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Optic Nerve Video Festival: Jillian Mayer Versus the Surveillance State

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This year's finalists in the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami's Optic Nerve video festival include a documentary that seeks to answer why Super Mario eats mushrooms, salt and pepper shakers wandering through a kitchen in search of an egg to be sprinkled upon, a lyric video for a really catchy song about reading art theory books, and one of Miami native Jillian Mayer's latest ventures into the strange.

All of the films, which will be publicly shown at the museum this Friday, are from the past two years and have lengths of five minutes or less. The time constraints can inspire different results in the work.

See also: Bonnie Clearwater to Leave MOCA for Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Art

"For some people, it can be almost like a drawing," MOCA curator Alex Gartenfeld says. "You can create something that is expressive and an artwork in itself but has a spontaneity to it. Or you can be formal about it. Just in the way you exercise control over every square inch of a painting, you can control every aesthetic choice. You relinquish that level of control in a longer work."

Though Gartenfeld will select the winner -- whose work will then be added to MOCA's permanent collection -- the finalists were selected by an international panel of judges and will be screened simultaneously at MARTE, the Museum of Art in El Salvador.

Of the 14 finalists, six are from New York City, but there are also films from Berlin, Montreal, London, and even New Jersey. Jillian Mayer is Miami's lone representative with How to Hide From Cameras.

"Optic Nerve is this buffet of experimental video," says Mayer, whose film #PostModem screened earlier this month in Los Angeles as part of the Sundance Film Festival's New Weekend programming. "It's not traditional film work where it's narrative or animated but is really concept-driven."

For Gartenfeld, "the open call is a really interesting format that allows people from all over the world and all different places in their careers to send proposals. Like, this year we have Samantha Harmon, who is in the MFA program at SUNY Purchase. And we have Uri Aran who showed a substantial show of sculpture and video at the Central Pavilion at the most recent Venice Biennale."

Mayer's Optic Nerve film was inspired by the artist Adam Harvey, who has worked with the subversion Computer Vision technologies that recognize and track faces in surveillance systems.

"He coined the term 'CV Dazzle,' which uses geometric patterns based on dazzle camouflage," Mayer explains. "It's different from the camo we might expect; it's sharp and bold, and it disorients both humans and cameras."

Mayer's How to Hide From Cameras uses the format of a YouTube makeup tutorial -- itself typically a private act offered up to camera -- to highlight the pervasiveness of surveillance and our cheerful acquiescence to it. It's bizarre and very funny, and not without a chilling undertone.

This 15th installment will also be the last Optic Nerve with Bonnie Clearwater overseeing it as executive director and chief curator of MOCA North Miami.

"This is a program that she was instrumental in developing," Gartenfeld says. "She established it as a forum for local artists that then expanded internationally. That ability to integrate Miami-Dade practices in an international dialogue and vice versa is central to what MOCA does."

The finalist screenings begin Friday with a 7 p.m. talk with Aram Moshayedi, curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and one of the Optic Nerve judging panelists. The finalist films will be shown at 8 and again at 9. From 8 to 10 p.m., there will be a reception with music and cocktails, as well as a tea ceremony by performance artist Susan Lee Chun.

The talk and screenings are included with museum admission ($5 adults, $3 students and seniors, free for members and North Miamians), although reservations are recommended. Call 305-893-6211 or visit mocanomi.org.

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