The psychedelic frequencies of a theremin fill the space like thunder. The pitch gradually increases and then subsides like a slow-moving echo. Along with the dark walls and a large chunk of steel planted in the center of the room, the sound transports the viewer to an otherworldly plane somewhere between time and space.
In its first show since 2003, the artist collective FeCuOp has taken over Locust Projects’ main gallery and transformed the space into a crash site.
The black walls are speckled with white paint. Off in a corner, a tree shrub fights to be freed from a chainlink fence. But the focal point is the large steel antenna lying in the center. Aptly titled “Antenna,” the exhibition bucks the tradition of keeping transmitters far from view and in enclosed spaces by taking the communication tool to the audience.
Built into one end of the fallen antenna is a theremin that guests are invited to play to add to the sound of the installation. The interaction with the electronic musical instrument creates “this sort of epic moment where people are thrust into an audio experience,” says artist Victor Villafañe, FeCuOp’s newest member.
Although the monumental antenna is striking in its own right, part of its purpose is to guide the audience to another experience, located in the far back of the space. Look for the light at the end of a white tunnel.
“Immediately,” Villafañe says as he creeps slowly toward the back hallway, “you’re going to see a contrast. The first space is black and open, and this hallway is all white and enclosed.”
At first glance, it’s an ordinary corridor that leads to an exit. But FeCuOp is anything but ordinary. Along one end are four small holes cut into the wall, which at any given time might be occupied by four ears attached to humans. Much like the collective’s 2002 exhibition "Going Out on a Limb," which featured legs hanging from the ceiling, “Antenna” incorporates that fleshy human element.
“When we first thought of this whole idea, we thought of how our ears are the receivers of sound,” Villafañe says. The installation, he says, is doing the reverse of traditional communication: A distorted transmitter in the front of the space leads the viewer back to the human experience.
A looped recording of common idioms play while guests spend time in the hallway. Visitors can even approach the ears and whisper secrets, making it an extremely vulnerable moment for the ear actors. “Hopefully, no one screams directly into an ear,” Villafañe says. The collective doesn’t set rules for the space, and the audience isn’t guided, making each performance unique for each individual.
But what happens when the ear models take a break or aren’t working a shift? Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s Étant Donnés, FeCuOp has created its own diorama to mimic a studio space not unlike the artists’ own.
“The beautiful thing about it is that you think this is the full totality of the experience, but you have to peer through the hole to be able to see,” Villafañe says. “You go through this whole experience, but where we [as a collaborative] really reside is in here. [The diorama] is going to be an homage to our history.”
FeCuOp was formed in 1997 after its three original members — Jason Ferguson, Christian Curiel, and Brandon Opalka, whose abbreviated last names spell "FeCuOp" — met at art school. “We were always hanging out in studios and painting and working together before we were really exhibiting our collaborative works,” Opalka recalls.
The four have been flying in and out of Miami the past few weeks to prepare the gallery space. Ferguson now resides in South Carolina, Curiel teaches at Yale University, Opalka has a studio in Colorado, and Villafañe is the last of the group to still call Miami home.
In spite of the fact that it’s been more than 15 years since FeCuOp has exhibited, the foursome remains tight-knit.
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“What makes this [exhibition] different is that we’re now all working in separate studios,” Opalka explains. “There used to be a time when we were all working in the same studio in the same space, and it had this energy. And now, we’re brought together after having this time apart where we’ve all grown in our own directions and have now come back collaboratively.”
Each member of the collective works within his own medium: Ferguson and Curiel are primarily painters, Opalka mostly works with installation art, and Villafañe’s forte is graphics. Much of what they do as a collective involves layering over one another's separate work. They're able to interject four unique perspectives into one piece of art, with the result appearing as if it were created by one individual.
“In a weird way, the show is like a self-portrait of four people,” Opalka says. “It’s a self-portrait in the form of an antenna with wires and ear models, all to show that this is us trying to exist in this world. And we’re physically making a symbol of that, so [this show] is becoming a symbol of how we exist and communicate.”
“Antenna.” 7 p.m. Saturday, September 14, through October 12 at Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami; locustprojects.org. Admission is free.