains.
Arrow has always been a collector. "Some people think they want to be a doctor, or a fireman, or a pilot. I was taken with the idea of spending a life in creative pursuit. So I... learned as much as I could about other artists, different artworks, and eased that into my other interests, like anthropology."
Along the way, he continued collecting the stuff that appealed to him. "My interests are pretty bizarre," he admits. "Obsolete media, Himalayan culture, humor — all these things inform my work."
What he'll do with those things is anybody's guess. In "Overhead," a recent exhibit at Dimensions Variable, Arrow showed a series of light boxes filled with found photos and other images he's collected, presented on walls onto which he projected even more imagery. In his video Gianni Versace, he paired the music of Miami band Harry Pussy with Super8 footage of the South Beach hotels that were demolished to make way for the titular fashion designer's Ocean Drive mansion.
His Instagram feed, @arrowfuentes, is a digital counterpart to his real-world work. And one of his current projects is the telling of a love story through unconventional means: surveillance tapes. "Someone's phone was being tapped for a law enforcement sting operation, but what really revealed itself on the tapes is that there are two teenagers calling each other, falling in and out of love, breaking up and making up over the phone," he explains. "They talk about iconic locations for teenagers in the mid-'90s."
But of all Arrow's obsessions, possibly his greatest interest is the city of Miami itself. "It's such an interesting amalgamation of people," he says. "It's a very diverse city. The detritus and cast-off things that people no longer need — I find the most unusual things here in Miami." — Ciara LaVelle
When Regina Jestrow bought a sewing machine, she didn't have grand visions of turning an ancient craft into modern art. She was just feeling homesick. The Queens native had grown up sewing with her mother, a professional seamstress, and after relocating to Miami for work, Jestrow found needlework reconnected her with her roots — even if her early projects were hardly finished products.
"I was never really good at making clothes," she says. "Nothing ever fit, and everything was backwards."
A decade-plus later, she has not only mastered the tricks of the thread but also married expert quilting with crazy geometric patterns to create one of the most intriguing styles on the Magic City art scene.
"There's always this kind of anxiety about high art versus low art," she says. "I don't think 'arts and crafts' is low art at all. I think it takes skill; it takes time. It takes passion."
The 35-year-old artist never considered following her mother into sewing. Instead, she found a creative outlet in photography, pursuing a life behind the lens with studies at the Fashion Institute of Design in New York City.
But digital cameras were just replacing the grittier hands-on photography of old while Jestrow was a student, and she found herself bored by the technology. She left school and took an art store gig in Miami. Buying herself a sewing machine seemed the best way to bring a little of her family to South Florida.
Whenever she grew frustrated at her lack of skill, she experimented.
"I like working with different materials," she says. "I like colorful stuff, and I was always into geometric patterns. I thought it was fun to mix different patterns together. Even if I followed something in a quilting book, I'd do a couple different things and then slam it all together. It was more fun that way."
She made her first quilt about 15 years ago, and it still graces the foot of her bed. She made quilts for all the kids in her family as well as friends. In fact, people wanted to hang her quilts on walls, and with this new interest in her work, Jestrow began larger projects.
Her first showing was at a pop-up space in 2008, and she's since created full-on installations as well as learned to incorporate paint and all manner of fabric. Her work hangs in the windows near the Walgreens on Collins Avenue at 74th Street in Miami Beach. And most recently, she's become fascinated with painting on quilts made of linen.
"That's really a lot of fun to sew with," she says. "I like the smell of it." — Kat Bein
Otto von Schirach
He's unlike any other being on this planet — nay, the universe.
Whatever dimension spawned this mad genius, it's Miami that's lucky enough to call this "half Cuban Native Indian, half German Anunnaki wolf" its own. Signed to Modeselektor's Monkeytown Records,
Otto von Schirach is about to complete a new album the likes of which we've never heard before and will probably never hear again. But one thing is certain: It will be packed with that car-rattling, ass-shaking Miami bass that's brought him love from around the world.
"In Europe, I have some crazy concerts where they'll ask me to play in the town center, and they want me to reprogram my music for those mini organs they have in Amsterdam," the 35-year-old says. "We got to make experimental, crazy stuff, and people were into it."
No matter where his antics take him, you'd be hard-pressed to find a man prouder of his roots. A graduate of Coral Gables Senior High, Schirach began DJing house parties with friends when he was 12.
"We bought a sound system and then started buying records, real primitive stuff," he says. "We didn't know nothing, but it was cool because all the girls love that."
Years of playing parties and small clubs shaped his unique stage persona — think German baron crossed with space-age creature from Mars. A stage act mixing costumes, elaborate dance routines, and a fusion of Caribbean sounds and European techno earned him a 2004 tour with industrial legend Skinny Puppy and his first wide release in 2006 on Faith No More frontman Mike Patton's label. Two years ago, he earned a nomination at the German Emmys and more recently nabbed a spot in an iPhone ad. As his legend has grown, he's kept the 305 at the center of his sound.
"I love that it's become almost the center of the universe, the center of Earth, or the Western Earth," he says of the Magic City. "It's between South America and Europe, this filter here in the Bermuda Triangle. We get all this madness, and it all filters through here."
As he works on his newest record, Schirach wields Miami's crazed mix of cultures as his weapon of choice to keep his sound unique.
"We have gotten a lot of attention," he says, "but then there's a lot of superfamous people who have already claimed Miami as their city when there's real Miami, with all the unique personalities that make the city superunique, all the cultures. I think the underground is definitely part of that. It's very important that they all get known, especially some of the characters we have down here." — Kat Bein
The lights are low, the theater is silent, and footsteps echo behind the heavy curtain like firecrackers in the distance. The theater holds just one spectator: the director.
Stephanie Ansin sits behind a desk covered in pages bleeding yellow and scribbled with stage directions. As she agonizes over the show, Ansin always tries to keep one phrase in mind: "An amazing actor can overcome everything else."
Inspiring a new wave of remarkable local thespians has been Ansin's mission since she returned to Miami a decade ago and helped spark a theater renaissance in her hometown.
The 42-year-old grew up in Coral Gables but left after high school to pursue an acting career in New York. She spent 14 years studying, acting, and directing in both the Big Apple and Boston, eventually snagging two Ivy League theater degrees from Brown and Columbia. And then she surprised her acting colleagues by moving back to Miami with the intention of reviving a waning art in South Florida.
Ansin wanted a project that could inspire budding young artists while also debuting original, envelope-pushing works. It's a delicate balance, but it's exactly what she pulled off with her company, the PlayGround Theatre. The company focused on shows aimed at kids that adults could also enjoy, and the equation brought in crowds and accolades, including a Silver Palm Award last year for Outstanding Staging and Production for Three Sisters.
In the fall 2012 season, Ansin changed her company's name to the Miami Theater Center, but the mission remains unchanged. In addition to giving audiences a fresh slate of original shows, Ansin's crew runs camps for both kids and adults, spreading her love for stagecraft to a new Miami generation.
Ansin's latest production, which she wrote and directs, is among her most ambitious. Titled Everybody Drinks the Same Water, it's a medieval murder mystery that takes place in 13th-century Spain. When residents of Córdoba, famous for its religious tolerance, discover their water supply has been poisoned, the Christians, Muslims, and Jews living there aren't entirely amicable anymore.
The show, which debuts this spring, ticks all the boxes that have made Ansin such a dynamic force on Miami's theater scene. "I look for something that gives me visual inspiration, something that I can see images in my head, something that I can feel has a dynamic physical life, and something that I want to live with for a year or two," she says.
Ten years after returning to Miami, Ansin knows the scene still has miles to go to catch up to some of the East Coast's illustrious theater meccas. "There's a lack of tradition," she observes. "People aren't used to going to the theater here, and in other cities it's just a thing that people think about, like 'What can we do this weekend? What's going on at the theater?' Going to the theater is not top of the mind for most people in Miami."
But that doesn't mean a shift isn't happening — or that the Miami Theater Center isn't right at the center of it all. "It's starting to become exciting," Ansin says. — Carolina del Busto
Julian Yuri Rodriguez
For three days, 25-year-old filmmaker Julian Yuri Rodriguez has been holed up with his laptop in the Upper Eastside house that Borscht Film Festival uses as its headquarters. He's been working intently with writing partner Ariel Castro on a new short film.
The past weeks have been a whirlwind. Rodriguez and Castro's first collaboration, the visually beautiful and thematically intense C#ckfight, has blown up. A Knight Fellowship from the Sundance Institute sent him to Park City, Utah, for a screening of the short at the Slamdance Film Festival, and this week he'll head to San Antonio to see his film at CineFestival. It also showed earlier this month at the Glasgow Short Film Festival.
Not that he's complaining. "I'm never satisfied with anything," he says. "I always know I can push harder; I always know I can go stronger. I try not to focus on my accomplishments ever."
Rodriguez, who was born and raised in Dade County, has found his footing in the film world through sheer grit, determination, and natural talent. He didn't finish high school and has no formal training, but with help from his mentor — Miami artist Ahol Sniffs Glue — and the Borscht Film Festival, he's grown into a cinematic powerhouse whose tentacles reach far beyond this city's borders.
Rodriguez began by directing what he calls "strange music videos" for local acts such as Otto von Schirach, Mayday, and O'Grime. At the time, he was also working long hours on the since-canceled Starz series Magic City. It was then that Borscht awarded him a grant to create C#ckfight.
"Borscht has helped me out tremendously," he notes. "I can't even put into words what they've done for me — not just giving me funding to make my first film, but putting me in a very positive and creative environment, genuinely caring and pushing me as an artist."
His other best cohorts are his family members. His father has appeared in a few of his works, and his grandmother was the only actor in his first short film, the intimate, bleak, yet touching Poema de Esperanza.
"I like working with people I know," he says. "When I think of stories, I'm inspired by people I actually know. I never got the formal training of working with actors." With these familiar faces and tales, and through his own filter, Rodriguez crafts emotionally charged, haunting works.
As a MasterMind finalist, he'll premiere a project at the New Times event Artopia. Rodriguez will use an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to show C#ckfight in a "movie theater" where a lucky few — those at the top of the waiting list — can screen it in an empty room.
"It's a very personal way of watching the film," which has shown only twice in Miami, he says. "I want it to feel more of an experience and as a narrative. This is going to be the coolest way to watch my movie." — Liz Tracy
The lights come up on the stage, illuminating a wall of boxes lit in yellow geometric shapes. A tinny chime counts the time until guitar riffs roar into the space, seeming to crush and crumble the boxes across the performing space.
That's when you first notice them — the dancers, once camouflaged against the wall, now moving as one as they settle into place across the stage.
This spectacle is the opening of Duet for 11 or 17, a piece that owes its stunning choreography to Brigid Baker, a native New Yorker who has played a major role in South Florida's fledgling dance scene since she arrived in Miami.
For Baker, dance isn't just about making bodies move. She describes her work as choreography mixed with "environmental installations" that encompass the fields of dance, music, and film.
"The work is cinematic in nature, working with an orchestration of elements that are symphonic in delivery," Baker explains.
Trained in dance at Purchase College, State University of New York, Baker has traveled the world, teaching at festivals and studios across Europe and Latin America. But her home base is Miami, where she teaches at New World School of the Arts and serves as director of the nonprofit 6th Street Dance Studio in Little Havana, which she describes as "a gathering place for artists."
There, Baker leads dancers in contemporary classical technique, as well as Lightbody, a movement technique she developed that uses "holistic and quantum perspectives" to strengthen and broaden the abilities of dancers' bodies.
There's good reason for her performers to fortify their physiques; they're tasked with more than dancing. Duet for 11 or 17 is just one example of how Baker uses her dancers not only to execute choreography but also to literally build the sets as they go. "Everything is handmade and repurposed and nature-oriented," she says. "The work is task-oriented. Performers are required to do a lot, including constructing the environment."
Challenging? Definitely, for performers and audiences alike. But Baker wouldn't have it any other way. Asked what drives her to create, she simply responds, "Because I must. Because it is there. Because I love." — Ciara LaVelle
Art is always about expression and release, but for Yuri Tuma, it's something more: an indispensable tool for getting through life. The visual artist has battled obsessive-compulsive disorder for years, and the process of creating his uniquely mind-bending, spatially distorted photoscapes calms his mind. It's his mission to share his discoveries, as well as his creations, with those who have suffered like him.
"The act of creating these repetitious forms helps to alleviate the need for compulsive action," he says. "Instead of potentially hurting myself or giving myself some anxiety, when I do my work, it's completely the opposite. It takes care of that compulsion and that anxiety all in one, but also gives the [world] art."
That discovery didn't come overnight. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Tuma moved to Miami with his family when he was 14. His first love was music, and he followed that path to Emerson College in Boston, where he majored in marketing and communications, with an emphasis on entertainment.
"I thought it would be fulfilling as a profession," he says, "but I found music is more of a hobby for me and not really what I want as a career."
While spending a year in New York, he discovered photography. Through the simple technology of a Nokia cell phone, he fell in love.
"Once I started photographing, I was like, 'Oh, this is what it feels like when you really like something,'" he says.
He moved back to Miami in 2008 and began his path toward artistic discovery by getting a proper camera. He continued to snap anything and everything and soon found himself drawn particularly to nature and architecture, two highly symmetrical subjects on opposite ends of the human spectrum.
Diving further into those parallels, he now digitally manipulates his original images into kaleidoscopic mirages, bringing forth new forms and feelings from each subject. Building façades merge into geometric patterns, and blades of grass become abstract art. The art has struck a nerve and earned the 30-year-old photographer regular shows at the Butter Gallery and elsewhere.
"I'm starting to reach that point where I photograph a building and I'm deconstructing a construction," Tuma says. "And from that deconstruction, I'm constructing something else through photography. The whole juxtaposition of that is becoming a cool little perspective that I'm playing with."
But behind all his endeavors remains the importance of harmony.
"I think that search and that transcendental knowledge — the inner peace — that's what will make each individual find a better place in their life," he says. "My art and my work is very much about transcendental meditation." — Kat Bein
If you're staring at a line of Lambos and Maseratis parked in front of the Delano, the idea of "Cheap Miami" might sound like an oxymoron. But it's not what you think.
This creative collective comprises two dedicated music lovers melding their nostalgic past with the future of rock 'n' roll. Michelle Granados and Patrick Garcia give local bands a platform to make some noise by releasing old-school cassette tapes completely free of charge for the musicians and selling them to fans for just $5.
"We love local artists, we love the struggle, we love rockin' music," says Granados, a 23-year-old South Miami native. Granados discovered her DIY passion as a high-schooler going to shows at Churchill's, and her time playing in the band Ex Norwegian taught her firsthand the struggle of releasing grassroots music in the Spotify age.
Two years ago, she met Garcia when they worked together at Aventura Mall. The 24-year-old had never been in any bands but did have some background as a painter and designer. He'd always wanted to find a way to support local music, and six months later, they teamed up and began releasing cassettes.
It's old technology, but tapes are a lot easier to carry than vinyl and much more affordable to make, which is why the format has found a resurgence on the indie scene in recent years. Each Cheap Miami cassette also comes with access to an MP3 download, so fans aren't shut out if they gave their tape player to Goodwill a decade ago. Half the fun, though, is reviving the nostalgia of buying new-release cassettes back in the day.
"We're definitely '90s kids," Granados says. "We're definitely attracted to the idea of cassettes and collecting these colorful little rectangles of plastic."
The pair's formula is also a pretty sweet deal for up-and-coming bands. All they have to do is write the songs and choose a cassette color. Cheap Miami keeps half the tapes to sell online, and the band gets the other half to offer on merch tables and websites.
"We also book their release party if they're local," Garcia says, "even sometimes not local bands. We've had a band from New York come down just for their release party in South Beach."
In fact, Cheap Miami is growing strong. The pair has helped bands release music as far and wide as France and South Africa. They've even begun to see orders for Miami music in Europe and Australia. Not bad for a couple of '90s kids making mixtapes at home.
"I think through the internet, it's been so easy now to be exposed to all the new music out there and make these connections with people," Granados says. "It's been fun shipping our tapes over there and knowing over in South Africa and France there's a little splash of Miami. It's pretty sweet." — Kat Bein
What do the films Here Comes Mr. Jordan, released in 1941, and 1955's Marty have in common?
For one thing, they run almost the same length of time, and when cued up right on top of each other on a projection screen, they also show strange correlations in the overlapping images. In the fascinating hands of Jordan Marty, the two films shown simultaneously also become a self-portrait of a visual artist interested in how objects and ideas are not merely defined by one existence or interpretation.
To Marty, everything — from an outdated piece of technology to an ancient work of classic literature — is limited only by our imagination. His works, which have been shown at Miami galleries including LegalArt, range from an obsolete tanning salon sign with the letters rearranged to a video of him trying to bring a pickup truck to a screeching halt.
"When I think about an idea, my first impulse isn't necessarily to go for a traditional medium, like a traditional sculptural medium," the 29-year-old artist says. "It's to use what someone would consider a readymade object and to begin with manipulating that instead of something like a piece of marble or a canvas or a print."
Ever since he was a child growing up in Melbourne, Florida, Marty has been a slave to the creative process and says he "always knew" he wanted to go to art school. He started at community college studying photography and then took his studies to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. "It was more of a commercial track, and part of going to school was realizing I didn't want to go any kind of commercial route," he says.
So he took a few years off, saved money, and went back for his MFA at the University of Florida. That's where his creativity blossomed.
His thesis, a large-scale installation titled Another Inferno, fused the levels of Dante's Divine Comedy with representations of his personal history, like an old comic book or a tape deck with half-empty cans of PBR on top. It's not exactly a straightforward message, but for Marty, that's not the point.
"Ultimately, my goal is to want to have multiple points of intrigue but to rethink parts [and show] my audience that these aren't absolutes," he explains. "Dante's Inferno isn't necessarily an absolute. You can rethink that and reinterpret it in your own way, just as in Here Comes Mr. Jordan and the movie Marty."
Marty is a product of his environment. Everything from the size of the pieces to the materials used to the themes he plays with are a result of his immediate surroundings mixed with a healthy dose of the past. His work evokes that calm, familiar, yet somewhat uneasy feeling that comes from growing up in suburbia, and he employs discarded technologies and various objects that he either still has lying around or finds himself.
"I don't consider them necessarily banal or an ironic usage. It's the material I grew up with or choose to use."
After contemplating one of Marty's works, you'll think twice before tossing those old VHS tapes in the garbage. "That's the goal," Marty says. "To impart on the audience that these objects I'm using don't have an absolute purpose or function. They can be rethought by anyone in any way, whether it's an incredibly famous poem or a discarded tape or whatever. There are multiple facets to anything." — Kat Bein
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.