Miami New Times' Mastermind Awards honors the city's most inspiring
creatives. As we approach Artopia, our annual arts soiree where we'll
announce the three Mastermind winners March 8, we're profiling each of
our nine 2012 finalists. For tickets and more information about Artopia,
There's something about neatly yet
precariously assembled objects that gives people the naughty urge to
demolish them. Maybe it stems from childhood, when elaborate sand
castles, Lego cities, and card towers were as much fun to destroy as they
were to build. We suspect that's where native Miami artist Antonia Wright's
original instinct came from when she began staging her performance art
piece "Job Creation in a Bad Economy." In it, the artist and
collaborator Ruben Millares carefully
stack hundreds of books, which they then proceed to aggressively plow
through, sending volumes of painstakingly organized words flying through
the air with the pure brute force of their flying bodies.
It started in an artist-supportive thrift store in North Carolina, which encourages creatives to make art with the objects inside its walls, but she's repeated it many times since. "It kind of hurts, but you're really excited. It takes like three hours to build these walls. So by the time you get to tearing them down, you're really thrilled, or at least I was. We just run really, really hard and fast and just tear through them. Your endorphins are going and you're all charged up."
The artist explains that it's a commentary on the frightening devaluation of the arts and education and the closings of libraries in our society, but we can't help but wonder whether it's also a late blooming rebellion against her famous author mother, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera. Just kidding! The artist is a word lover herself; she studied creative writing and pursued an M.F.A. in poetry at the New School for the Arts in New York City before changing course and diving into the visual and performing arts.
Another of the artist's high profile projects is her exploration of Quinceañera, for which Wright cracked open the popular and gaudy rite of passage to which so many 15-year-old Cuban girls and their families adhere. How did she do it? Well, by celebrating her own "double Quinceañera" at 30 years old -- well, kind of. "Miami has this huge booming Quinceañera photo business, where you choose the dress, you choose the backdrop and the frame all in one session and you're a Quinceañera for a few hours. I used to work as a commercial photographer in New York and it's just like, from that background, I was just in awe of these photos. They break every rule of photography, from the lighting to the Photoshopping to the tacky frames. So from a photographer's perspective I was investigating this.
"But then as a performance artist and as a Cuban woman I was wondering why this tradition continues. When a Cuban girl turns 15, she has this big party to sort of symbolize that she's ready for marriage and she's coming out to society. And here I am -- I'm a double 15 and not married, by choice -- and it's just weird that that's kind of still the pressure that's put on Latin girls." Some of the photo packages Wright saw advertised cost upwards of $10,000. Even the cheaper ones were pricey. "And the thing is, the girl doesn't even usually have the party anymore. It's just for the photograph, so they can put it in their house to show when people come over."
She went into the project from a judgment-free perspective, just looking to engage as any other Quinceañera would. "I picked the most popular frame, the most popular dress," the artist said. But as she continued, she couldn't help but draw some personal conclusions. "I think that money would have been better spent on a girl's college education," she said.
She's done social experiments, crying in the middle of a busy street to see who might console her (The answer? No one.), or lying on the sidewalk under a bed of dirt and flowers. Her next endeavor will take her drive toward social inquiry to a new and potentially dangerous level.
"I'm actually doing a residency at the Lotus House Women's Shelter in Overtown," she explains. And by residency, she doesn't just mean that the building will house her art work. As a project that both excites and terrifies her, she's going to actually live there for the entire month of April, making art all the while. "I was thinking about art and how your environment shapes it, and also the whole Occupy movement and the terrible state of the economy, and I was thinking about what it would be like to live with this poverty that some of these people are experiencing. So I'm going to live like the women and children there do. I'll come in with nothing. You have to be in every night by 6 p.m. I think it's going to be this profound experience in empathy, and I'm just going to see what happens, make art when I'm there, and teach art too."
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