If you're young and male and highly educated, you've inevitably viewed the sea as a potential testing ground, an antidote of sorts to the education you didn't receive. And most likely, you chickened out, or we'd have read about it, because nearly every piece of literature about an intellectual picking up an oar has been a tremendous success: Richard Henry Dana, Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast, Melville's Typee, Joshua Slocum's Sailing Alone Around the World, Robert Stone's Outerbridge Reach, and so on and so forth.
Miami-born and -bred artist Justin H. Long's new solo show at Twenty Twenty Projects, "From Sea to Shining Sea," doesn't attack this theme head-on; rather, it fleshes out the imagination and simultaneously reclaims the sea for the romantics. Because, let's face it, living in Miami makes the sea either a political construct (Haitian and Cuban illegal immigration) or a banal symbol of bourgeois excess (flotillas of drunk lawyers). Is it an antiquated notion to sit on the beach and dream of sailing to foreign lands? If I have Facebook friends in Chile, does that preclude the desire to sail around Cape Horn? If I've seen it done on the Discovery Channel? If I own every season of Deadliest Catch?
The principal object in Long's show is The Filthy Whore, an installation comprised of a jerry-rigged Boston Whaler hilariously repurposed as a long-term sailing vessel for a single delusional mariner. A cartoonishly over-large mast bursts from the weather-beaten hull, and the bow is covered by a Mad Maxian sleeping quarters, decorated on the outside with protective aluminum sheeting and festooned on the inside with kitschy Florida maps and 80s-era bikini girls. A slim library of hardbacks, attached to a shelf with a bungy cord, signals that our captain isn't just a boozy fisherman but a man of taste, if not necessarily wealth. This vessel is not sea-worthy, but it is bouyant with humor and, dare I risk it?, sentiment. The boat itself appears as a map of the romantic psyche, where the body is the untrustworthy vessel that fails the fecund imagination. Long could just as well have named the boat John Keats.
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Two other scultpural works deserve mention: The Upper Deck and The Old 96er. The former is a small fishtank connected, by virtue of Long's mechanical acumen, to the toilet in Twenty Twenty's adjacent bathroom. Whenever a visitor flushes, the water level in the fish tank drops to a perilously low level for the several goldfish inside, who scramble to a low point in the rocks. Seconds later, the water level--just like in a toilet's tank--rises back up to its normal level, and the fish resume their normal activities. (Whatever those are.) On the surface (har har), the piece seems fraught with an environmental message about the interconnectedness of species, but it also has much to say about the nature of false peril and the sanitary habits of young males in alternative art spaces. (I know you didn't flush last summer.)
The Old 96er, according to Long, takes its inspiration from the Columbus Day Regatta, an event that was originally focused around a local yacht race but has since turned into a two-day episode of "Miami Gone Wild" in the middle of Biscayne Bay. I guess Long imagines--or knows first-hand--that the real sailors are pissed; so enter the artist with a solution: a home-made cannon, reminiscent of the piratical variety, that can fire beer cans from the bow of a yacht in order to sink the offending orgiests. Score one for the adventurers, and when Flavio, Esq.'s Donzi is punctured with a can of High Life, score one for the ironists.
If you're reading this, you've missed the opening, an event fortuitously scheduled on the first cool night of the year and accompanied by free fresh oysters and Sailor Jerry rum, but the show is open by appointment until Saturday, November 7, when Twenty Twenty (1388 SE 9th Court, Hialeah) will host a closing get-together.