The Miami of two decades ago would be unrecognizable to recent transplants. Back then, Wynwood was still a working-class Puerto Rican neighborhood with discount clothes and weave shops. And 20 years ago, folks were lining up to go to bars and clubs in Coconut Grove. The first Art Basel didn't arrive in Miami Beach until 2002. In the days before the international art-market frenzy that Miami would host, a group of artists opened Locust Projects to provide an opportunity for working creatives outside the traditional for-profit gallery.
"From the very beginning, we’ve always been very interested in this sort of cross-pollination of artists," says Elizabeth Withstandley, one of the founders of Locust Projects who helped coordinate the institution's 20th-anniversary show, "20/20: Twenty Artists/Twenty Hours."
"We know as artists that it really helps to grow your world as you see other people work or are introduced to their larger community," she says. "[Locust Projects is] giving them the opportunity to learn about and expand out in that way."
Since its inception, Locust Projects has fostered a reputation for working with artists to achieve their visions by providing space, time, and resources in a way that a traditional museum or gallery wouldn't. It's a risky endeavor to dedicate one's space to makers often in mid- or pre-creation. So it makes sense that, for such a significant birthday, Locust Projects would take an even bigger risk.
"I think the show really speaks to our roots — that we came together and created this space because we wanted to provide this platform," Withstandley says. "We wanted to provide that sense of community for Miami artists to not be so insular in the Miami art community and to say, 'Hey, we’re not a commercial gallery — we don’t have to follow those guidelines at all.' We can give artists the opportunity to think beyond those regular art-world constraints."
Rethinking constraint is precisely what "20/20" does. Over the course of 20 hours, 20 artists and collectives will set up one-hour shows that rotate from 9 p.m. Friday, September 7, until 5 p.m. Saturday, September 8. Westen Charles, another cofounder and "20/20" curator, explains how the show will work.
"We’re kind of running the whole thing from the back door of Locust," Charles says. "The front door is gonna be closed. Nobody can go into the main space during the performance. There’s always been a hierarchy between the project space and the main gallery. It’s kind of interesting to reverse the process of the importance of the rooms themselves, elevating [the project space] over a traditional gallery space."
To limit the move to a simple reversal, though, doesn't account for how the show exemplifies Locust's role in the lives of artists both in and outside Miami. As the "outsider" of Miami galleries, it attracts artists who bend the boundaries of perspective. Tara Long, better known as Poorgrrrl, plans to push the limits of typical gallery fare and performance as well as the Miami noise scene in which she's immersed. For her 60 minutes, Long will record a live, mini music festival. Afterward, she plans to make tapes that audience members can take home for free.
"I really like that position — that kid selling candy at school," Long says. "I’m always that infiltrator that’s just opening my jacket, like, 'You wanna buy this? It’s $20.' That is my vibe. I can’t get out of it; I can’t get out of the pirate vibe."
Richard Haley, a self-proclaimed "dad artist" from Detroit, also uses performance to test the notion of presence. Of his initial plan for Locust Projects, Haley recalls, "I sent them a goofy proposal saying I wanted to transfer all of my body heat to a rock." The show involves surrogates of Haley's body acting under his control, simultaneously highlighting and "compressing" concepts of distance and aliveness.
"What’s exciting about performance is that the work is being made in front of you," Haley muses. "It can completely fail, or something magical could happen. A painting is gonna degrade over a couple hundred years, but a performance can fall apart right in front of you. It’s fragile."
Annie Blazejack and Geddes Levenson, two artists collaborating on a video performance piece for "20/20," extend that fragility to local issues such as climate change and gentrification. They'll tape themselves biking around the city in costume, breaching the traditional audience of a gallery show while training those watching at Locust to examine their own gaze of Miami. The mythologies we create and respond to, as well as the ways the familiar can so easily become alien, are all touched on in Blazejack and Levenson's planned piece.
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"This is work about looking and being looked at in a city," Blazejack notes. "Who is looking at whom and why and what are they feeling — and what is your responsibility as a viewer?"
"Maybe it leads to another way of being in the city," Levenson adds, "moving in a direction that’s unexpected and new."
For a 20-year-old institution, unexpected and new might feel hard to come by. And while Locust Projects has grown and evolved over the years, it nevertheless remains fresh and alive by remaining dedicated to the process of crafting art. Witnessing works that may yelp, bounce, or ride by in 20 consecutive hours of art-making will make it hard to believe otherwise.
"20/20: Twenty Artists/Twenty Hours." 9 p.m. Friday, September 7, through 5 p.m. Saturday, September 8, at Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-576-8570; locustprojects.org. Admission is free.