Neon lights embody Miami's essence. They're simultaneously bright and shady, buzzing and beaming above hotel foyers and diner doorways, advertising restaurants, pawnshops, and strip clubs. Live in South Florida long enough, and you get used to their electric glow. You probably don't even notice them anymore.
But you'll notice the neon at the Nautilus. It stands out, partly because it gives off a warmer, more neutral glow than typical fluorescent colors. It's also at eye level, letting viewers get a closer look.
Also, it takes the shape of a five-foot-tall orgasming vagina.
Suzy Kellems Dominik, the artist behind the piece, describes it as a "sculpture and light show." The work is a self-portrait, with the vagina standing as tall as Dominik — 5 feet 3 and a half inches, to be precise — surrounded by fireworks, a vintage tattoo-style bird, and a ribbon swirling around the anatomy, announcing the piece's title, I Can Feel. On a 27.68-second loop, its various parts light up and fade in pinks, purples, blues, and yellows, depicting Dominik's experience of climax.
"It literally is obvious it's an orgasm," she says.
For Dominik, the work is a deeply felt statement of personal freedom. "It is truly the reclamation of my physical and emotional independence," she explains. "I think it's important that we as people know our bodies, how they work, how they feel and interrelate with our emotions. I truly want for all women, for all people, to have this freedom to feel shamelessness, to own their intellect and emotions and physical complexities."
That's a lot of message packed into one giant glowing vagina. But for Dominik, the connection is clear. Her vision for the piece crystallized at a party in Jackson, Wyoming. She had survived a difficult relationship. At the time, she recalls, "I was a husk of my former self."
Then she was asked to dance.
"When he swung me around that dance floor, something opened in me," she says. "I realized that in addition to surviving, which of course we all do, I was going to thrive and move forward and that I was going to feel again."
Dominik went home and immediately began creating I Can Feel. "It was a transitional moment," she says.
The artist strove to subvert the usual neon standards by carefully choosing the hues of the lights. "It was important to have a nuance of shade and color — no red-hot vagina," she laughs, "because, by the way, none of us want one of those.
"This is a self-portrait," she continues. "I have objectified myself. It's not always a bad word."
Dominik began working on I Can Feel in August 2016, before the sexual culture of the country entered a transitional moment of its own. She didn't know, as she crafted her celebration of femininity and freedom, that her work would be prominently displayed as the nation reckons with accusations of sexual assault by powerful men in every industry imaginable. Has that context changed the meaning of the work?
"This piece is not about violence," she insists. "What I want for all women — and let's go further, all people — is the freedom to feel shameless... I'm glad [sexual harassment] is topical, but this is my life. This is the life we all lead daily."
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Still, she acknowledges that standing in front of a neon vagina light show could help some people see women in, well, a different light.
"Wouldn't you just love to get some politicians in front of this piece?"
I Can Feel. Through Sunday, December 10, at the Nautilus Hotel, 1825 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-503-5700; sixtyhotels.com/sixtynautilus. Admission is free.
Artist Talk With Suzy Kellems Dominik. Noon Wednesday, December 6, at the Nautilus Hotel, 1825 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-503-5700; sixtyhotels.com/sixtynautilus. Admission is free.