Miami Natives of Design Build Collective Create the III Points Festival Entrance

From left to right: Design Build Collective's Stephen Shaw, Robby Ramos, and Howard Benites
From left to right: Design Build Collective's Stephen Shaw, Robby Ramos, and Howard Benites
Photo by Travis Cohen

It's 9 o'clock and I'm in a rutty lot full of raw materials and odd edifices on the south border of Wynwood. It's begun to rain, but I'm sitting comfortably on a dry church pew inside a gutted school bus, waiting to talk to the guys who have made this lot their home away from home while they build a half-crazed entrance/installation that will be displayed at Soho Studios for the III Points Festival.

There's a 747 cockpit somewhere around here. I've been told that my life will be forfeited if I divulge anything more than its existence, but it seems worth noting it's here if nothing else. Robby Ramos, Stephen Shaw, and Howard Benites -- who compose the local Design Build Collective -- have been taking a lot of inspiration and a lot of materials from the weird, random assortment of goods to be found around Miami's scrap yards, and it gives something of a Mad Max feel to the space, especially in the dark rain.

See also: III Points 2014's Activation Schedule

"It's definitely supposed to have sort of a dystopian feel," explains Ramos, who's largely been at the helm of fleshing out the conceptual side of the installation. "The feeling we're trying to get across is sort of a satirical view of our generation's insane obsession with technology and the acceptance of almost any and all negative byproducts of that obsession.

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"People are completely fine with having their digital images rendered and monitored by whatever overseers are watching, and they're perfectly comfortable taking their cues of what's good for them -- where you should eat and who you should fuck and where you should eat and where you should fuck -- and we wanted to sort of raise a ridiculous mirror to that and make this caricature sort of a hideaway from all the goddamn madness at the same time."

More often than not, when we see a new mural along the main drags of Wynwood, it was painted by someone from New York or L.A. Though there's nothing wrong with a wide array of represented artists in this blossoming art scene, there is something to be said for giving talented locals at least a few of the chances that are usually offered to people from more established cities.

What excites me is the fact that I've grown up around these guys; I went to high school with these guys. They were born and bred and braised under the Miami sun. That III Points is giving this commission to a group of Miamians who are producing something that will be thoroughly Miamian in itself says a great deal about the festival's homegrown hopes.

Stephen and Robby are cousins, born from the same batch of upper-class Cubans who moved to Miami during the earlier days of the exodus. Stevie, a recent University of Miami graduate with a degree in architecture and additional aspirations in design and sculpture, is practical and sensible, something that is scantly found among people in our circles.

Robby, however, is 12 flavors of creative and a hell of a lot smarter than he looks -- or behaves, for that matter. He's a painter, a filmmaker, a writer, a musician, a Caribbean holy man, an shamanic exhibitionist, and a rampant cynic who can often be found yelling like the Visigoth of Biscayne Bay, threatening to throw all the idiots over. We go spelunking in the dark and dirty of Miami on a regular basis and share a fascination with the miserable creatures found in the depths of this city.

Howard, a man known by many names, from "Hojo" to "Hubert," is part of the underrepresented Peruvian population of Miami. To the best of my knowledge, he does not eat cuy, and when he starts giggling, women begin hurriedly taking their clothes off, a trick I have yet to learn. In addition to a long-standing job with American Apparel, as its head of maintenance for the Florida district, Howard has been working on art installs for the past five years. In certain small countries, he is regularly welcomed with cries of jubilation by the townsfolk who will howl late into the night for his pleasure.

On a slightly more serious note, one common thread among the three is that they're everyday Miami boys given a chance to do something interesting and noteworthy in their own city. Too many characters like Robby, Stephen, and Howard get overlooked as a minority that most people presume is either nonexistent or not long for this city.

"We've been working our asses off to make this come together, and we've had a lot of help from friends who we've grown up with," Stephen says. "People who have day jobs and plenty of other things on their plates have been coming to the lot and volunteering their time and their sweat to make this happen. We've felt some pressure here and there as the festival gets closer, but we're aiming to build an atmosphere that's really functional and really cool that people are going to dig a lot."

As far as the pressure goes, Howard, who out of this rag-tag medley of men has the most experience working on sizable art installations, contends it's all part of the process.

"Every build, you're going to feel that tension, and it's going to stay in your head until the last nut is tightened at the site. I'm feeling really positive about it right now. I think we all are," Howard says. "And as far as the folks at III Points go, we've had almost 100 percent artistic freedom to do what we want with this, so it's kind of been a dream build."

At the end of the night, I leave them behind the black gates of their workspace as they kill the generator and dim the last bits of light before heading home for a short bout of rest. Tomorrow they'll converge on the site again and continue hammering away at their vision, their oasis of madness away from the madness.

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