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Alfredo Jaar's A Logo for America (1987)
Alfredo Jaar's A Logo for America (1987)
Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co. and the artist

Inaugural Faena Festival Asks, "What Is America?"

For a dreary Miami stumbling through the aftermath of a mishandled and protracted election, the phrase "This Is Not America" will undoubtedly ring true. That sentiment isn't lost on Alfredo Jaar, creator of the seminal A Logo for America billboard animation that employs the term. Composed in 1987, the piece is still sagely pertinent. Much of what is foundational to American democracy — namely, tolerance of all peoples and ideas — lately seems obscured to the point of being unrecognizable.

Zoe Lukov, curator of the inaugural Faena Festival, uses Jaar's historic work as a jumping-off point. "If this is not America, what is it? What do we want it to be?" she asks, preferring to open a dialog rather than give direct answers. With a collection of work coming to Miami Beach's Faena during Miami Art Week next month, Lukov addresses "the myths and narratives that separate us, and how to reimagine those in a way that fits our own lives."

The festival seeks to explore that theme through the lenses of performance, installation, video, and more. "It's about creating a polyphonic space — a cacophony of different opinions," Lukov explains.

Alan Faena famously established his Faena District in Buenos Aires under the assumption "that art and culture would maintain themselves as the core of this new kind of neighborhood," Lukov states. That approach has translated to his Miami Beach ventures, which have sought to answer "how art and culture can feed and nourish a city."

It's no surprise, then, that Faena has long had a multiday affair in the works. "The dream [Alan] had always included a festival," Lukov notes. She recognizes the unique position Faena is in as an arts purveyor.
"The festival is a way to take advantage of all of the different Faena venues," Lukov points out, notably excited for the different commissioned works set to activate various spaces around Miami Beach. "Site-specific installations across disciplines have been a guiding principle [for the festival]," she says. Together, the works will explore "different ways of intervening in various public spaces and opening them up to their maximum potential."

The titular Jaar work will be shown on an ad boat traveling up and down the beach, "as a gift to the city," Lukov notes playfully. The fact that Jaar was interested in showing the piece over 30 years after its inception speaks to its enduring message, which the artist now relates to timely political issues of immigration and refuge.

In another notable commission, Cecilia Bengolea is composing an original dance for the Faena Forum. Working with local dancers and Haitian choreographer Nancy St. Leger, Bengolea looks at various forms of dance in Miami: exotic dancers, Afro-Haitian dance, the Orisha dances from Cuba, contemporary dance, and beyond. The work will also incorporate her video practice, creating an encapsulating environment where "the video becomes the set," according to Lukov.

Continuing the Miami-centric theme, Derrick Adams' piece is entitled America's Playground after the common phrase attributed to Miami on many old-fashioned postcards. Focused on the idea that Miami has been a refuge and a sanctuary, Adams became fascinated with the colloquially named Green Book, a handbook used by black travelers "to not run the risk of bodily terror or harm in the Jim Crow South," as Lukov puts it. Two homes in Overtown featured in the book are still standing today, which prompted Adams to dig deeper into the Black Archives at the Historic Lyric Theater. There, he found a striking photograph of children at a playground beneath the towering expressway that had destroyed Overtown navigationally, economically, and beyond. Adams seeks to create a participatory work, out on the actual sand dunes of South Beach, that asks, "What might the reclamation of that playground look like now?"

Another highlight is Wu Tsang and boychild's collaborative video work that will use the Faena venues as filming locations during the festival. "These works are in process; we don't know exactly how it will turn out," Lukov notes excitedly. This piece exemplifies Faena's approach to enabling artists to think bigger, removing constraints to creating more expansive works. Similarly monumental is a piece intended to be an homage to the famous Fontainebleau trompe l'oeil mural that once adorned Collins Avenue. The works support the multidisciplinary approach Lukov has sought in curating the programming.

"The idea of creating a festival came naturally to [Alan Faena's] thinking," she notes. The community-centered event is focused on "understanding our shared histories beyond geopolitical boundaries that could be considered false," Lukov envisions, "at a moment where more and more voices are being excluded from the conversation, and where people are attempting to define America in a limited way for themselves."

Faena Festival. Monday, December 3, through Sunday, December 9, at various Miami Beach venues; 305-534-8800; faenaart.org. Admission is free.

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