Though we did not arrive inside Spinello Projects' Auto Body exhibition in time to catch Cheryl Pope in the act of obliterating more than 500 water balloons hanging from the ceiling with only her head, a pool of water running out of the Giant Motors Auto Body garage and onto the street revealed she was far along in her act. Driving past looking for a parking spot in a maze of road closures, there stood the intimidating figure of Pope, in a boxer's fight stance, as people crowded the sidewalk to peer inside the garage that will provide the space of the performance and video-based exhibit until this Sunday.
Pope called her performance Up Against, which she debuted in 2010 and often includes her making a pattern in the balloons. This time she wanted to get all the balloons down, and she finished in about 30 minutes, some falling and exploding on spectators. Afterward, she admitted it was easier and went quicker than she expected, crediting years of training and possibly stronger neck muscles.
For "The Death of Nature" Eloise Fornieles has confined herself to a back office filled with tropical plants with a picture window, where she walks on a treadmill topless while images of nature are projected on her bare chest as she reads a book. In the front office, Agustina Woodgate hosts a live online broadcast that features women as guests who talk to her about topical issues in English and Spanish or provide music. There are even a few bands booked. Though you can't hear it in the space, it is streaming live online at www.radioee.net, probably right now.
There are other performances booked throughout the days that this brief exhibit will take up Giant Motors. On Saturday at 9 p.m., Kembra Pfahler has promised to drive into the space with something called "P.L.O.W. (Punk Ladies Of Wrestling)" for a garage pin-up shoot while her death metal band The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black provides a live soundtrack. Naama Tsabar will close out with a rock show on Sunday, Dec. 7 at 9 p.m.
But on this day Ana Mendez began a series of challenging dances she has dubbed Liminal Being. She will basically fall down some metal stairs inside the building at 5 p.m. on every day of the exhibit. She smiles describing the act, but she also knows it will be tougher on her body as the days go on.
Most of what is included in the exhibit are short films that offer various moods and tones. Some are shocking and disturbing, others are meditative and some even show a wry sense of humor. Many have a tension that grip the viewer until the end. It's a challenge to sit through them all, but it makes it worth a repeat visit.
Zackary Drucker's The Inability to be Looked at and the Horror of Nothing to See (2009) is a 17-minute film featuring the artist lying on a steel table topless, eyes closed with a metal, silver ball in mouth (She is transgender artist and this was shot while in transition from male to female). Tweezers surround her and so does a crowd of mostly men. Drucker voice leads a meditation from off-screen. At first it seems he's addressing the body, but then states "imagine a body lying on the table in front of you." He leads the crowd to reach out and touch the body, and if they can't reach, touch the person in front. "If you don't like being touched, deal with it." The crowd laughs. Then they are ordered to put those tweezers to use and start plucking the artist's body hair. "Don't be afraid, the bitch can take it." More laughter.
Drucker's film marked the first of several videos this writer experienced. Others also revealed a wry wit at play, like Cara Despain's Slow burn. Using forced perspective via a 35mm print projection of landscapes of the Utah desert, where Despain was raised, she presents a fuse traveling around the bottom of the image, recalling a minimalist tribute to not just the land she grew up with but also Spaghetti westerns and the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons of the 1950s and '60s.
Nearby, Pippi Longstocking pried at the Wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. In the film by Rona Yefman some men passing by try to help and some women make comments. It has humor, but it also makes for a tragic observation.
Across the way, A.L. Steiner + Narcissister's "Winter/Spring Collection" (2013) featured a hybrid female/mannequin character collecting fruit and dancing nude to ominous electronic music. A turtle appears in hand, and she/it takes a gushing inhuman piss. Then the crunching, static hiss of the music is revealed to come from a electronic pad that she/it rubs between her four legs. It's a jarring, aggressive film bursting with energy.
In stark contrast was Sigalit Landau's meditative Mermaids (Erasing the Border of Azkelon) (2011). A camera on a crane is trained steadily at the lapping waves on a beach on the border between Gaza and Ashkelon, the sea is at the top of the screen and the sand at the bottom. Three nude women run from the lapping waves at the top of the screen, stab at the sand with their outstretched hands and slowly crawl backward, as they drag the sand backward into the ocean to again disappear off screen. They emerge in patterns as varied as the ebb and flow of the ocean, and the tranquil, sporadic plucking of an acoustic guitar on the soundtrack, which mixes with the rhythmic undulation of the waves. The sun and water on the women's bare flesh and the bones below their skin bring visceral humanity to a grand show of natural force. It's an entrancing work.
Another meditative work was Antonia Wright's Suddenly We Jumped (2013). In the soundless work, the artist's nude body emerges from pitch blackness in slow motion and shatters an unseen glass sheet in front of her. Face in a grimace, she recoils into the dark again almost as soon as she arrives. It's full of mystery and power. It happens repeatedly on a 33-minute loop that is as hypnotic as it is shocking.
Tension was very much on display in many works. Tameka Norris's Untitled (2011) features the artist slowly opening her mouth, which has been glued shut. It happens across nearly five minutes, as her facial expression shifts from pensive to determined. Tears stream down her face before she lets out a big sigh.
With Slapped (2014) Marie Karlberg presents a series of faces, as various people stare into the camera lens. When the series of faces return, the ambient sound is ratcheted up before a hand descends on each face with a slap, cutting quick to another face awaiting a similar fate.
But again, for all the intensity on display, there is respite to be found when humor appears in the mix. For instance, in the case of Christina Pettersson's Legend (2009), she shot evocative, slow motion imagery of nature and horses in the Montana woods, and added subtitles for the hard of hearing from the 1985 Tom Cruise fantasy movie Legend, which includes such evocative lines as "Arrow clattering to unknown depth" and "woman on unicorn quieting."
Auto Body makes for an epic experience in film and performance art. Though it seeks to highlight women artists in a world of art that has a lot of catching up to do in featuring the female voice, what stands out is the breadth and depth of human expression, some of it sexual, but all of it smart and thoughtful.
Auto Body continues Friday, December 5, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and December 6 and 7, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 1750 Bay Road, Miami Beach. Parking is available at Sunset Harbour Garage, 1900 Bay Road (between 18th & 20th St.). Visit autobody-movement.com.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.