An Exquisite Corpse: Charles Recher 1950-2017
Memories and reminiscences
of the late Miami artist
from friends, lovers,
Compiled and edited by Bruce Posner
INTRODUCTION – THE OBITUARY
Charles Cornelius Recher was a native South Florida artist who created poetical works of short film, multimedia installation and performance, and other visual arts, as well as poetry and prose. Born in Fort Lauderdale on February 8, 1950, he spent his childhood roaming the Everglades and beaches, and committed to the arts while at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Since 1980 he lived in Miami Beach, where he worked, taught, and collaborated or communed with many artists and friends. Recher created over one hundred films and videos, frequently set or experienced in surprising locations throughout the city: from elevators, bicycles, and metro-movers to pedestrian malls and projections on urban architecture. The works often draw upon imagery and memories of the unique Florida landscape, and utilize intuitive elements of play, humor, spatial contrast, emotional vulnerability, and theatricality. He held numerous guest lectureships and workshops at national and international institutions, including the “Masters of the Avant-Garde” program at Harvard University, and established an experimental film and video program for Miami-Dade College. His awards include Cultural Consortium Fellowships, NEA grants, and Florida Individual Artist Fellowships. He died on January 26, 2017 at the age of 66, and is survived by his partner of twenty years, artist Judith Robertson, and nieces Nicole LeClaire Benson of Vero Beach and Wendy LeClaire Bradford of Winter Garden. No funeral is planned. In celebration of his life, donations are encouraged to your favorite Florida environmental organizations.
Published February 1, 2017 in The Miami Herald and Legacy.com.
SELECTED WORKS & TESTIMONIES
CRITICAL ART ENSEMBLE (CAE)
10 Things We Know About Charles
1. The art switch was never in the “off” position. Even while doing mundane chores, his brain was cooking up a new project or plan.
2. He believed and demonstrated that every place was a potential venue for art.
3. He believed and demonstrated that every object was potentially useful for art.
4. He was generous. Charles got CAE our first artist gig at Miami-Dade Community College. We had only made a couple of films. Being artists was more or less aspirational. God only knows what he told the administration to get it approved. We asked, but he wouldn’t say.
5. He did not like to be called “Chuckie.”
6. When we sat down with Charles we talked about what mattered. Very little mention of the weather, even in hurricanes.
7. One evening while we were all drinking in the yard at Lenox, Dorian went up to Charles’ apartment. Charles had gone to bed earlier. As she entered, she set off the alarm. Charles had turned it on before retiring. He came running out of the bedroom wearing only a T-shirt. He found himself in the position of either pulling down his T-shirt to protect his modesty, or turning off the alarm. He chose to turn off the alarm. We are not sure, but we think it had something to do with artistic choice.
8. Do not challenge him to a sandcastle-building contest.
9. We were always impressed by his compulsive use of order to produce so much aestheticized disorder and confusion in the world. Such was his commitment to the avant-garde.
10. He shaped the world to meet his desires without apology.
Critical Art Ensemble (CAE): Dorian Burr, Hope Kurtz, Steve Kurtz, and Steve Barnes were a group of artists supported and inspired by Charles Recher.
When I met Charles in 1978, I wondered why he was interested in everything, ranging from identifying trees and mulching dinner leftovers to cultivating people and talking about individual expression. He could install a shower in a building that never had proper plumbing with the same facility and ease that he steamed collards leaves and dressed them with a bright spritz of balsamic vinegar. As I encountered him more publicly in Miami’s cultural community, his interests begcame more evident in explosions of creativity, now epitomized in the wonderful and mysterious functional volcano he made on top of a car. I witnessed with awe and joy one fantastic street performance/eruption that bewildered and confounded people used to well-behaved artists who made sensitive watercolors and polite collages.
Considering that his own work was provocative, prodding and fearless, we had some attitude in common; on another mode, it was rewarding to see Charles collaborating with fellow creators to achieve larger, more peaceful social constructs. Through the years I would confirm his generosity and willingness to lead initiatives in our alternative and experimental arts arenas. Later, as a neighbor in Miami Beach, we would chat about what we thought were big, burning issues and the little nothings of life. In the larger society of artists many revered him for his independence and focus. I’m still inspired and puzzled by his chameleon ways. Chas was both committed artist and distanced odd man out: charismatic creator and determined, independent marksman alike.
César Trasobares has lived in Miami and worked as an artist, curator and art administrator for more than 40 years.
I first met Charles in the late 1980s at an experimental film and video class he was teaching on then desolate Lincoln Road Mall. Charles first exposed us to movies from the Miami-Dade Public Library collection; then encouraged us to show our own work. I shared some Super 8 films whose emulsion had deteriorated leaving dreamy blue and green abstract blobs that we projected to Brian Eno’s Another Green World. Charles was pleased, offered enthusiastic feedback, and then introduced us to the avant-garde films of Stan Brakhage!
It was inspirational that Charles made films, taught, and was socially conscious. I recall a piece he penned for the 1991 issue of La Bête, “a magazine of contemporary art, poetry, fiction and critical writing about culture and the arts by established and emerging Miami artists and writers.” With Read, Sign & Send, he asked readers to cut out and mail pre-addressed letters to the Dade County Commission, Governor of the State of Florida, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Ambassador Embassy of Japan. Each letter addressed a specific environmental issue. It was a politically creative, pro-active campaign long before social media existed.
Charles was a Miami treasure who was generous with his time and knowledge. His interactive projections of Face (1993), and later Face II (1997) and I’m Ready (1997), onto the curved glass facade of the South Florida Art Center were the first such rear-screen projections I had seen. At INDUSTRY, the weekly Cameo Theater nightclub event held in the early 1990s, Charles produced 16mm film loops and taught me how to create commando-style loopers with old Bell & Howell 16mm Film-O-Sound projectors. Obsolete Media Miami (O.M.M.), an experimental art project/archive I run with Barron Sherer, is very much inspired by what Charles imparted to me over the last 30 years.
Kevin Arrow is an artist, amateur Tibetologist, archivist, museum professional, husband, and father living on Miami Beach.
He was always Von to me.
He was a designer of moments. So I remember not what we ate when we stopped for dinner at his home one night, but the invitation to climb with him in the forest of dark trees in the back yard. As a parting gift, he gave me a large wind up tin duck made in China, which I treasure.
We first met in 1972 when I was a grass-green associate professor of film (as an art form) at the University of South Florida. He was supposed to be the student, but it was more like we learned together. He took my history course, and his writing flirted between routine reality and subtle fantasy; this turned out to be significant in his moving picture work. For example, his “projection disaster” titled Snafu at the 1985 Miami Waves:
The feature film began, suddenly derailed with a squawk, burnt, and flared out. Then came frantic curses, followed by apologies, and explanations calling for patience. All of this sound emanating from the projection booth window that displayed a larger-than-life Super 8mm movie of Von and the unspooling reel. A parable on the fragility of motion media.
Though we worked together at USF, he did not finish a film for several years. Then one afternoon, unexpectedly, he invited me for tea to his rough and ready quarters behind the bicycle shop. He sat me down to a table beside the kitchen window as he poured. The sun was setting, gilding his face opposite me. Yet it was not the setting sun, but a film being projected on the window screen from the outside. That abrupt revelation I will remember, an amazing, designed moment, a startling change in space and perspective, and another rock in the foundation of my lasting regard for him. He was an artist in every sense of the word, and it was an honor, full of fun, to know him.
Charles Lyman, professor emeritus of Film and Electronic Media at University of South Florida, is an active film artist working on outdoor events with moving images.
In 40 years of friendship, I often marveled at dear Charles gleefully mixing his clear clean compassionate and darkly wonder-filled vision of things with other realities. Whether for others or his solitary amusement, he did whatever it took to make a complex process seem like a simple gesture.
For instance, his Move It car performance from the early 1980s:
- Charles gutted the interior of his Datsun wagon and installed Super 8mm projectors to show two rear-screen film loops on sheets of frosted Mylar hanging behind the entire front windshield.
- One of the projections was a film image of a man behind the steering wheel, banging on the horn and making a furious “outta my way” gesture while yelling “Move It! Move It!” In the other S8mm loop, his passenger calmly combed her hair while looking in the rear-view mirror.
- The Datsun’s interior also packed a sound system, a gasoline generator, and Charles lying flat on his back. Inconspicuous yet easily visible to someone walking beside the car, he would be completely absorbed in navigating the vehicle forward with the aid of an array of mirrors, while operating horn, steering, accelerator, and brake with his feet or frantic pulls on an assortment of cables.
Charles would pilot this yelling, honking rig into the midst of a crowd gathered for one of the various street events that he had been invited. Taken by surprise, those nearest the intruding Datsun would react to the offending “driver” with an initial show of irritation only to discover the punch line. With a bow wave of delighted laughter leading the way, the Datsun would continue its slow passage down the street, a trail of good humor spelling out its spreading wake.
Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts, born in Georgia, has been a resident of Miami Beach since 1986, and is currently bi-coastal.
This is how it went down… Charles had made a sort of wooden clamp with a video camera attached to it, with a disturbing resemblance to a medieval torture apparatus.
It was clamped to my head, (a little too tightly) while 12 inches from my face a camera lens captured the subtlest facial expressions.
We had rehearsed the script earlier, which consisted of 3 words: “Hi, What and I”, a sort of contemporary Haiku evoking the emotions of arrogance, interruption, and self-doubt.
It sounds simple… it wasn’t. Acting with only one’s facial muscles to express so many emotions, with a throbbing pain on my clamped head, is no easy task. After 5 hours, completely exhausted, I ran through the sequence a few more times and finally broke down in tears.
It was a wrap. But the pain was not over…
Charles had invented a 3-foot wooden cube with a video projector inside it; one of the sides was a screen with my performance. The cube then became the “head” for a 9-foot giant.
The projector was strapped to my chest and 2 motorbike batteries hung under my armpits. Along with speakers, amp, cables, costume, etc., the whole unstable contraption must have weighed over 100-lb., and I carried it through the streets of Miami Beach, interacting with amused pedestrians while the giant’s “face” performed the heart-felt poetry.
We called him “The Video Prophet.”
Despite the suffering, it was sheer joy, and it marked the beginning of my career as a filmmaker, and a rich friendship with my brother Charles Recher. I miss him.
Robin Glass, an Anglo-Brazilian with an eclectic background, is now an award winning video maker, artist, and musician.
1 ice cube
3/4 ounce fresh limejuice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 1/2 ounce rum
2 ounces club soda
- Combine limejuice, simple syrup, and rum in a highball glass. Add ice and club soda and stir well.
- Garnish with a lime wedge.
Note: à la Chaz, recipe varies by the day and person being made for.
Domingo Castillo is an actor, known for Crab (1982), Los muertos sí salen (1976) and Cinco destinos (1961).
1976. Von asked me to help him with a film project. On a warm summer night, he took me to a neighborhood in Tampa with 1940’s houses and no sidewalks. There, he asked me to ride on his bike handlebars, blindfolded. He would stop somewhere and film, and I was to imagine what he was filming. I participated half-heartedly, fearing I was being made a fool of (which I discovered later, was an impression that some people had of him…).
We rode around for a while, and then he stopped and started filming. I did not know what to say, don’t remember what I imagined. Before I took off the blindfold, I asked him what He saw. He told me it was a ball with people swirling in dance all around.
When I removed the blindfold, I saw this:
Janine Hudson Miami girl lives in France.
Von (as Charles was known in Tampa in 1972) and I were friends, rode motorcycles together, and talked about art and other esoteric issues. He lived in back of the old house I rented and drilled a hole in the wall so we could communicate through a hose with funnels on either end. Von: “Eric, are you awake? Can you help me shoot some film? Meet me at my car at 5 A.M.”
Outside there was a trailer hooked up to Von’s 1964 Valiant with a large object under a tarp. “It’s just something for the film.” It was still dark as we drove out of town to an open pasture. Von pulled the tarp away revealing a hot air balloon! Where did he get this? Does he know how to fly it? What are we doing?
We fired up the burners, the balloon inflated, and as the basket started to lift Von yelled: “It’s taking off… jump in!” It was just before sunrise and magical as we floated up into the cool, silent sky far above the earth. Below it looked like a roadmap with ant-size cars quietly moving along.
Von: “Here’s how the camera works so you can film me. And in case you’re interested, here’s how you control the burners to fly and land the balloon.”
Then he pulled a long rope and a board out of a bag. I started to panic: “That’s not what I think it is, and you’re not going to do what I think you are?”
Von: “I’m going to swing… just keep the camera on me.”
Me: “It’s too dangerous… you could fall, then I would crash this balloon!”
He shimmied down the 20-foot rope, swung back and forth, and then climbed back up. All while I was having a heart attack. All of this for good footage for his film!
Von, I miss you, your friendship, creativity, adventurousness, and the sense of humor, compassion and generosity. Keep adventuring and creating wherever you are. Farvel så længe.
Eric Vontillius was for 25 years the Master Sculptor at Graphicstudio, University of South Florida. He lives with Ellen in Asheville, North Carolina.
I have known Charles since I was about 13. He was my mother’s boyfriend, and every weekend we would get up early Saturday morning and go for a run together at the vita course at Baptist in Kendall then go sit in the sauna. Afterwards we would go to Norman Brothers and drink a half-gallon of fresh squeezed orange juice each. Charles was my special friend. He was always the one you could be yourself with, act crazy, talk in made up languages. He loved playing tricks on people, and they were very elaborate. His life was his art, and every week he would have a crazy new project. I love Charles very much. He changed me by knowing him, and being with him was like living a poem.
Karla Gottlieb is a Miami native who works as a non-profit professional.
My dear friend Charles is gone.
He was an outsider, as exceptional people often are. Some outsiders try to conform themselves to existing molds. Others resent that society has not made a place for them. Charles applied his creative talents to carve the world to fit him. For example, he helped organize a small group of like-minded people to purchase a building on South Beach in the 80’s, prior to its renaissance. This living community was a source of love, comfort, and sustenance to him. Caring for himself in this way gave him the capacity for great compassion, especially towards those struggling with being “other.” One of the few explicit teachings he offered me is that it is very important to be kind.
Charles was a mystic. He loved equally the absurd, sacred, mundane, and profane. He knew that the world is larger than what we behold. More than anyone I have known, he was in touch with that which we do not see. He saw art as a window into unseen places, or perhaps a siren calling us to seek them. His meditative practice was another access point.
He educated himself about any topic that caught his attention. Tea, physics, mung beans, poetry, chocolate, and philosophy were among his interests. Professionally, he was expert in art (especially film, his medium of choice) and in the human body and certain healing arts. He took his work seriously and was meticulous about detail.
On a personal level, he loved his family deeply. With his friends, he was loyal to a fault. He was his own kind of hilarious — silly, self-effacing, occasionally prankish. He was athletic and adventurous.
As a young man, he explored the Everglades and the ocean and worked in citrus orchards. He was a native son of old Florida.
Eric Gottlieb is a family man and teacher living in Memphis, TN, who values insight and love over pretty much everything else.
For the twenty years that I knew him, Charles was one of my best friends, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling to know what to say because how can you sum up someone like Charles? For the entire time I knew him he talked about “the tribe.” It was his idea of an extended family of like minds supporting each other. The many days we sat and talked about movies and art while drinking tea, looking at works in progress and hashing out how to make them better. His projection contraptions. The projector-head for Video Prophet when it was still a mess of tape and mock-up. The all black face when we were shooting TV. Curry. Very hot curry.
We were talking about his works as “cinematic mantras,” that each one was a way of letting go, an expression of some human failing, exorcised like so many dark spirits. It’s always tempting to call his kind of work autobiographical, but “alchemical” always seemed a better way. Transformative. Visionary, perhaps. That was what made our conversations so interesting. His approach was so different than mine, playful and intuitive, looking for a perspective that wasn’t necessarily visible.
I miss him.
Michael Betancourt is an artist, theorist and historian who resides in Savannah, Georgia.
Charles is one of those people who remains, stays in your head ready for recall. Today he is visiting me in my mind as I watch him swing on vines in the jungle of the house he lived at with Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts. I find myself enchanted by the outdoor shower he put together on the same house. Yesterday’s mental visit was at his place on Miami Beach where he made an exquisite dinner for his partner Judith Robertson, John, and myself. His place imbued an order and beauty evidenced in each object he had selected for the room. My mind flashes to an earlier time where Robin Glass is wearing one of Charles’ talking video heads at a Tigertail event; next untethered televisions march down the sidewalk of Miami Beach controlled remotely by Charles. In this mind vision, a bus pulls up with video imagery of dancers and bus patrons projected on the windows, another Charles creation. Even further back a memory floats forward, a project he did for Miami Waves, a car that drove itself, created, of course by Charles. Now coming forward is an image by Charles of a woman combing her hair in the upstairs window of the Miami River Inn at a Tigertail sleepover and fundraiser. A popular repeated project in which a video image of Charles appears at the end of a long hall enticing and rejecting, “Come closer. Go away.” “Come closer. Go away,” spoken over and over.
I should have known I was to be haunted by Charles. Our first meeting so many years ago he refused to use a regular movie screen and insisted on projecting his film on the window screen of my studio. There is more imagery by Charles coming forward, but I must stop.
His haunting continues.
Mary Luft, founder/executive director of Tigertail for 38 years, retires this year and moves on to new ventures in Mid Hudson, NY.
If I called Charles claiming I had writer’s block composing a tribute to him, we’d soon be laughing it away. Maybe that is the place to start. Talking with Charles and turning whatever circumstance into a curious one, an affable, elevated one. Not without gravitas when necessary, but there’s a certain thing for which I was grateful, a way in which whatever was the issue at hand would transform into something more than, better than, always with a surprise or insight.
Many stories. Many memories. Which to highlight? Was it meeting Charles in my early 20s and experimenting with 16mm film on his optical printer? Was it brainstorming creative ideas—oh how I miss those fun detours and corners and vistas—like his suggestion I turn a van into a huge “ear” as a vehicle for a sound recording booth (as opposed to a normal-looking van)? What about when we duked it out playing Ping-Pong? And the deeper stuff, the times when Charles was like a brother, gentle in his insistence when I needed prodding, always with my best interests in mind.
For some people, loss has been a part of life since they can remember. It’s come later in life for me. Never have I had the experience of losing someone who knew both my personal and professional sides so well and for so long. I regret not calling Charles back the last couple months. I was up North and hadn’t returned the last phone tag. Our last texts were comparing who had the better chocolate bar. We could be like children together, playful even in language, I wonder if I will ever—or could ever—have that in my life again. “Hey… Harriette…” I hear his voice now and want to connect again.
Harriette Yahr writes, makes films, consults, teaches, and produces content for others.
Charles and I conspired on creative pranks that doubled as cultural critiques. Perhaps even as performance art. One such prank was called the “Jasper” and had been invented by Charles and his late sister during their childhood. They would place an order for a “Jasper” at a popular fast food chain, like McDonald’s or White Castle. Well of course, there was no such thing.
Later when Starbucks popped up all over SoBe, displacing the small local cafes, Charles suggested we make the rounds to each and every franchise, six of them between Ocean Drive, Alton, and Lincoln Road, and order a “Jasper.” We were expecting some push back, perhaps a gasp, or even a denial. We were hoping for comedy, tragedy, anything. But the well-trained Starbucks’s baristas didn’t really blink an eye. Their only questionms were “How do you like that?” “Do you want that “Vente or Grande?” “Iced or Hot?”
By the time we hit the last Starbucks on Alton and West Avenue, we had in our hands a total of twelve “Jaspers.”
I wonder what creative performance art pranks he has up his sleeve now?
Elizabeth Hall is a software engineer, geek, shaman, feminist who lives in Philly area between Philly and Atlantic City, NJ.
At the memorial gathering for Charles I listened to astonishing shared stories, such as Charles swinging suspended below an air balloon, and learned more about him than I had ever known during his life.
I knew Charles through my friend Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts and enjoyed many visits over the years at their Miami Beach Art Deco building on Lenox and 8th Street – Charles and Judy Robertson sometimes hosted screenings, Marilyn baked incredible chicken pot pies, and various guests delivered and re-delivered favorite old jokes.
Pictured (above) is the perfect front gate Charles designed for the garden entry to their building.
When visiting, I’d walked through the gate, and then up the staircase painted as a flowing blue sea, to enter that most agreeable oasis. Now as I drive by, the sight of that palm frond gate still lifts my spirits, and I remember Charles.
Grace Barnes: Years ago a job teaching film at University of Miami lured me from LA, and I found a home in Miami Beach.
I’d been hearing about Charles Recher for years before we actually met. I knew of his work, of course; you really couldn’t live in Miami or Miami Beach without running up against or even into one of his fantastic, surreal, and humorous video installations. There were many of them, and some, like his Ride (1999) for the Miami Beach TMA Electrowave Bus, actually moved around the city sharing – for free – moving art with somewhat startled and amused passersby. And I knew from his friends that he was a gifted teacher who educated and inspired his students at the Miami-Dade Wolfson Campus.
So I knew of Charles, and I’d seen some of his work, and I knew some of his friends, but I was still surprised when we actually met for the first time. It was at a poker game in the fabulous artists’ colony he created with Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts and Bradshaw Lotspeich at 800 Lenox on Miami Beach, and I suppose I was expecting some haughty artist type given his outsized reputation. But despite his considerable and well-deserved renown, despite his extraordinary creative energy and prodigious output, Charles was always eminently approachable and disarming. He was genuinely interested in everyone and everything, without even a trace of sanctimony or disdain or boredom. He was a pretty good poker player, too.
The stunning array of video and filmic art that Charles produced over four decades is testament to his creativity. I will miss his unique vision, and will miss as well the possibility of suddenly coming upon some Charles Recher installation that changes the way I see and understand the world. But mostly I will miss Charles himself, and the infectious enthusiasm that beguiled us all.
Michael Carlebach, professor emeritus of Art and Art History, University of Miami, is a still photographer and author of nine books.
Walk on water
Pierce the sky
Dream of the night ocean
Burn, paint, scourge surfaces
Why stay bored with yourself
Be someone else
Project them from your bicycle
Lust like a hot tamale
Love like a lovebird
Swim and swim and swim
Be true to yourself
Laugh at yourself
Live with yourself
Talk, talk, talk
Until the night is over
Love, love, love, love, love, love.
Humberto Ramirez is an interdisciplinary, multimedia artist, curator, and faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts and Landmark College.
I fell in love with Miami and its promise as a center of cultural production in the late 1970s when I met three mavericks who were igniting the city’s emerging art scene: Mary Luft, Charles Recher, and Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts.
In 1981, I attended Mary Luft’s Miami Waves, an interdisciplinary festival of contemporary cutting edge works, where I bumped into Charles Recher’s work, Come On Over, a rear-screen film loop projected on the venue’s entrance door window. A figure beckoned me to “Come on over, come on over” while simultaneously commanded me to “Keep away, keep away.”
I was seduced into Charles’s world, one filled with a sense of magic, poetry, humor, and play. Yet each time I left, I could only anticipate my next return. My relationship with Charles became a continuous loop of come on over, keep away. How I wish I had come on over more often.
We collaborated in 1985 on a Valentine’s Day gala for the Miami Film Festival with hundreds of helium-filled balloons cascading the Vizcaya stairway and fanged Doberman film projections barking in the trees, and again in 1992 for the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus’ first landing in the New World and the gift of the Statue of Liberty. It was a challenging time politically in Miami. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression were under attack. In his funny subversive way, Charles rose to the occasion designing for the City of Miami a public scavenger hunt entitled In Search of Liberty.
I think the importance of what he was doing paved the way for what Miami would become and is yet to be. And I remain comforted that I can always “come on over,” in a certain way, as Charles’ work lives on and will continue to seduce others too.
Cathy Leff, director emerita of The Wolfsonian-Florida International University, is president of Leff Initiatives.
I thought of Charles not as a filmmaker, sculptor, performance artist, illustrator, or writer, though he created many memorable moments in these kinds of endeavors.
Rather I saw him as a Trickster, in that mythic wily poet meaning of the title. The first time I became aware of one of Charles’s pokes at our consciousness was riding up an escalator. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a human-sized filmed figure moving next to me in the same direction. You know that jolt you get when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a mirror placed where you didn’t expect one to be? Suddenly your routine forward motion in thought becomes awkward, reverses inward, and you snap into the odd but familiar feeling of “How did I get here?”
Charles was not a perfect human being, but his most admirable trait was that he made every effort to move toward that. As part of that process, he spent a lifetime challenging his audience, using an artist’s tricks to change our sense of ourselves, to ask that question, and also the one that asks what should we be doing here in whatever time we have. I’m sure he used the same tricks on himself, constantly challenging the previous answers to those questions.
Nancy Mandowa, oft-enlisted collaborator in Charles Recher’s adventures, lives in Hollywood, FL.
(March 25, 2007, for Charles)
I stare at the cheese-grated skin of my knuckles,
Raw from opening old mail.
So like me, ragged near the edges, impatient.
Charging toward the battle’s end.
Not like you.
Smooth, steady, opting instead to let the humidity of the day
Open an unsolicited offer.
Observant to the slowness,
Your hands intelligent, patient,
Their own masters.
I have hands to wage my wars.
They are the infantry carrying out the orders of the general,
My barking mouth.
So like me.
Not like you. Your hands speak first,
Painting imagery in the air.
You use your hands to disarm the enemy,
Coaxing it to lay down its weapon.
There is no raw flesh on your knuckles from combat.
Your fingers and wide palms tanned,
Lightly etched with wise, gentle creases.
Your hands wait, tapping out an unheard rhythm,
For what the mail brings today.
Judith Robertson, a Miami-based artist working in mixed media and video animation, was Charles’ companion of 20+ years.
I too wish I could talk with him again but don’t have a phone anymore except for the cellphone he gave me in 2002 on which I collect films for him to see someday.
The trailer for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel (2017) features a quick glimpse of the Walgreen’s located on 10th Street near Charles’ home at 800 Lenox and his studio at 910. It shows a bicyclist pedaling through deep waters, something we all know is coming. What one may take away here as whimsical is that although Charles is gone and South Beach will be soon underwater, he did have the foresight to inscribe with his finger his portrait into the cement of the sidewalks outside each property. Sort of like that dog that pisses all over to mark his territory.
Bruce Posner remains Recher’s friendly nemesis.
I met Charles Recher in 1983, shortly after I moved to Miami to run the Miami-Dade Public Library film department. The introduction was through Marilyn Gottlieb-Roberts and Scott Shelley, who organized and participated in Miami Waves, the Wolfson Campus’ annual avant-garde film and video festival. The Library’s circulating film collection had significant holdings of experimental and independent films (remember this was long before DVDs and streaming), and my predecessor, Mike Anguilano, formed the collection out of a deep regard for film art. Charles was a frequent user, both for his own viewing and as part of the film courses he taught at Miami-Dade Community College.
At this time, Charles was doing film installations in various public locations. On one occasion, artist/programmers Mary Luft and Joseph Celli brought a performance program to Key West. Charles surreptitiously projected a film loop at night from the outside of the building to play against the window of the men’s bathroom. Visitors were surprised to see a life-sized head of a smiling woman peering into the room. This was a typical mode for Charles’ art. The installation was not announced and was meant to be experienced as a surprise by those who stumbled upon it.
Donald Chauncey has programmed films and video for the Miami-Dade Public Library, the Alliance for Media Arts, and other venues.
The thing about Cars and Fish (2005) was the scale. It was huge! As you can imagine, once the piece started Charles and I had plenty to think about that evening. It was all organized on a timeline so my musicians knew what to do. Charles was pretty much managing entrances and exits from the different performance elements at street level while I operated the soundscape of live and recorded sounds from three computers at the top of the overpass that connects MPAC’s Knight Concert Hall across Biscayne Boulevard to the Opera House.
A couple of hours later, we are at a club celebrating the accomplishment. We had flawlessly carried out a piece of that scale without each of us knowing exactly what the other was going to do. “Charles,” I said. “There I was, busy with my computers, 100% focused on what I was doing when I look up at the images projected on the building and, all of a sudden, I felt overwhelmed. The world slowed down almost to a stop, and I was no longer performing.” I had not imagined how breathtaking the whole thing was going to be. It was as if I was seeing the mother ship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That was it… my cue… the real size pleasure cruise ship slowly taking up the facade of the seven-story high opera house… and then I heard the sound of its horn fill up the entire space between the buildings – a sound which I must have played, since no one else was there to play it for me. From then on, the piece was running itself. Charles’ response? “…eye-eye-I know… me too!”
Gustavo Matamoros, founder/director of Subtropics Festival and Interdisciplinary Sound Arts Workshop (iSAW), experiments with sound art and music and since 1996 collaborated many times with Charles Recher.
a short cliché/short “story” (?) …i’m a big fan of clichés; the good ones are haikus of hard won “truths” (small t). the film THE WIZARD OF OZ, it was the first time we met outside of class, he invited me to a film party at his house. it was the beginning of a long relationship (46+yrs). an insight into charles, the person/artist and his work. the question is: “was he the wizard, the tin man, lion, dorothy …etc.?” it is the place where he “lived” in his heart of hearts… where the best of his work came from, OZ. listen to the song, SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW. i thought judy garland “owned” that song, but listen to IZZY KAMAKAWIWOʻOLE’s version… and write your piece about charles.*
Bill Robinson lives in Florida and occasionally gets off a short riff/haiku on art/life… all said with a laugh/smile, sometimes a sigh.
I met Charles one day, when I happened to see a small sign with a phone number saying “for rent.”
Looking for a place to rent. I dialed the number.
Charles was very affable from the moment I met him. After showing me the vacant apartment, he invited me into his own home (a block away) for a cup of exotic rare green tea and some biscuits. We sat, and I talked for several hours about art, holistic therapies & life. He got me from the get-go & I got him. I felt like he was someone I had known for years. A brother of sorts and that is exactly what Charles became to me, an older, wiser & incredibly cool Brother.
Charles had the unique & incredible talent of making people feel special. He paid great attention to what you would say & even if months went by, he would remember & ask how things were going. He made me feel important; he was kind, generous & always encouraged my art & ideas. He was always full of surprises & pleasantries – endlessly inviting me over for hot chocolate from Paris & leaving his homemade key lime pie in my refrigerator. He was playful & reminded me of the importance of playing, dancing & singing. He broke every convention of a typical “landlord,” that is to say, when something did break down or needed fixed, he would take care of it instantly.
I feel very honored to have met such an extraordinary soul & hold dear that he enriched mine & carry this with me in life.
Jayda Knight is Swiss/Welsh illustrator and surface/pattern designer who happily lives in Miami.
For thirty-five years, Charles Recher was my friend, and he intersected with my life on every different level. He had a sense of fun that never quit, and wanted to try everything. We once went boar hunting in the Everglades for a story I wrote: kind of a disaster, but definitely a different experience. Years ago, when I worked at Ocean Drive writing the Babylon social column, Charles came with me to Mar-a-Lago for a party: Charles got a kick out of being photographed in front of Trump’s portrait of himself as Jay Gatsby.
I most enjoyed being with Charles when he was making art, and I recently ran across an item from an old Babylon column that brought back some choice memories.
“…Filmmaker Charles Recher coordinated ‘Face’ at ArtCenter/South Florida on Lincoln Road, employing the talents of Carol Jacque, Gustavo Matamoros, Elizabeth Knowles, and Judy Robertson, among others. A cross between Candid Camera and The Wizard of Oz, the installation utilized techno heads and trickery – namely interactive video – hidden behind a storefront window and used to engage strollers in electronic conversations. One AWOL evening, a terminally fringe type had a few drinks and turned the screen into a vaguely pornographic pickup tool, urging on one giggling woman to virtual-reality arousal: `Touch me…right there…. No, there…. Yes, that’s it…oh yes.’
On Miami Beach, any kind of street theater is pushed to the next level, though something can be said for sex without all the downside equations.”
Looking back, I have no idea who the “terminally fringe type” was – it could have been Charles – but it really doesn’t matter. Charles created something that messed with people and seized their attention, which is what artists should do. I’ll miss him forever.
Tom Austin is a published writer (New York Times, Art & Auction, Art News, Interview, London Sunday Times Magazine) and South Florida Knight Arts Challenge winner at work on a “South Beach Century.”
A posture perfect and enigmatic looking fellow walked into the Alliance Cinema sometime in early 1992 and whispered, “Charles Recher.” I was the new projectionist, ticket taker, houseboy, and I said, “There’s no one here by that name.” He repeated, “Charles Recher.” I shrugged. We kept this volley up for an eternity until Alliance honcho Bill Orcutt whispered that when that fellow comes in with “Charles Recher” just say, “Enjoy the show,” make a hash mark on the box office report and let him in.
Charles had made a financial contribution to our struggling cinema discreetly and wanted to watch movies in return. The slow reveal over the decades was his kindness to us all in so many different ways.
Next time I saw that posture again was 1994; he joined me in the projection booth on occasion of the premier of a his film Florida – Mariner’s Dream. Charles didn’t say much because he spent the entire 15-minute running time of the film with a pair of binoculars intensely checking critical focus… his and mine. Recher had “four-walled” the movie theater… meaning he bought a ticket for every seat (wow, we needed that) and had the auditorium packed for the screening. In a performative element, I had to wait for his hand signal to bring up the house lights when the movie ended, another eternity. Three or four minutes, I think.
Barron Sherer is a Miami-based media artist, archivist and researcher who co-founded the experimental art project, Obsolete Media Miami (O.M.M.).
The news of Charles’ passing brought much sadness to us in Tampa Bay who shared with him our artistic lives. Together, whether in Tampa or Miami, we made stuff happen, gave celebration, knew “the tears and laughter.” As I remember our times together, and look through the ephemera of our journey, I realize how much of Charles’ aesthetic—his passion for creating, the fearless approach to the conundrum of making meaningful gestures in this strange temporary world—remains with me to this very moment. Recher loved to push the envelope. Failure was always possible, often probable. It made him laugh. This is why I, and other curators in Tampa Bay, invited Charles Recher to every arts fest possible to create new work. Numerous artists and collaborators who participated in our projects/festivals have critiqued our demanding high standards for passionate enthusiasm, attention to detail, while providing a lack of boundaries. I learned deeply from Von to respect this approach to making art, to living. The standard he set wasn’t unachievable. Working with Charles was always exciting, a lovely challenge. That is my connection to Mr. Recher. Charles shared his gifts and joy with us. We are the fortunate.
David Audet, director/senior curator of Ybor Festival of the Moving Image in Tampa (2003-2011) and curator of Chinsegut Film/Video Conference (1980s), met Charles Von Recher at the University of South Florida in the late 1970s.
I’ll always remember Charles for not only his essential experimental work and contributions to the Miami film community, but for his appreciation of the classics. He was a regular at MBC, especially when we screened anything in retrospective. His last visit was to re-see Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), one of his all time favorites. After the film that night, Charles told me that he liked to “keep in touch” with these films. Like an old friend who finds his longtime companions worthy of his time, he was a dedicated fan of “revisiting.” Whether it was a night of avant-garde or a restored masterwork of almost any variety, he always seemed to find time to slip in and out quietly, and I always knew that he had many ideas bouncing around in his head when he left.
Dana Keith, founder/director of the Miami Beach Film Society/Cinematheque, has been appointed a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.
Thirty minutes before meeting Charles.
It does not happen too often, but many of us may know the greatness of instant friendship. Meeting Charles was definitely extraordinary. It was like a shot of light, a sudden reset, a shift of reality within the blink of an eye or something like that.
The memory visits me in black and white with a tiny touch of sepia. It goes back to the eighties in Downtown Miami. I am rushing across a wide white staircase in a foggy afternoon. Wearing a business suit, hairspray, big earrings, mascara, high heels, lip-gloss, and my favorite tone of face powder. I was searching for a classroom at the Miami-Dade Community College with the clear feeling that I was fulfilling a mission.
Thirty minutes earlier my boyfriend had called: “You need to come here now. I am having the most amazing experience….” I rushed downtown. There I went leaving behind a pile of papers on my desk at the law firm where I worked as a legal assistant. I liked my job. I planned to become an International Affairs lawyer. I would live in Europe; Holland or France for sure. My dreams changed gears after that afternoon.
Room found. The door opens.
The Experimental Filmmaking class has already started. First it is dark, then I could see.
Ladies and Gentleman there was Charles.
Frozen in time.
Shinning with the stars,
There was a silver screen and a film in pause.
Charles’ face and hands also in pause.
Students in the dark are enjoying the scene.
A quiet and timeless space filled with stillness.
Something in me paused too.
Something inside got up and walked out.
That was my creative self-awakening to a new dawn.
Rossina Calderon-Vera: “Art is something I have been doing from the very beginning of life, and will continue making until the end of times.”
The phone rang… … … Ya sa do blee… … dim li… ……ah di la… do… …bin li … …ya so de cana?
…and this could go on… back and forth for several minutes as the start of some of our conversations. Over the years there were many phone calls since our physical proximity was not just around the corner but also at a distance and the trips to Miami were interspersed with the calls.
With a friendship revealed over the years, different aspects come to light while other aspects could remain hidden or barely glimpsed. Generosity, however smacked you in the face in the very beginning as our friendship grew over the years.
Getting off the plane from New York and stepping into the balmy, beautiful tropical weather of Miami in mid February while being greeted by Charles at the airport was a pleasure! Often whisked away to some offbeat Miami place or back to the kitchen table at Lenox for rum; conversation and the random drawing of the Tao pondering a question. The alchemist was at work, and the prankster was not far behind.
I’m truly at a loss at his sudden departure. He was one of those rare few friends that I could speak to about any topic; a confidant lost. However I am continually inspired by the depths of Charles’ work and his practice, and happy to have an opportunity to have worked and collaborated with him.
In looking at a measure of a person, it’s not the achievement per se but more the way life is met and lived. So it was abundantly clear to many of us who were at his recent memorial that Charles’ special qualities drew to him so many people and that he has enriched us all. Curious isn’t it.
Richard Kusack is an entrepreneur, investor, and community activist living in New York City.
CAROL JACQUE & MARK NEEDLE
- There are always exactly seven options, Charles would say; and looking back, so there are.
- Florida boy, stories of sand and youth, gigging frogs in the Everglades night, grinning apprentice to his parent’s wild Rum Ricky gatherings, Chuck from Fort Lauderdale.
- Bright-eyed mariner on endless journeys, chasing some notion at the kitchen table, pilgrimage to old Florida bocce or a lucha libre museum, scaling banyans or sinkholes, sailing off at any moment in a theater, or on slow clouds of cigar smoke in the garden.
- Artisan of purity and excess, orchestrating a three-cake celebration or a ritual of butter-drenched popovers, sharing a chew of unsweetened baking chocolate from the dollar store, pushing ginger lime and pomegranate to extremes of mixology.
- Fixer with a sixth sense, from a stalled art project to an impossible stove installation, crawling the roof or crafting community, work-arounds for this or that, realigning a body or ministering to the spirit.
- Trickster with a flaming hat, a Boo Radley robot on the mall, charades and cards and dares, schemes and beers for the fun of scheming (and maybe making a million).
- Ever the poet, the essence of film in a tender framing of our newborn, the collaborative grand spectacle or rhythmic play with Siri, drawing angels and devils, writing dreams
And a seventh? How about ideal friend, sparking magic for those of us lucky to be there.
Carol Jacque and Mark Needle have conspired and colluded with Charles and Judy since the early ‘90s.
Like dreams, memories don’t come in a neatly drawn line. They come in fragments, like disjointed scenes shot on film. Indistinct figures first resolve, then disengage, revolving darkly on a gray screen, first rendered soft and transparent, then formless and opaque, as if recorded through the slow fixed-focus lens of a toy camera. Spinning tops cast deep, oblique shadows that disappear into the deeper shadows of a dimly lit mise-en-scene playing on a grainy tape that over time becomes a truthful fiction, refusing a narrative closure. “Are we happy, are we happy?” a refrain navigates oceanic cables, arriving from a hazy landscape in a distant foreign land. “Yes, we’re happy! Yes, we’re happy!” someone sings.
It’s the opening evening of an exhibition in Miami, on the 28th day of November 1988. In the background, fragmented images of a 9-year-old Xeno dance across the nine screens of our video installation. Using Xeno’s toy camera, I tape Charles and Xeno dancing, lighted by the flickering screens, as the fragments of Xeno simultaneously move stage right, to arrive at a point of dynamic tension. The images of Xeno have all suddenly disappeared, replaced on the screen by fragmented images of a tiled floor spinning dizzily into view. “Are we happy, are we happy?” Charles sings.
The next day we will observe the 10th anniversary of Xeno’s birth, and I will play back the grainy tape that will reveal Charles and Xeno as spinning tops, dark and amorphous, revolving on a gray screen. In some formless landscape in a foreign land, a song is recited. “Yes, we’re happy! Yes, we’re happy!” someone sings.
Twenty-eight years, and not quite two months later, a dropped call in the middle of our conversation will elicit the last voicemail that I will receive from Charles. Although I will see him and speak to him again on the phone before he arrives, four days later, at his own point of dynamic tension. I play the message over in my mind: the word “you” is spoken, almost indiscernibly, and then – clearly and distinctly – the final word of his last recorded message to me is spoken. “Disappeared,” Charles says from a formless landscape in a faraway foreign land.
Edward Bobb is a Miami-based artist most widely known for his work in sound.
CODA – FEBRUARY 14, 2003
My name is Charles, we talked about footage of a flock of birds and a school of fish in such concentration that it has a abstract look to it-I just need a few seconds of both images (the birds are the more important of the two. I see the images popping in and out of reality, from the real to the abstract back to the real. I’ve seen this image before but it was always in older films. This could be because there aren’t large flocks of birds in this concentration any more. I am going to use the images as part of a video installation in Tampa, FL in April — would appreciate any help in finding this—
This is an addition to my first email and after our conversation on Monday. The other footage that I was looking for was a shot of a nuclear bomb test from above, looking down on the explosion. Also, the classic, frontal view of the uncluttered mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion, the more visually dramatic the better.
If you have any questions, please contact me at the information below. The cell phone is probably the best way to reach me. Thanks.
Editor’s note: Along the same lines as Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1939) were Recher’s impromptu renditions of Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah (1946). “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah… Zip-A-Dee-A… My oh my, what a wonderful day… Plenty of sunshine heading my way… ”
Bruce Posner is an artist, scholar, and curator whose projects have been cited as “provocative, insightful, and significant to the history of motion pictures.” He resides in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Special thanks to the Estate of Charles C. Recher and the individual authors for texts and images.
Unless otherwise noted, art works by Charles Recher and personality rights for Charles Recher are reproduced and used by permission and courtesy of the Estate of Charles C. Recher. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
Special contents of this edition Copyright 2017 Bruce Posner. All rights reserved.