Making It Happen

Thanks to a group of individuals with vision, our arts scene keeps developing. Usually the vision is unfunded, and they start from scratch. So realizing their dreams requires a great deal of resolve.

Two of those people with vision and resolve are Susan Caraballo and José-Carlos Diaz. New Times spoke with them for this first article in an occasional series featuring distinguished art personalities.

Diaz is a Mexican American from San Francisco. He studied art history at San Francisco State University and now works as an education associate at the Miami Art Museum. Late last year he created an exhibition space in his own apartment and called it the Worm-Hole Laboratory.

New Times: How did Worm-Hole Laboratory come about?

José-Carlos Diaz: Worm-Hole originated out of my apartment as a "rehearsal space" for curating miniexhibitions. The title refers to theoretical wormholes used for galactic space travel and laboratories used for discovery, observation, and research. I felt I needed my own sort of forum to express my own vision.

How could you do all this in such a small apartment?

Well, you've seen my apartment. I don't own any furniture, and what I do own is sort of modular. My kitchen becomes a bar, the TV becomes a video/film projector, the bedroom becomes my office, and the laptop handles my press releases.

I think you've brought a different angle within these themes you explore.

Perhaps the fact that it's a house and not a white cube, or perhaps the nature of my themes. My second show, "(Making Up) Carolyn," was based on my building. Carolyn is my building's name, built in that fateful year of 1926 [when a devastating hurricane hit Miami]. I researched the building's history and crafted out something site-specific, a relationship between the house and the art.

Then it's kind of autobiographical.

In a way it is. "Gypsies Curse" was an all-female sculpture show based on a hex put on me. Each sculpture acted as a talisman to counterattack the curse.

Perhaps one of your neighbors?

Oh no, not at all. [Laughter] My building is an artists' building, there are other local artists living in it. The curse is more something unique to Miami, I guess. [Laughter] In the end, I enjoyed the company of art maidens, prophetesses, and fortunetellers, and their artworks served me as talismans.

You've done a bunch of shows -- and quickly.

Seven shows so far and I've been fortunate to be invited to curate shows in various locations [including Edge Zones, Miami Light Project, the "Stray Show" in Chicago, and the Buena Vista Building]. In each of these places or projects I've always had complete carte blanche to come up with anything I want. My strength is bringing new young artists into Miami's art community.

How do you pick these artists?

First I come up with an idea for an exhibition, develop a concise theme, and begin looking for contemporary artists who may work well together. In "Gypsies Curse" [at the Buena Vista Building] I needed certain coherence. I'd choose what works within the theme and that might require me to make changes as I go along. My aesthetic is pretty particular.

How did you end up in Miami?

By chance. Only after working as an intern at the Rubell Family Collection and the arrival of Art Basel, I found it to be an ideal place to live. The best part is Miami's geographical location and diversity.

What's the worst thing you find here?

The incoming gentrification. My apartment in Edgewater is surrounded by empty lots with flashy banners. Imagine -- every building around mine has been torn down since I moved in last November!

What's next for the Worm-Hole Laboratory?

Lots of plans. I'm working toward an exhibition in August, one during Art Basel, and plan on returning to Chicago's "Stray Show" next May. Worm-Hole needs some sort of revenue to keep these projects going, otherwise I'll have to slow down soon because I fund every exhibition myself. But I'm optimistic.

Susan Caraballo is a Cuban-American art entrepreneur and provocateur. She runs the organization Artemis and PS 742, a hot performance and exhibition space in Little Havana (www.artemisarts.org).

New Times: PS 742 has put out an impressive amount of work in the last four years. How did it happen?

Susan Caraballo: It was by accident, I guess. I thought to have a space modeled after organizations like Tigertail and Miami Light Project, but also having a service component. I wanted an infrastructure to build for artists to create work that is performance-based. Then the space came by accident. I found the old PS 742 off Eighth Street and some people started to go to it.

Why Eighth Street?

I think Little Havana is more pedestrian-friendly. It's the heart of the Miami I knew, especially back in 2000, and it represented the Miami I grew up in.

Back then Little Havana wasn't blooming the way it is now.

I knew there were a few other artists' studios and we started working together, and after a few meetings a lot of collaborations happened. Then it got too commercial for my taste, and so I started working with Lab6 and we ended up moving over -- I see it as off-off Eighth Street.

Your "Surreal Saturdays" are already a staple of the Miami arts scene. Tell us a little about it.

"Surreal Saturdays" is in its fourth season. I chose the name after I paid a visit to the Salvador Dalí Museum.

The surreal part has a distinct Miami touch.

[Laughter] It does, but it reflected what I wanted to do. The Surrealists did work across disciplines. I wanted a multidisciplinary event. Not music or theater or dance, but a synthesis of all the above. Each "Surreal Saturday" connects the disciplines. The idea is that it could have a theme but it doesn't have to. We had José Elias as a guest curator recently with "Arroz con Mango," which is a nice metaphor for what we do.

What's the dynamic of the presentations?

My curators come from all over the place. Each person has a different interpretation. The goal is to present all the disciplines but not to worry about the theme. Things will connect anyway because people will have different interpretations. So I guess you can say I've followed the Surrealists thoroughly. PS 742 is a venue for people to experiment and try out things.

You've begun to move artists outside Miami and create networks.

I want to promote interdisciplinary, participatory, and performance-based artists. By "participatory" I mean that everyone has to participate. Like sort of what Julie Kahn does with her artists' cards or Mark Koven, who's working a lot in performance now. He has a product -- the photo -- but he's also working with performance. The photo acts as an installation to the performance that takes place.

Do you see a new trend?

All I know is that more and more artists are creating work where the product is the more important thing. And yet where are the galleries and the booking agents? These events interest me. The idea is to export Miami elsewhere, as we did in "scopeLos Angeles." I called my show "Artemis on Location: LA."

It's a different ballgame altogether....

Yes, it involves a different way to produce. You become a sort of traveling presenter. Contacts are made, possibly to produce events. From this last trip we made connections in Portland and San Francisco. Right now I'm trying different hats. I'm sort of representing and presenting.

What's next?

"Open Season," an exchange between Havana and Miami artists. We wish to bring Havana artists to Art Basel next year and take Miami to the Havana Bienal. One of my goals is to create a network -- Artemis Performance Network -- with different performance spaces and organizations all over the country to move artists from different cities that are in the same category.

Is this the work of a determined person, an idealist, or an obsessive-compulsive?

I think it's all of the above.

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