While dismantling the home where Beatriz Monteavaro and her family spent decades before her parents sold it, the slight brunet artist and her sister found volumes of photos that told the story of their early life: of family gatherings, birthday parties, pets and people who had passed away, couples now split up. After deciding who would take which albums, Monteavaro tossed her First Communion photos into the trash. But the next day, she found herself dumpster diving to retrieve these embarrassing reminders of her youth. She realized, "That's gold. You can use that for something."
She used these neglected pictures to summon old spectres for her current show at Locust Projects, "Nochebuena." The exhibition explores the melancholy, nostalgic aspects of growing older and being part of a family — within the emotional context of Christmas Eve, when many Hispanics hold a pig roast to celebrate the birth of Christ.
Monteavaro's family arrived in Miami from Havana, Cuba, when she was only 2. They were vexed when she learned English before Spanish by watching Sesame Street. She spent time in Catholic school, though she's not religious, until graduation and then attended Miami Dade College and later Temple's Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.
Well known for her drumming with bands Cavity, Floor, and now Holly Hunt — a duo with her partner, artist Gavin Perry — she took up percussion when she was about 7. Her friends had a game in which they played a Kiss record and pretended to be members of the band. One friend had already claimed Gene Simmons, so she remembers saying, "OK, I want to be the cat then." She didn't stop there. Monteavaro bought the record herself so she could improve her skills. She used pencils and a trash can, then grew into a drum kit.
Monteavaro played her first show with Human Oddities at Churchill's Pub in 1991 and later performed with Methadone Actors and the Funyuns. She took breaks from art school to play with Floor and Cavity in the late '90s, but she eventually concentrated solely on art and didn't drum for 11 years.
She met Philly native Perry in college when she was 21 years old. Though they don't work together on art, they do critique each other's work. "I might have already quit 100 times if it weren't for someone reminding me, 'Hey, remember we went to art school.' " In 1996, they moved to Miami and rented a studio space in the Bakehouse Art Complex on NW 32nd Street. But back then, ArtCenter South Florida on Lincoln Road was a busier spot, so they moved to South Beach before returning to Wynwood in 2004, where gallerist Fredric Snitzer represented them for six years.
They formed Holly Hunt in 2010. Onstage, Monteavaro always wears a huge smile; it's almost intoxicating to watch her. "It's like you're wielding lightning," she says. The music has helped raise her profile and confidence. "I feel like before [Holly Hunt], it was very important to me how other people saw me and what their opinion of me was — and their evaluation of me was what I accepted. Around the time of Holly Hunt... that changed." Now, she says, "I'm free."
Comparing her art and music, she says, "Really, really, my art is about me and things I like and stuff I remember; it's just about me," whereas, "music is more about catching something that comes out of you by accident.
"I think music exists in a live setting. It's ephemeral. You can possess a recording of it, a documentation of it, an approximation, but the thing is that experience — and it's almost like a prayer or something... I can communicate the way that I'm able to communicate more fully with art."
During the past year, a heavy touring schedule and her parents' move prevented her from making new work. But when Locust curator Liz Shannon visited Monteavaro's studio and offered her a slot during Art Basel week, she naturally felt motivated to create. Shannon came weekly to check on her progress. "I was a little terrified," Monteavaro laughs. "Maybe she was too."
Shannon says, "She has a genuine, authentic voice. I love her influences and biography." Monteavaro had her first show at Locust Projects in 2002. "When You Wish Upon a Star" was built around a treasure trove of old Adam Ant paraphernalia that the artist discovered in that same closet in her parents' house after it was presumed lost forever. Part of that was saved and reused to create the cradle for the baby Jesus lawn ornament at the center of the almost life-size "Nochebuena" Nativity scene.
It's one you might see in a Hialeah yard in December, with a twist: Her parents are represented by handmade Mary and Joseph sculptures, her two brothers and sister are the three plastic Wise Men, and she's the Christ child in the center of a manger in a nest made of drumsticks. Monteavaro is much younger than her siblings. "I can't do any wrong. I have to really be an asshole to lose favor in my family," she explains with a laugh.
The room where "Nochebuena" is on display is soothing, with a plastic-covered, broken-in couch and reassuring sounds recorded at producer and music-maker Rat Bastard's Miami Beach studio. The winter scene is bathed in the bluish light of a rotating cardboard sky overhead and warmed by yellow light from the oversize lawn ornaments. There's an intimacy and familiarity that's threaded through Monteavaro's work.
Much of the show, she says, is based on two snapshots hung on a wall of the gallery space. One shows her as a little girl next to a Nativity scene outside her childhood home, and the other captures a pig being gutted and set for the spit. The hog, she says, is weird and visceral; it's about "carnage and the physical body... It is delicious, which is complicated." The first step of this creative process involved blackening the faces in some of the photos — maybe to protect the identities of the people or to maintain a level of privacy in such a revealing show.
She recalls the line from The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda says to Luke Skywalker: "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter." She explains that ghostliness is present in the show: Like Jedi ghosts, her now dead or departed relatives and friends reappear in her life.
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The exhibition includes homes for figurines like those she received for Christmas as a child. Then there's the toy spring horse, wearing a pig mask and raised high over "flames" — lawn ornament candles — representing the roast in the center of the space. The Mary and Joseph sculptures — her parents — she made from sheet
She admits, "I feel like in a way, my art is very punk rock. It doesn't emphasize skill, and when it does, it's still OK if it's a little fucked up. It doesn't have to be photorealistic-perfect or all measured out. Wonky is fine with me. I like wonky music too."
Recently, Holly Hunt was on tour with noise act To Live and Shave in L.A. and caught a performance by Aaron Dilloway, formerly of Wolf Eyes, at Now That's Class in Cleveland. Onstage, he wore either an old-man mask or makeup. "He was acting like an old man in a chair and coughing a lot and laughing and crying," she recalls. "It was pissing me off... but then I figured out it was really great." This made her consider the heavier messages of her most recent work — the implications of aging and loss and the creation of true feelings through music and art. It's clear Monteavaro is able to relay that same level of emotionality in her work — in the experience of being really alive and then, inevitably, of becoming someone else's ghost.
Through January 9 at Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-576-8570; locustprojects.org. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday or by appointment; closed Sunday and Monday. Admission is free.