The City That Inspired Creation

Blue-gray brick façades, bare trees, and action figures are not images that come to my mind when I think about Miami. Yet these are some of the objects in "Realidades Alteradas/Alter Realities," the photography and mixed-media exhibit at ArtCenter/South Florida, in which artists share their experiences of relocating to Miami from abroad.

Curated by Argentine Patricio Cuello, the show presents works from four local conceptual artists -- Rubén Torres-Llorca, Néstor Arenas, Gory (née Rogelio López Marín), and Cuello -- in an attempt to reflect the cultural and physical aspects of the city through the eyes of a foreigner.

The utter subjectivity of the show's pieces makes them tricky to evaluate -- like reading someone's diary and then trying to critique his or her feelings. In addition, the conceptual nature of the work leads the viewer on the dubious mission of discovering the art's precise meaning.

The works are like puzzles the viewer must solve in order to decipher the artists' intentions. This task becomes arduous and a bit silly, considering every viewer has a unique set of personal iconography. The interpretation process is similar to a game of charades. However, in the absence of the artists, we are left with uncertain assumptions.

Cuello's mixed-media work consists of three wall clocks -- the middle one set at real time, the left one five minutes fast, and the right one five minutes slow; a barren, life-size tree constructed from cardboard tubes; and a notebook-size drawing of a gray human-shaped racetrack complete with two racecars and a checkered flag.

From the drawing, I gather that Miami society is comparable to an internal race; from the cardboard tree -- that Miami is home to many barren trees; and from the clocks -- nothing.

The game continues.

Two sets of photographs hang on perpendicular walls. The first series is by Cuban-born Gory, and the second is by fellow Cuban Néstor Arenas.

Gory's blue-hued shots depict a pewter tricycle, a deteriorating advertisement featuring a girl swimming underwater, a tree, and a manikin, all set amid a landscape of skyscrapers and brick façades unrepresentative of Miami.

The upward angle from which the images were taken gives the impression of immensity and creates the sensation of being overwhelmed. The muted colors convey blandness.

Arenas's photos feature action figures, including a Star Trek commander, a French maid, an artist, and his model, in their natural and more artificial environments. Alongside the characters depicted in these photographs are real animals -- a live snake and a dead bird and squirrel -- that appear monstrous in comparison to the miniature humans.

The imagery recalls American pop culture: French maids, TV shows, and Disney characters. These symbols of joy and prosperity are juxtaposed with the animals, which may represent death and danger.

Cuban Rubén Torres-Llorca's mixed-media works play on images popular during the Fifties -- the era of picket fences, vacuuming in heels, and the American dream. In Make Your Mother Proud, he paints a black-and-white stereotypical housewife on a background comprising pages from old editions of the New Times. Squares with the words politics, money, sex, religion, society, ethics, philosophy, and family written on them are placed atop the pages. The woman is standing, pointing to a blank, circular blackboard.

To the right rests another of Torres-Llorca's works, Untitled, consisting of a knotted net that hangs from an oversize ear, the latter wrapped in New Times pages. Attached to the net are black-and-white paintings of human ears as well as squares emblazoned with the titles of stories written in Spanish and English, including Alice in Wonderland, Gulliver's Travels, and Arabian Nights. Torres-Llorca's works play on the various facets of American enculturation; literature, morality, religion, and the media are some of the conduits he singles out. Also, his webbed constructions are reminiscent of the complex structure of the human brain. His pieces are more insightful and visually distinctive than the others.

"Voids and Sights" is José Pacheco Silva's first exhibition at Damien B. Contemporary Art Center. The ArtCenter/South Florida resident artist created paintings, photography, and mixed-media sculptures that explore the common themes of nature and existential loneliness. His wire sculptures convey a sense of solitude. Jutting from the gallery walls at a height of five to six feet are pieces of sculpted black wire on which stand inch-high figures of men and women. Other wires are used to form two-dimensional landscapes depicting out-of-scale mountain peaks and trees. Some wires are untouched and unbent, others bumpy and twisted. Because of their simple construction, Silva's sculptures give the impression of a lonely journey within the greater context of space and time.

An untitled piece in a white shadowbox is the pice de résistance. Two figures, a young man and woman, stand on separate paths facing one another. The woman is positioned with her arms outstretched, whereas the man rests at the end of a corkscrew-shaped wire that bounces slightly. The placement of the overhead lights creates double shadows on each object.

Silva's photographs use similar figurines in an outdoor setting. Although the images convey a strong sense of isolation and have a fitting voyeuristic quality, the way the toys are magnified reveals their shoddy paint jobs and warped features. These imperfections mar the photos, which is distracting.

Silva's mixed-media paintings are rich in texture and content. They have a raw, dirty aesthetic caused by the rough wood bases and disheveled arrangement of coarse materials. Although their structure is original, the show's nature-themed works are less affecting and more one-dimensional in concept. The sculptures include what appear to be cement blocks encasing decapitated toy birds glued to wooden boxes.

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