Miami Performance International Festival: Five Freaky Artists to See

See our interview with Charo Oquet, founder of the Miami Performance International Festival.

Early performance art pioneers were lightning rods for controversy, often creating works that veered from the dangerous to the downright scandalous. During the '70s, American artist Chris Burden took a bullet in the arm fired from a few feet away by an assistant and later had himself nailed to the back of a Volkswagen in a modern-day version of a crucifixion. In the '60s, Viennese artist Rudolf Schwarzkogler famously mutilated his penis, while in 1975 Bard College grad Carolee Schneemann appeared nude before an audience and removed a rolled up feminist text from her birth canal, reading her own version of a vagina monologue to those in attendance. More recently Guatemala's Regina Jose Galindo wowed spectators at the Venice Biennale in 2005, snagging a Golden Lion Award for her video capturing the artist having her hymen surgically reconstructed.

Starting today and running through Sunday, the freshly hatched Miami Performance International Festival (M/P '12) taking place in the Design District and Miami Beach Botanical Garden, aims to follow in that tradition. The fest will showcase more than 50 practitioners of the challenging genre, representing 11 countries. And not unlike their predecessors, the array of talent gathered here for the free, four-day event plan to thumb their noses at the traditional market on a stage they are calling the "Anti-Basel," with works that are ephemeral and visceral in nature.

The theme is "The Art of Uncertainty," and M/P '12 will feature panels and talks on the art of performance and workshops for adults and children. Expect to see plenty of video installations, music, poetry, and other nontraditional art forms in presentations that delve into issues including migration, gender, identity and religion, ecology and feminism, sexual tourism, and living with depression. Some of the works on display will be inspired by early performance art pioneers.

Think of it as an artsy take on "shock and awe." Here are five artists who'll challenge audiences with boundary-pushing works this weekend, describing their projects in their own words.

Jessica Hirst
This artist, visiting from Spain, explores social stigma in a work she calls a quasi-spiritual culinary exorcism. "I am working with the phenomenon of social stigma, which in Erving Goffman's theory of social stigma, is an attribute, behavior, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way: It causes an individual to be mentally classified by others in an undesirable, rejected stereotype rather than in an accepted, normal one," Hirst explains. "I employ that most basic element of performance, my body, on which I write a list of all of my attributes that could be, or could have been, stigmatized at some place or time: female, Jewish, raped, left-handed, mentally ill, on medication, in therapy, feminist, white, American, rich, Protestant, short, left-handed, artist, immigrant, etc. I employ my body in the nude, both physically and symbolically. I also use the ingredients for cooking a cake: flour, sugar, eggs, leavening, and possibly chocolate. Audiences can expect an intense encounter with their pre-conceived notions about stigma on a personal level."
Translation: Remember that French artist who turned himself into a giant sundae? It's like that, but with more boobies.

Christine Brault
The Canadian artist says she is mining the concepts of immigration, identity, and the home environment in her piece. "The performative action I will be realizing is entitled 'Latina del Norte.' I will explore landmarks and stereotypes not only related to the notion of home or habitat, but also to that of identity. In a city such as Miami, an important North-American immigration hub, it appears quite difficult to enter, and in certain cases asylum seekers are simply sent back to their country of origin. Many efforts are deployed, often in vain, doomed to failure. Therefore, the scraping and grating of ice in order to build oneself a northern house made of snow will serve as a metaphor to this desire of migration; there is indeed an intention but no conducive condition," she says.  "I plan to use ice, water and sand, natural elements, reminders of North and South, along with my main media, which is my body and my hair, an extension I use as a paintbrush.... While I'm in action, audiences may expect a wide range of emotions: despair, anger, hurt, as well as the opposite.... depending what happens on site. Some may want to help me or just may ignore what is or is not being created. A performance artist needs to be open to all sorts of critics and also to let it happen."
Translation: Imagine Bob Villa were a performance artist.

Fsik Huvnx
David Brieske, a Miami transplant and fan of existentialist literature, says Fsik Huvnx can be seen almost as an apocalyptic vision of where we are going in this world. "For me, it is my expression of the loneliness, confusion and anguish we have caused ourselves through our attempts at creating a perfect world. Just about anything which produces sound or music can be used in the performances," the artist says. "Each performance is unique and is based on a particular theme and given a unique title. Audiences can expect anything from the disturbing and violent, to melancholic and entrancing. Since the whole idea of performance as art is constantly changing, I think it's a great time to experiment with new forms of performance, since there seem to be no constraints as to what can be done these days. I hope to have demonstrated something wholly different in terms of what performance art can be at the close of this festival."
Translation: Your guess is as good as ours.

Misael Soto
This Miami artist usually creates site-specific works challenging audiences to become aware of their surroundings. "I'll generally highlight or upend something mundane, all while creating a moment charged with the potential for presence and community. I give potential participants a simple but clear line to cross. Once they cross that line, presence begins," Soto says. "I usually facilitate this via a host/performer role. In this instance, I'll be using the ubiquitous nature of opening reception food offerings as a jumping off point, turning the entire endeavor on its head; offering plates and silverware in the gallery, and directing visitors to the kitchen to serve themselves food. My work is always unpredictable within a loose set of predetermined constraints. Participatory in nature, works are at the mercy of participants and the collective. Whether they're a success is oftentimes uncertain, and almost purely subjective and uncertain."
Translation: Free food! Better show up early.

Pip Brant
Hollywood's Pip Brant, who is an associate professor of art and art history at Florida International University, says she will be using the combination of ecology and feminism to explore ethical and social landscapes during the festival. "I use structures that provoke and celebrate amateurism. Playing instruments that I have in no way mastered, but still carry on," Brant says. "Repurposed materials often are turned into structures that have a new function. Farm animals that are commercially exploited in inhumane ways play a part in assessing the political," Brant adds. "'Pet-O -Ramma' is a type of provocative busking activity. The dollar to cop a feel of what is inside the kitschy box around my chest. The uncertainty of what is inside is clear. To pay to find out is the economics, and when the participant does find out, they must assess where they stand on food sources. The Austrian Feminist artist, Valie Export, inspires 'Pet-o-Ramma.'"
Translation: Brant's basically asking you to bet $1 that she'll let you touch her boobs. A fine investment, if you ask us.

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