Much like many Cubans in South Florida who longed for and spoke often of the pre-Castro Cuba of their memories, Miami-bred, Los Angeles based artist Stephanie Hutin is fixated on the pubescent period in her youth. It's a place in time that is so unique, she says, "You cannot understand it unless you were there."
Picture this -- as fellow Floridian, Golden Girl Sophia Petrillo might say -- Miami, the late '80s, early '90s. A young girl, coming of age, is listening to freestyle on the car radio, strapped in the backseat, watching cruise ships sailing out of Port of Miami.
Twenty years later, living on the other side of the country, she's using art to recapture that time and place. Hutin is well aware that the city of her youth during that sort of lonely era in its history no longer exists. Of that Miami, she remembers car clubs at her high school and eternal suburbs, and says, "I think about flip-flops. It was acceptable to wear flip-flops all the time."
Hutin's recent work, Kathleen, a short film screening at Miami short Film Festival this Saturday on Miami Beach, illustrates the time in young girls' lives when you meet your best friend and feel only "pure adoration" for her. It's part of a much larger script that showcases, what she describes as, "this gray area in girlhood when friendship and romantic love are the same thing," and a Miami of yesteryear.
"I am giving love back to that awkward girl that felt totally alone," Hutin says of this ongoing project. "I guess I miss her, this girl who was a bully but who was also bullied." Hutin may sound like a sad sack, but in actuality, she's vibrant, daring, playful, and adventurous. Like a star, she emanates energy and enables creation. Her number one rule, she says, is not to take herself too seriously. And her work is, like her, colorful and humorous. She even calls it, "a multi-media comedy standup routine."
Born in Minneapolis but raised in Kendall Lakes and South Miami, her father was both French and a huge part of her early life. "I came from this culture that didn't understand Americans in the same way," she explains of feeling like an outcast as a kid, but also finding acceptance as part of a larger community of outsiders. "And that's the cool part about Miami, we were all in the same boat, because so many people aren't from there. We were all trying to figure out what's cool, and in that effort we defined it ourselves."
The Miami of her youth she see as DIY and punk, an aesthetic that is sort of Miami romanticized, isolated and scrappy. Saying fuck you to the rest of the pre-internet world.
Booty bass on Power 96 was the soundtrack to those pre-adolescent days for Hutin. "I used to be very embarrassed that was my musical identity for such a long time," she admits. "Things I used to be embarrassed about, I'm super proud of now." Which is definitely most Miamians' story in a nutshell.
By high school though, Hutin wasn't that much of an outsider. She drove to school in a silver convertible Bug and is for certain one of the most stylish people you'll ever meet. As far as her work is concerned though, she's not interested in the those more "popular" youthful years. "It was like me wearing a costume the whole time. I think we are all doing that in high school and college, for me. But as soon as you figure out who you are, you don't want to be that person anymore."
Hutin didn't know anything about contemporary art until she was introduced to a vibrant community of creatives at University of Florida. She had to relearn what art is, and started creating her own through videos and performances. "It really pushed me to realize that art is a personal narrative. And whatever you do with it, first and foremost, it's for you and then learning how to fit it in the world is the job you have to do if you want it to exist."
One very Miami thing she focused on for a project on at UF was booty shaking. She even went so far as to offer booty dance lessons at people's houses. Again, this work combined both her hometown and her experience as a woman. "My work has always been, at its very base, about the female body, the female form, and what we do with it."
When she moved to L.A. and attended CalArts, Hutin honed her craft by incorporating animation and filmmaking. Since then, she'd had two daughters -- one born just last month. Her work has been shown internationally at galleries, film festivals and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She's published her own book The New School for Post-Animative Thought, taught at Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virgina, co-founded an experimental design, film, and animation project with her husband Florencio Zavala called Big Skills, and performed regularly on a radio show Call With Questions. Hutin even fronted all-female experimental band J-Lep or Jennifer the Leopard. Though the four otherwise talented ladies are not the most skilled instrumentalists, with Hutin at the helm and songs with names like "Celebrity Sightings," "Lola," "Internet," "Doanlowding," the group's energy was intense and notable.
Kathleen tells the story of Carmen, Hutin's alter ego, who is hosting a sleepover for her her cool new best friend. "She wants to get as close to this person as possible... She doesn't know why, but she wants to touch her hair, she wants to wear her clothes."
It is part of a much larger project that Hutin has been working on since 2006 when she wrote a full length film about sisters Carmen and Marmen. She's creating shorts that one day will comprise a feature. Most of the films have children actors in them, which she enjoys working with greatly, one has adults dressed as children, another is a hand drawn animation.
She says it has allowed her to "redo decisions I made or relive things. It's deeply personal. It's about sexual identity. It's queer. It's feminist, and it's about young girls." It addresses the ideas of love, including possibly romantic love between the budding best friends, but it's naive and about experimenting.
"I can't shake this time," she admits. "It's been really a wealth of information for consistently being able to create this world and extend this world with my own personal narrative and the fabrication of these characters." Maybe you'll see yourself in Kathleen or Carmen or just as a young kid growing up a little different in an isolated, swampy city.
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Kathleen is screening at 5 p.m., on Saturday, December 6, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, 1130 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, as part of the "Discovering The Right Path" program. Visit miamishortfilmfestival.com.