Eli Sudbrack isn't your typical art-world denizen. One-half of the Brooklyn-based collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus (AVAF), the Brazilian-born Sudbrack splits his time between his hometown of São Paulo and Berlin. He crafts work at the intersection of pop culture and queer and net aesthetics, all with an antiestablishment sensibility. Art-world punk rockers, the members of AVAF have collaborated with the likes of Lady Gaga and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons while also producing installations all over the world. Their varied and highly colorful work is the subject of a “re-transpective” titled "Avalanches Volcanoes Asteroids Floods," originally commissioned for an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara and currently on view at Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami.
Turning convention on its head, Sudbrack forwent the traditional retrospective model and opted instead to appropriate images from AVAF’s decade-and-a-half history. The images were edited and printed, and then several carpets were laid throughout the exhibition space, along with paintings, prints, and never-before-seen video pieces that survey the duo's tongue-in-cheek work.
“We hardly ever save anything from our installations; it all goes to the trash,” Sudbrack jokes. “For us it’s always about having a dialog with the space, so our approach is different every time we do an installation. It’s not really interesting to just reproduce work without its context.”
Sudbrack founded AVAF in 2001 and was joined by partner Christophe Hamaide-Pierson in 2005. Their irreverent and colorful work takes an unabashedly critical look at gender and its sociopolitical implications, often with an exuberant élan that dares to question the limits of free speech. At first they started by incorporating images from advertising, pop culture, and other artists’ work into psychedelic collages, but soon they began producing original abstract prints. It’s an evolution that mirrors evolving technologies.
“With the internet, it’s so easy to appropriate images that it’s almost pointless to try,” Sudbrack says. “We’ve sort of evolved from appropriating other images to appropriating our own, which is partly why we’re calling this a ‘re-transpective.’”
Apart from transposing their own work for the current show, “Avalanches Volcanoes Asteroids Floods” was curated with a special focus on the sociopolitical struggle of trans women. AVAF’s work has always lent a transgressive view of traditional gender codes, but the current exhibition borrows heavily from various de-contextualized representations of trans bodies in a slew of media.
AVAF began mixing trans bodies with geometric motifs in 2013, when the duo exhibited abstract and colorful prints in São Paulo that portrayed local trans women. In the summer of 2016, as they were going through their archives selecting work for the current show, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando inspired the artists to highlight those themes in the re-transpective.
But don’t let the show’s serious political bent fool you. Plenty of the pieces speak to the collective’s irreverent sensibilities and refreshing disregard for art-world conventions.
Take Artboredom (Shitty) (2008), for example, in which the pair responded to a less-than-flattering review of a 2007 New York installation — one that took on the waning Bush administration — published in Artforum. Instead of reacting with bluster, they made a fake publication called Artboredom and put an image of crap on the cover. “I just thought it was a shit review,” Sudbrack says of the Artforum writeup. “They were just lazy. They didn’t even talk to me.”
The exhibition at Snitzer is just AVAF’s first step in making a mark in Miami. Their work has also been commissioned for a special installation at Faena Forum in Miami Beach. It's the new home of the nonprofit Faena Art, founded by Argentine hotelier Alan Faena and his wife Ximena Caminos, which helps and highlights the work of international artists. AVAF’s collages will be displayed on the floor of an indoor skating rink at the Faena Forum. The installation and activation of the space are part of Faena Art’s Sunday Sessions, a special series programmed throughout Miami’s blistering summer months.
Though the elaborate trappings of a retrospective have always been the hallmarks of art-world success, it’s clear AVAF couldn’t be less interested in a coronation. For Sudbrack and Hamaide-Pierson, their work — new, old, or a transposition of both — serves to point out hypocrisies, excoriate power structures, and raise more than a few eyebrows, perhaps all at the same time.
"Avalanches Volcanoes Asteroids Floods"
Through June 30 at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, 1540 NE Miami Ct., Miami; 305-448-8976; snitzer.com.