Locust Projects Boarded Up Its Windows With Art During Hurricane Irma

Locust Projects Boarded Up Its Windows With Art During Hurricane Irma
Courtesy of Locust Projects
As South Florida prepared for Hurricane Irma, residents frantically scavenged hardware stores, boarded up their windows, and sandbagged their entrances. But Miami arts organization Locust Projects took its storm prep as an opportunity to create a work of art.

For a project informally titled Art v. Irma, executive director Lorie Mertes and artist Phillip Karp repurposed leftover wood panels from Under Water, an installation exhibited at the gallery this past spring, and used them as hurricane shutters. As storm panic swept over Miamians, Mertes says she became creative and found strength in community. She and her staff traded extra plywood from Under Water with the in-demand Tapcon screws from residents.

“Locust is scrappy and resourceful... it’s that artist-community mentality. It’s lovely how everyone comes together and makes it happen,” Mertes says.

Under Water, an installation by David Kennedy Cutler, Michael DeLucia, and David Scanavino, commented on environmental and cultural decay through digital manipulation. The artists had printed plywood with patterns of chipboard and Dentyne Ice packages, making an illusion of garbage in sand. Mertes says Locust had difficulty giving the extra plywood away after the installation because it resembled the cheaper, less desirable chipboard that is made from wood waste products. In fact, they had to throw some of the plywood in the dump because they didn’t have enough storage room.

A few weeks later, Irma was headed toward Miami, and plywood was suddenly in short supply. The irony of the title Under Water was not lost on Mertes and the Locust community, who hoped the words weren't a portent.

But even as the hurricane barreled toward Miami and survival mentality kicked in, Mertes drew on the power of art. “I had Phillip [Karp] put the plywood up, and he was going to do it with the artwork facing in. I told him to turn it around so we can see the art... Everything is about creative expression. Even shutters can be artistic. It was about how to add some levity to the situation,” she says.
Courtesy of Locust Projects
Thankfully, Locust Projects’ storefront space in the Design District, wedged between high-end furniture shops, was unscathed by the storm. The organization had closed its doors the Thursday before Irma had hit and officially reopened last Monday. Mertes says Locust has now retired Art v. Irma and plans to use the repurposed plywood as its go-to hurricane shutters during future storms.

Locust artists remained busy during the hurricane. Miami-based artist Franky Cruz’s Viverium Meconium, on display through October 9, is an installation that involves the housing and care of live painted lady and monarch butterflies. Described as a “butterfly-powered painting factory,” the work collects butterfly secretions that splatter onto paper in a form of action painting. During hurricane prep, the artist collected his butterflies, some of which were chrysalises, and took them into his care. After the hurricane, he went immediately back to Locust and re-installed his work.

As a result of the storm, Locust Projects has rescheduled the opening reception for the fall exhibitions to Wednesday, September 27. The fall projects include Cruz’s Viverium Meconium; "Works by Women," a curated exhibition of limited-edition and original works by female artists; and Aaron Stephan’s "Cement Houses and How to Build Them," in which the artist handmade 350 cement blocks and built a full-scale house façade as a commentary on the American dream.

Of Stephan’s "Cement Houses," Mertes says, “Florida wouldn’t exist without concrete. But now, with the water woes and how much of our land is covered and filled with concrete, [it] no longer allows the water to go into the earth where it's supposed to go. What we created the dream with here has caused some of the environmental problems.”
click to enlarge Aaron Stephan's "Cement Houses and How to Build Them." - COURTESY OF LOCUST PROJECTS
Aaron Stephan's "Cement Houses and How to Build Them."
Courtesy of Locust Projects
Because the works were chosen as the result of an open call, Mertes, who became executive director of Locust Projects this past May, says the themes of the environment and politics were not intentional. However, as a result of a decade-long museum career in Washington, D.C., she is happy to have the works together to begin a conversation about these topics in Miami. She says facetiously, “Here we were, building walls!”

Locust Projects' Fall Exhibition Reception. 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, September 27, at Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-576-8570; Admission is free.
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth