ArtCenter/South Florida was instrumental in Miami Beach’s history by helping to transform the city from a sleepy beach town for retirees into a thriving international hot spot. Following its move to a temporary space down the street on Lincoln Road and the appointment of a new president last year — Dennis Scholl, former VP of arts of the Knight Foundation — the center hopes to continue to influence Miami Beach’s future, one that’s marked with the increasing risk associated with climate change and sea-level rise.
Working closely with city officials, artistic director and curator Natalia Zuluaga commissioned the Alliance of the Southern Triangle (AST) to create an immersive show predicting how the city’s infrastructure, economy, and ecology will respond to rising tides. Composed of local and international artists, architects, and writers, AST depicts Miami as a cosmopolitan city perfect for studying how major urban areas will mitigate climate change.
The exhibition, "Intertidal," transforms ArtCenter by way of videos, audio, and custom wall drawings that portray how Miami will look in the not-too-distant future: above water at low tide and flooded at high tide. Members of the collective include London-based artist and writer Diann Bauer, Miami-based artists and architects Felice Grodin and Elite Kedan, and New York-based curator Patricia Margarita Hernández. Together, they have presented artwork, research seminars, and lectures at HistoryMiami, the Schmidt Centre Gallery at Florida Atlantic University, Multimedia Cultural Centre, Split, and the Sharjah Biennial.
“The architectural features that the collective worked on and the way they transformed the gallery space are really wonderful,” Zuluaga explains. “The curvatures of the gallery’s original walls are replicated on rounded seating and new walls, and painted in deep-red hues and shades of violet, aqua, and teal patterns throughout — directly referencing Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Surrounded Islands (1983), where 11 of the islands situated in Biscayne Bay were surrounded with pink fabric.”
Though the work was influenced by Kim Stanley Robinson’s climate-change novel New York 2140, the exhibit's tone is much less apocalyptic. Instead of presenting a bleak image of Miami Beach, with residents left helpless in the wake of sea-level rise, the artists and curators strive to show how locals might adapt.
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“I think one of the major issues this exhibition tackles is precisely the problem of communication: How does government, science, and art deliver any kind of message of urgency through so much noise and denial?” Zuluaga says. “The lack of action in part is rooted in a breakdown of communication, period. The next step is to open this conversation to the community, to keep doing the job of speaking about climate change, and to create the platform for people to discuss how to actually take this impending reality seriously.”
Yet without effective political leadership, AST's imaginings might be Florida's only preparations. Gov. Rick Scott not only is an avowed climate-change denier but also has banned the use of the term "climate change" in official government records. Some community officials assumed the mantel of leadership. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, for example, installed pumps throughout the city to mitigate flooding. (Their effectiveness has yet to be proven.) Clearly, there’s still much work to be done.
“Regardless of who is in office," Zuluaga says, "what’s important is working with, communicating, and bringing these ideas to our community so that we can be part of building a more active and engaged constituency.”
"Intertidal." Noon Saturday, January 20, through April 8 at ArtCenter/South Florida, 924 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-674-8278; artcentersf.org. Admission is free.