Art, when successful, should open up our senses, show us things that are lost if not looked for, give us sounds we never really listen to, or help us forge connections between ideas we never pair. Art gives us a new way of experiencing our world.
On February 10, Miami New Times will hand out three $1,500 genius grants during our annual Artopia cultural celebration. This year, the MasterMind grants will recognize an artist working in each of three different disciplines: visual, narrative, and sound.
The three winners will be chosen from a group of nine finalists we believe express a unique vision that helps us view our landscape and soundscape afresh. Fittingly, most of the finalists work in a medium that relies on digital technology. But each of them manages to use it as a tool to probe our individual, as well as collective, selves.
If you think punk rock, Disney films, and horror movies have nothing in common, you haven't seen Beatriz Monteavaro's whimsically disturbing installations, sculptures, and paintings. Monteavaro's world is peopled by ghostly apparitions rising from the floor of cartoon purple-lighted rooms and by swamp creatures rendered in brush strokes that turn paint into seaweed still dripping from the deep. It is a world inhabited by space apes and zombies brought to life in colorful comic book images that manage to be both bone-chilling and beautiful. Her vision is the substance of nightmares caught in the trappings of a brightly lit, pop culture world. And what could be more Miami?
At first glance, Frank Garaitonandia's haunting images of barren battlefields occupied by otherworldly apparitions seem to have more to do with apocalyptic visions of early chemical warfare than with present-day Miami. But Garaitonandia is Cuban, and, like many exiles, he is obsessed with capturing a sepia-colored world lost in the fog of nostalgia, where figures fade in and out of the past. It is an inner space suspended between two worlds and as disturbing as his installation of a brass bed-frame under a stark dangling light where a crowd of religious statuettes have gathered for the night. If only we could see the work of the grade school students Garaitonandia teaches!
In Christy Gast's "Herbert Hoover Dyke," a lone figure dances her way through a sprawling industrial landscape. She stomps on steel grates and water tanks, leaps on a bridge and a truck, and shuffles across a stone-strewn field and down an empty road. And suddenly, the Herbert Hoover Dike is transformed into one gigantic stage set, its parts becoming ready-made instruments. Such is the transformative power of art. In Gast's videos, installations, and performances, the artist's keen eye and ear trains the spotlight on tiny details, holes, and missing parts; and on sounds that are often lost in the cacophony of a metropolis. If we look and listen, we begin to see ourselves.
Ana Mendez's dance recalls a David Lynch movie; dark and heady, it touches on the occult and evokes the power of ritual. For "Tribute: A Summoning," the breakout performance of art collaborative Psychic Youth, Inc., men in suits and dark glasses writhe to analog sounds in a movement-based séance set to the music of British producer Joe Meek. In "Waking Spell," an improvisational dance set to spontaneous musical cues, performers seem to step around scenes from a slasher film. If you think you know modern dance, take another look.
From suntans to boobs, it's sometimes hard to tell what's real in the Magic City. Which makes Jillian Mayer's videos and performance pieces a fitting commentary on that blurred virtual line we walk every day. In her video "Scenic Jogging," Mayer sprints next to projected pastoral landscapes that are nothing more than desktop screen savers. In her experimental musical Mrs. Ms, she slices open the idea of marriage by trying to marry her Chihuahua, using tropes from Saturday morning children's television. Mayer's performances synthesize Miranda July's whimsy, Yoko Ono's conceptuality, and Sarah Silverman's biting comedy. They're so smart and entertaining, the Guggenheim museum recently recognized Mayer's work.
In Meniscus, the first feature film written and directed by Jorge Rubiera, the estranged son of an infamous author inherits his father's estate. The visually stunning black-and-white film deals with the heavy weight of the muse and the complicated relationships between fathers and sons. In vérité style, Rubiera underscores the surreal elements of everyday life using first-time actors, environments rather than sets, and Steadicams or handheld cameras to mimic human movements. Rubiera has also applied his narrative and visual skills to nine short films, a documentary about a Russian composer, and music videos for his band Animal Tropical.
Some hip-hoppers have to ditch the dope game. But not Black Bobby — he had to leave behind a buttoned-up life among the East Coast's political elite. Armed with a master's degree in public policy from Harvard, a razor-sharp mind, and even sharper tongue, Bobby began his career with a consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Soon, though, he got bored and quit, relocating to Miami where he officially launched into this rap thing. And as Bobby personally attests, he's "been on a mission ever since," organizing for Obama, managing his record label Square Biz Entertainment, and dropping banging, brainy mixtapes such as the recent 26-track slab Negro Dialect.
The internet is killing the music industry, along with nerdy pursuits such as record collecting. But luckily, there remain a few savagely dedicated producers of musical ephemera, and one lofty local example is Roofless Records, an underground outfit run by Miami natives Matt Preira and Dana Bassett. To date, the duo has released three cassettes, two seven-inch vinyl discs, a pair of LPs, and a very special CD-R dedicated to LeBron James. Other notable Roofless achievements include receiving a New Times award for 2010's Best Record Label in Miami and helping Sweat Records bring American Hardcore author Steven Blush to the 305 for a seminar on punk history.
Hijacking his name from an old Nintendo videogame, local electronic music producer Panic Bomber (AKA Richard Haig) exploded out of Miami's underground in 2009 with a pair of EPs, Calling in Threats and Getting on My Mind. Full of furiously blender-ized electro, tech-house, trance, punk, and pop, those early outbursts earned him a New Times award for Best New Electronica Artist. But the Bomber didn't stop there, digging deep and following up with Discipline, one of our ten favorite albums of 2010.