Trespassing Artist Honors Miami Circle at Downtown Construction Site

Artist Jenna Balfe prepares to offer plants to the Tequesta Circle in Downtown Miami.
Artist Jenna Balfe prepares to offer plants to the Tequesta Circle in Downtown Miami. Photo by Logan Fazio
Jenna Balfe gently placed a dozen potted plants at the edge of the ancient circle linked to the Tequesta Indians dating back 2,000 years. She set them down one at a time as if she were laying flowers at the headstone of a loved one — except she made sure to crouch. The performance artist knew she was trespassing, and the roughly 30 onlookers who viewed her performance, first at noon and then at 4 p.m. Saturday, September 7, were all witnesses to the crime.

“I was nervous,” Balfe tells New Times. “I remember thinking, If I get arrested [during my performance], it’ll be pretty funny.

Even though the grounds are arguably one of the most significant prehistoric sites in the nation, it's difficult to tell it apart from any other dusty condo construction site. The circle is encased in concrete, cordoned off from the sidewalks on Biscayne Boulevard and SE Third Avenue with a waist-high glass partition, and sitting in the shadow of 39 stories of empty units owned by MDM Development Group. A five-by-seven-foot plywood board was dumped in the circle, along with crumpled pieces of paper, but a closer look reveals uniformly carved postholes in the exposed limestone bedrock that mark one of the earliest urban plans in eastern North America.

Some believe the site warrants National Landmark status (like the Statue of Liberty) or even UNESCO Heritage Designation (like Stonehenge). Today not even a plaque commemorates the prehistoric Native American village. Balfe, saddened by the lack of upkeep, made a point to incorporate the Tequesta circle as one of the stops on her 90-minute Weird Miami tour, presented by Bas Fisher Invitational and the Miami Downtown Development Authority over the weekend.
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A Weird Miami tour group looks at Balfe's plant offerings.
Photo by Logan Fazio
“It just makes me feel sick and really sad how often money wins,” Balfe says. “The air and trees and nature don’t have a credit card; they can’t buy a condo. But we need to listen to the Earth, pay attention, and listen to it even though it can’t speak.”

Using the body to communicate with nature is at the core of Balfe’s work as an artist. The third-generation Miamian studied environmental science and dance at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and then dance/movement therapy at Pratt Institute in New York. Last year, she received an Ellie Award from Oolite Arts to develop her project Transnaturism, an ongoing collection of performances with choreography based on the transhumanism movement and examining the cyclic disconnection between people, the environment, and spirituality.

"Moving the body in response to nature is the most honest human thing I can do," Balfe says. "It connects me with the Earth and spirit and to my own body, reminding me how to stick up more for nature as a form of activism and communication with nature."

Her most recent performance, Metromovement, incorporated nine performances at sites across downtown Miami, including Bayfront Park, various Metromover stations, the Miami Tower, and the Tequesta Village preservation site at Met Square. The performance was premised on humans still wearing their "physical movement" uniforms after escaping from a dystopian future and being set free in Miami, the last place on Earth with anything green growing. Balfe was the tour guide and performer: She jumped out of bushes, fenced with sticks, rode down an escalator blindfolded, and pirouetted in a Metromover car.

The plant-offering ceremony at the Tequesta preservation site at Met Square was the fourth stop. One by one, attendees handed the plants to Balfe as she crouched low to minimize attention. She set each piece down with an intent to heal. "There are plaques on benches for people's pets, and this is a national treasure and it looks really bad," she says. Her goal was not to vandalize. "I feel like we can pass our energy and intentions to plants and nature, and I wanted people on the tour to have that opportunity and raise awareness about a site that is being so disrespected."

MDM Development did not immediately respond to an email from New Times seeking comment. 
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson