Art

Meet S[lab], the Collective Behind The Inflatable Skyline You Saw at III Points Last Year

S[lab] members Juan Mora, Gregory Santos, Ilsse Peredo, and Krischan Singh
S[lab] members Juan Mora, Gregory Santos, Ilsse Peredo, and Krischan Singh Photo by Krischan Singh
"With inflation, there is always deflation," Gregory Santos, one-fourth of the art collective S[lab], tells New Times via Zoom. "Something is either going to pop or make it lose air."

If you attended last year's III Points, chances are you saw the collective's art installation, The Inflatable Skyline, as you wandered through the festival. The piece reconstructs Miami's picturesque skyline in fabric and air, allowing the viewer to walk between the buildings reminiscent of One Thousand Museum and the Miami Tower.

The installation's symbolism seems obvious: the soaring cost of living felt by residents. However, S[lab] — Santos, owner of the design firm Studio Santos; Ilsse Peredo; Krischan Singh; and Juan Mora — wants the viewer to take the art series at face value.

"It's not necessarily a good or bad thing," adds Singh, a Kendall native and engineer by trade. "Some people could see the development as economic opportunities, but our mission is not to make a judgment but to hold up a mirror."

The "S" in S[lab] stands for sigma, the Greek letter used for summation, and reflects its members meeting through mutual circles last year. Soon after, the collective began to incorporate each other's independent projects, like the Calle 8cho series, which Peredo spearheaded to show the importance of preservation for historic neighborhoods.

After III Points awarded S[lab] a grant to debut its installation at the festival, the group had a matter of weeks to bring The Inflatable Skyline to fruition.

"It was born out of a conversation and what was going on in the world. I had to move three times after the pandemic, and rent was doubling," Mora adds. "I felt like I wouldn't be able to live here — and artists like us were all feeling that way before the pandemic. So it snowballed into, 'Oh, what is something people always know Miami by? The beach, art deco buildings, and the skyline.'"

Peredo, who moved to Miami eight years ago from Mexico, says the installation borrows from Luis Pons' 2005 piece Floating Inflatable Villa, inspired by the city's real estate boom.

"We wanted to talk about Miami's latest boom after the pandemic — with inflation rising like crazy and everybody moving to Miami and seeing it as a city of grandeur," Peredo says. "We wanted to tell you what Miami really is: a city of immigrants and people who moved here and left everything behind."

The group worked with a hot-air balloon manufacturer in Colombia and imported the recycled material and bio-based ink needed to start working on The Inflatable Skyline. Each building can stand as tall as 300 feet,  independently operated by a fan and on a platform 1,200 square feet wide — the average square footage of a Brickell apartment.
click to enlarge
Installation view of The Inflatable Skyline
Photo by Ilsse Peredo
"We got this grant three weeks before the festival, and we went from small projects at Studio Santos to contacting manufacturers in Colombia," Mora says.

During III Points, "around 6,000 people walked around the skyline, and a couple of hundred want[ed] to understand what is going on," Santos says. "You can take it as cynical or as a plain-faced statement on a lot of America right now."

A music festival may not be the best setting for an art installation, but The Inflatable Skyline managed to muster curiosity and intrigue from festival-goers.

"The entry point is an Instagram moment, and then you can dive deeper. We asked people if they had a deeper meaning about the installation," Singh says. "We had a couple of ultra-wide monitors that acted like billboards within the skyline, and it was showing archival footage of Miami and satirical billboards we collaborated with [the creator of the Instagram account] Shadeland Mall."

S[lab] plans new installations in different mediums for the new year.

"For 2023, we have a lot of exciting projects across hospitality, music, and art," Santos adds. "It's much more about growing awareness for what S[lab] is about: thought-provoking installations that light culture awareness."

Through their work, the artists want to highlight the beauty and blemishes of the city they call home.

"I think the skyline is an outsider's perspective of what Miami is," Singh says. "It's very much what is happening in Miami and inflation and inflated egos and the skyline itself, which is 80 percent empty at most times."
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Grant Albert is a writer born and raised in Miami. He likes basset hounds, techno, and rock climbing — in that order.
Contact: Grant Albert

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