When you hear the words "performance art," the first thing that comes to mind is a bunch of naked weirdoes splattered in paint chanting obscurities and eating garbage. Or perhaps the term is so broad that it brings nothing to mind at all.
The reality of performance art in Miami lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe there's painting, maybe there's nudity -- and maybe there's neither -- but there's always a reason.
That's what we discovered Saturday, when artists presented their works in the Design District as part of a sneak preview for the first ever Miami Performance International Festival, which opens July 26 and runs until the 29.
Cathartic pieces ranged from improvised musical productions to tomato sauce-covered brides as onlookers were forced to open their minds to what they saw, instead of being spoon-fed commercial concepts of art as existing solely for aesthetic pleasure. (This was especially refreshing during a Second Saturday Art Walk that relied so heavily on Pop art.)
"It's something that has a very free voice. People are not in it for money; they're in it because they really feel like they want to say something that sometimes cannot be said ... an action that really says a lot," Charo Oquet, founding director of the festival, said of performance art.
In the midst of a curious crowd, Belaxis Buil walks around arms raised rigidly in air singing "This land is your land, this land is my land...." Her face is covered in an American flag print burka and wrap while her stomach is exposed, the only thing on it are the words "kill me." She continues to sing the Guthrie anthem forcefully as she strips herself of the star-spangled cloth and crawls on the floor and into a cage.
"It's become a national anthem but it's a protest song. To hear it again is as vital today as when he wrote it," Stephan Nesvacil, project assistant, said of Buil's piece.
The evening's performances continued to provoke reactions from viewers as Orestes De La Paz performed I Know Why.
Dressed in bridal regalia, De La Paz lifts the veil from his face and picks up a hammer sitting atop a stove and begins to pound furiously at it until glass shatters and he has exhausted himself. He proceeds to pull out a pan and rub its content onto himself until the white gown is seeping red.
"We have the idea of the archetypal marriage...being a 20-something in this age and seeing my friends get married, you begin to question the structure of marriage...and I ask myself how do I fit into this mold?" De La Paz said of the evolving structure of wedding tradition in a society on the forefront of gay marriage and how future archetypes will be faced.
Beside the shattered glass, the band UOM put on a feral electro instrumental set. Having played together for five years, the Argentinian band made up of Daniel Fiorda, Sebastian Leder Kremer, and Eduardo Balerdi creates music that is entirely improvised on location. What began as therapeutic jam sessions turned into a long-term project encompassing music and instruments both standard and unconventional, such as oxygen tanks and pipes; ranging from acoustics to metal and electonic.
The band's style is somewhat gyroscopic. "It has a center, but the center is also moving. That's the chemistry we reach sometimes," Balerdi said.
Another performance set to test the limits of audio took place on the second floor as Fsik Huvnx (don't hurt yourself trying to say it) created sounds likened to electro mechanic surreal macabre, which isn't surprising considering most of the tools used to produce it looked like they came straight out of a horror flick. Metal rulers and dirty nails stuck out of a table with a cymbal stand attached to it.
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Much like the words that make up his project's name, the sounds David Brieske produces are visual.
"There's no real pronunciation for it...To me it's more of an art piece than specifically music," Brieske said. Collaborating with musician and friend Juan Maristany, Fsik Huvnx performed Black Sea, a piece never played the same way twice.
The artists were not the only ones performing. As guests finally eased into the comfort of strangeness, they made puppets and shadow danced against the backdrop of the dark lighting and projected visual installations.