MasterMinds finalists: Meet the nine artists competing for $1,000 grants

They make lamps from tin cans and roll naked down filthy South Beach alleyways. They record Miami's best bands in surreal video diaries and release the Magic City's most underground punk acts in hand-crafted record packages. They sew poetry into clothes, film avant-garde movies starring Uncle Luke, tag Wynwood's walls with graffiti, and stage art galleries in unexpected locales.

They're the nine Miami artists who have made the final cut of Miami New Times' third annual MasterMind Awards, a $1,000 grant given to three mavericks who best represent the 305's blistering scene. Getting this far wasn't easy. More applications than ever before — nearly 150 in all — flooded into our offices, and damned if the majority of them weren't fascinating.

A selection panel of New Times critics and staffers and past MasterMind winners did the difficult work of narrowing that field down to these last nine. Next week, on March 8, at our Artopia party, we'll announce the three winners. In the meantime, meet your finalists. And read cultistmiami.com this week for full profiles of each artist.


MasterMind awards

Miami New Times Artopia: 8 p.m. Thursday, March 8, at Villa 221, 221 NE 17th St., Miami; microapp.miaminewtimes.com/artopia/2012.

TM Sisters: Monica and Tasha Lopez De Victoria, AKA the TM Sisters, are Miami-born siblings of German, Swedish, and Puerto Rican descent, and they make art as delightfully varied as their heritage. VHS tape, social experiments, paper cutouts, clothing design, video DJing, and collage all figure into their work. Take their recent large-scale installation, Whirl Crash Go!, an interactive piece in which synchronized swimmers flailed in unison, splashing to digitized, dripping Scandinavian fjord music while aggressive, spandex-clad speed skaters circled an audience huddled at the center and walls pulsated with neon shards of light. "It's a colorful, flowing combination of us collaborating together and catching what the city and the people around us have as far as energy, and being able to pass it on," Monica says. Adds Tasha: "It's receiving what's bright and sharing it. Getting other people involved, to be a star somehow. To be amazing."

Laz Ojalde: A native of Carol City, Laz Ojalde mixes the clean look of modernist design that could be straight out of Denmark with materials much more Liberty City than Copenhagen. In Ojalde's world, sleek cushioned benches are built from vibrant bales of discarded Salvation Army T-shirts bound in plastic; lamps are fashioned from the vegetable cans rusting behind Miami restaurants and strung into Medusa-like snakes of wire and light. "I find inspiration in older, more traditional work and classical art," says Ojalde, a 1998 graduate of the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. "But I like to take all those ideas and sort of minimize them." His striking style is getting noticed; a "floating coat rack" that hangs midair from the ceiling earned him a New York Times writeup, and he's a featured designer at Collective Inventory's ongoing "Objects of Desire" exhibition in the Design District.

Drugged Conscience Records: Chris Donaldson is a one-man ambassador for South Florida's punk scene. Since 2006, his indie label, Drugged Conscience, has released more than 50 records. But what sets the intense Donaldson apart is the nuanced quality and touch he brings to producing, packaging, and distributing his products. The label boss creates all of his packaging and promotional materials by hand, resulting in one-of-a-kind opuses that have earned him fans from Seattle to Indonesia. One of his more remarkable releases was metal band Thou's Kingdoms three-cassette box set issued in 2009. It featured a black silk-screened box, imprinted cassettes in handmade cases, a 30-page booklet, a sticker, a pin, a patch, and a potion bottle full of Brazilian pepper seeds — all nesting in Spanish moss. During a recent visit to a record store in Japan, Donaldson was blown away to find a sweaty-palmed fan eager to nab his latest mini-artworks. "I'm a one-man dog-and-pony show," Donaldson says. "I create everything in the guest room of my Kendall apartment, surrounded by tape and scissors."

Antonia Wright: Thirty-year-old Miami native Antonia Wright makes the kind of performance art that batters the audience just as hard as it pummels her own seemingly indestructible body. Take her ongoing work, Job Creation in a Bad Economy, in which she and collaborator Ruben Millares stack hundreds of books into towers and then painfully plow through them, sending volumes soaring through the air with brute force — and leaving their bodies bruised and sprawled on the ground. In another piece, a completely nude Wright slowly rolls down a filthy South Beach alley, accumulating filth as she passes through grimy puddles. But she's more than shock value. Take her work on Quinceañera, in which the Cuban-American artist celebrates her own "double quinceañera" at 30 years old by donning a jeweled dress and airbrushed makeup for a specialty photog. "As a performance artist and as a Cuban woman, I was wondering why this tradition continues," Wright says. "When a Cuban girl turns 15, she has this big party to sort of symbolize that she's ready for marriage and she's coming out to society... It's just weird that that's kind of still the pressure that's put on Latin girls."

Jillian Mayer: Over the past year, no visual artist has done more to put Miami on the map than Jillian Mayer. Her collaborative video Scenic Jogging was one of 25 chosen from 23,000 submissions from 91 countries for the Guggenheim's "YouTube Play. A Biennial of Creative Video" in October 2010. Then her terrifyingly hilarious 60-second video I Am Your Grandma went viral on the Internet — notching 1.5 million views to date — while her short, The Life and Freaky Times of Uncle Luke — starring iconic rapper, 2 Live Crew frontman, and New Times columnist Luther Campbell — recently debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, where it earned raves. Not one to collect dust on her laurels, Mayer is also collaborating on a project this month with Eric Cade Schoenborn at the Bass Museum called "Erasey Page" and will participate in the "Aesthetics and Values" show at the Frost Museum, also this month. "I am also in an art superband that will change music distribution up until our untimely breakup that will happen five minutes after our performance on Jimmy Fallon," she cracks. "You can call your local record store to pick up an album."

Agustina Woodgate: For Agustina Woodgate, the ordinary world is a canvas ripe for art. Discount T-shirt racks at Goodwill? A secret poetry stash. Old teddy bears? Pelts for kaleidoscopic tapestries. An abandoned German amusement park? Sprawling multimedia art gallery, of course. The Argentine-born artist says projects such as Skin Rugs, for which she repurposes teddy bears into colorful hangings, show how artists can mine the regular and the trashed for their emotional meaning. "They belonged to someone and [have] all the symbolism around the memories and childhood," she says. Woodgate might be best known for Poetry Bombing, where she sews poems guerrilla-style into thrift-store clothing, but her latest project is her most ambitious. Called Kulturpark, it's set in an abandoned theme park in Berlin where Woodgate and dozens of other artists are turning the empty rides and concession stands into installations.

Audio Junkie: Growing up in Santo Domingo and Miami, brothers and musicians Eduardo and Gregorio Alvarez were obsessed with soundtracks — from Hitchcock films, to Tarantino works they used to watch with their grandfather, to the trippy sound plays of the Twilight Zone. Today, armed with cameras and slick editing software, they explore that fascination by mining the depths of Miami's own complex sound scene. Eduardo, 32, and Gregorio, 29, are the co-creators of Audio Junkie, a video journal that profiles Miami bands such as Arboles Libres, Animal Tropical, and Deaf Poets. "Everybody can say that Miami has no scene, that there's no place to play, that there's no bands," Gregorio says. "But you can tell from our show — one second you have noise acts, the next you have a pop Spanish rock band, and then you have something crazy like [experimental rock band] Ice Cream. There's so much out there, and we just wanted to present it to a crowd that would appreciate it." 

AholSniffsGlue: If you live and drive around Miami, you've almost certainly seen the work of AholSniffsGlue, also known as Alouishous San Gomma. The Hialeah-born and -bred street genius is best known for his ubiquitous graffiti creations: the bulbous yet droopy cartoon eyeballs slathered around town in places such as a wall facing I-95 near I-195 and the onetime home of Bar in Wynwood. But Ahol is a hell of a lot more interesting — and intellectual — than his tag might imply. He's a video artist, a muralist, an illustrator, and a paper pusher. The man's whole life is a sort of working-class artwork in progress; he drones away at 9-to-5 gigs — from porn shops to phone banks — and then draws on this drudgery for inspiration. The result is a brand of ironic creation that appeals to the everyman and breaks down the blue-collar experience. "I have had to fend for myself from a young age," says Ahol, whose mother passed away when he was a child. "I was taught to be self-sufficient and to hold my own all my life. The cubicle has been my money tree and allowed me to create freely and kept me from selling arts and crafts on the side of the street. I refuse to be a 'starving artist.'"

The End/Spring Break: Since its inception, the nomadic art project operated by Domingo Castillo, Patti Hernandez, and Kathryn Marks — the End/Spring Break — has hosted more than 100 screenings, lectures, poetry readings, and art happenings across the Big Mango — all in a bizarre catalogue of unexpected venues. The trio has organized a band playing at a cemetery, a "Karaoke Speakeasy" during Basel in a hidden location nearly impossible to access, and an apocalyptic gutter-punk meltdown at the Miami International Art Fair. They even hijacked a liquidation sale at a cell-phone shop to stage a happy-hour tape release. Good luck getting them to talk straight about their motivations, though — the three are as mysterious as their work. "I paint sunsets," Castillo says. "I'm a bit of an amateur boxer," Hernandez quips, while Marks chimes in that she "knits lingerie out of alpaca."

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