Agustina Woodgate sits in the corner of a worn, old futon in her Little River studio, twirling a black glob of myrrh on a toothpick. She sparks the blob occasionally with a lighter, releasing fragrant spirals of smoke. Occasionally, when the incense heats up, she lays it on tiny gray tiles of fresh myrrh on a table, at arm's reach. As the gray chips darken and meld with the remains of the used chips, she watches the transformation with rapt attention. She calls it "mirra," switching to her native Argentine Spanish in her raspy, deep voice.
Woodgate's art is as elemental and shifting as the changing of the myrrh. The artist has made a career of calling attention to change. In 2012, she made a breakthrough appearance at Art Basel Miami Beach with New Landscapes, in which she sanded ink away from a series of maps, creating ghostly pastel patchworks of borderless remnants of nations on globes and even in a 515-page world atlas. What really excites her about the sanding, however, is not the effect her actions have on the objects, but the dust that results — an element key to her latest exhibition, "Power-Line."
"I'm less interested in the erasing and more interested in the dust, the residue of the erasing," she says. "This happened over time. I realized that what I was attracted to was the information that I was removing [rather] than the act of removing... The dust is the information. It's just a different form."
"Power-Line" is currently on display at Spinello Projects, located down the street from her studio. The show is composed of two works: 8.05 references Florida's minimum wage, represented by a stainless-steel rod that rises from a concrete block cradling an hourglass on its side. Inside is "Miami air" and "ink dust." The dust on one side of the hourglass is black, and the other side is green, the colors of U.S. currency.
"The ink is what is giving value to the bills, so that is actually a representation of value in those many layers," Woodgate explains, "not only in that this is $8, but also in that this is the ink that is providing the value to that piece of paper."
National Times is the second part of the exhibit, a system of 40 analog clocks that once hung in a school but is now mounted in neat groups of five on three walls in the gallery. A small gray metal box with a red digital display hangs solitarily on the fourth wall. This is the master clock, which would have been hidden at the school; the analog clocks are also known as "slaves," their industrial name. In the exhibit, the master is visibly connected to its slave clocks via a system of pipes containing an electrical grid, which, Woodgate notes, is powered by FPL, Florida's main power company, known for its "regulated monopolies" throughout certain counties across the state.
When the installation opened just after Labor Day, National Times simply looked like a system of clocks. But since then, the art has emerged. Woodgate rigged each slave clock's minute hand with layers of sandpaper that have begun to scrape away at the numbers on the clock faces. With the friction of the sandpaper, the clocks gradually fall out of sync. A few have even stopped altogether. They rely on a signal from the master to sync again every 12 hours, at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. When this happens, the minute hands speed up and a symphony of hushed sounds fills the room, from the buzzing strain of gears inside the clocks to faint screeches of scratching to a hum inside the clocks that sounds like whooshing wind. When they lock at an hour, a chiming click sounds. Because all of the clocks fall out of sync at their own times, the sounds are random. Woodgate follows the sounds in the room, wandering from one clock to another. They have not yet failed to excite the artist.
Another enthralling detail is the dust that has accumulated inside the clocks. "They are not becoming dust because they want to. The master is turning them into dust," she says, "so that, within itself, is very powerful."
The fact that these clocks came from a school is also important to the work. "School is our first job," she notes, "and the reason why we have these types of clocks and why school has been organized and designed the way it has been is to prepare us for our work life."
She goes on to note that the abstraction of time is delineated by numbers on the clock, a measurement of a commitment to work for an amount of time dictated by an employer. With the dust, she gives physical form to this abstraction.
"Power-Line" will close this Saturday night with a reception, where viewers can witness the symphonic syncing of the clocks for themselves at Spinello. But Woodgate hopes it is only the beginning of National Times.
"The idea with this piece is when it gets shown again, it will be in process, so it's a work that will have an interval... The exhibition ends, they stop — interval — and then they pick up again wherever they left... in their new location."
Closing night will feature one new product. Says gallerist Anthony Spinello: "We're going to be celebrating the release of our first published catalog with Agustina [for 'Power-Line']. It's illustrated with some process images, and we'll have actual artwork images and some reference stuff, like some images from her sketchbook and some images of her notes."
Woodgate had been working on this project for a little more than a year when she first experimented with a kitchen clock. Besides including an introduction to the work and images of the installation, the catalog will also feature a short story called "The Strategy of the Master," written by Stephanie Sherman.
"It's quite an interesting story because it is a fiction story of 'Power-Line,'" Woodgate notes. The story adds another layer of imagery and abstraction: It's a representation of her work, much like time is a representation of work, and includes a character named Autostina. "But," she continues, "it's absolutely referencing reality at every step. It's kind of our way of seeing reality as a fiction. It's the story of the making of 'Power-Line.'"
The most significant aspect of closing night, however, is that attendees will see a work that's different from the one they witnessed opening night, as well as a more concrete view of Woodgate's vision. Spinello says, "People will be seeing the result of a two-month performance, whereas when people first came here, you barely saw anything. Now you are actually able to see the labor."
"Now," Woodgate adds, "time plays its role in the work."
Through Saturday, November 5, at Spinello Projects, 7221 NW Second Ave., Miami; 786-271-4223; spinelloprojects.com. A closing reception runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, with a performance by the clocks of National Times at 6 p.m. It runs alongside "#tags," the Miami debut solo exhibition of Berlin-based artist Marc Bijl. Admission is free.