In his two-channel video installation at CiFo, Amilcar Packer sits naked on a wooden chair in a dimly lit space.
At first glance, it appears he is waiting to be interrogated by someone off-screen.
Video # 15 features two simultaneous, symmetrically opposed video recordings that collar viewers from both ends of the room.
Interrogating Systems: 2008 Grants and Commissions Exhibition
Interrogating Systems: 2008 Grants and Commissions Exhibition: Through June 22. CiFo Art Space, 1018 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-544-3380, www.cifo.org
Little seems to be happening at times during the 25-minute video, until the action picks up steam.
A rumbling begins, and the nude Brazilian artist starts to vibrate violently in his seat. The chair creaks toward the viewer on one screen and away on the other, forcing spectators to crane their necks back and forth as if watching a tennis match.
As the space in which Packer is trapped quakes, he is hurtled against the walls like a runaway bumper car. Invariably he collects himself and sits back on the chair for more of the same.
The images of the hapless artist creep under the skin. One wonders why the nude man has been stripped of his dignity and left careening wildly out of control.
Packer filmed the video in the back of a moving truck. While the driver accelerated, turned, or hit the brakes, the artist was abruptly tossed before he repositioned himself on his precarious perch as an "exploration on structures of power."
The dizzy imagery is part of "Interrogating Systems: 2008 Grants and Commissions Exhibition," featuring 10 emerging and two midcareer artists from Latin America chosen from among hundreds of applicants.
Now in its fifth year, the exhibit marks the first edition in which CiFo presents the award recipient of both programs in a single show. Artists represent Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela, Chile, Costa Rica, and Brazil.
For many of the participants, CiFo's spring show traditionally has been a career launching pad. The art space has also offered a vital platform for locals to discover cutting-edge work being created in the region.
Works on display include videos, installations, paintings, and experimental takes on drawing.
Johanna Calle, the only woman in the show, has covered an entire wall with Obra Negra (Black Opus), an exquisite series of unconventional drawings stitched from wire on board.
The more than 70 works deliver a shambling vision of poor neighborhoods in her native Colombia in which residents cobble ramshackle homes with shoddy materials, creating structures that appear ready to implode. In many of her unfinished dwellings, Calle has placed the disembodied limbs of inhabitants, weaving a disjointed narrative of society's marginalized.
Mexico's Moris (a.k.a. Israel Meza Moreno) ratchets up slum life to a boiling point in his hovel-like Hermoso Paisaje No.4 (C.P) (Beautiful Landscape), which resembles the shanties typically found under overpasses in Mexico City.
The gaudy structure is created from wood, cardboard, leather, ice picks, newspapers, and found paintings. A dirty mattress has been skinned and used as a canopy for the squalid hut. A red animal hide stretches on the floor in front, covered by cheap earrings, bangles, watches, and rows of empty soda cans fashioned into crack pipes.
The vibe of peril and corrosive poverty of the urban wilderness is heightened by the ice picks and awls, taped to look like homemade weapons that bristle everywhere from this gut-slugging eyesore.
Next to it, an ominous sense of dislocation bleats from Frozen Marks, by Chile's Francisco Valdes, whose work features a cacophony of police sirens splitting the air.
His installation comprises dueling waist-high video projections, an oil painting, and 45 graphite drawings on paper.
One screen depicts an animated film capturing a solitary skater as he cuts around a rink. The competing projection depicts what appears to be a funeral cortege or a rabid political rally. Jittery editing amps up suspense.
Mexico's Alejandro Almanza Pereda hoodwinks perception by submerging objects in water. Flotación Neutral (Neutral Flotation) uses fish tanks and furniture to challenge preconceived notions of how we observe the world.
An upended restaurant table with a white linen tablecloth covers one of his tanks. Hidden beneath the fabric is a handful of wine glasses arranged chandelier-like inside. They are suspended upside down and can be viewed only by crouching on the floor. The other tank is covered by a decrepit nightstand and houses a lamp that casts an eerie amber glow across the floor.
Colombia's Icaro Zorbar chews into Pereda's scattered piecemeal mess with his multimedia installation Te Extrano: Los Soloistas (I Miss You: The Soloists) nearby.
The work consists of nine independently arranged small-format videos, a DVD player, a small LCD screen, and a tiny speaker. The electronic guts lie about like moaning corpses on the gallery floor or hang limply from the ceiling. As a warbling chorus fills the room, the image of a slow-burning match fills the screens. Pereda's low-tech ode to estrangement crackles with flair.
A gallery handout informs that the bulk of the show reflects the artist's approach to the "construction and deconstruction of a sort of cartography of the world."
As in all of CiFo's exhibits, plenty of meta-hokum characterizes the works, much of it in the artists' own words lining the walls.
Perhaps the most compelling of these are Pablo Cardoso's immaculate paintings, collectively titled Nowhere.
The Ecuadorian artist, who snagged a CiFo Commission Award, has created more than 100 small acrylic-on-wood paintings that are gorgeous and atmospheric and offer a parallel view of the world.
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He selected five paths in remote sections of his homeland and documented them "photographically" using Google Earth.
He then visited the desolate areas and photographed them from a traveler's perspective. Cardoso used the aerial and ground shots as a springboard from reality, painting the images identically enough to confuse.
The postcard- and paperback-book-size paintings are displayed floor-to-ceiling on the gallery walls; the satellite images contrast starkly with the artist's on-location portrayals of the sticks.
Cardoso's opus deserves pride of place here, but some viewers will find CiFo's more transgressive offerings more difficult to shake off after the show.