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Adler Guerrier: Formulating a Plot

Amanda Sanfilippo

Installation view of Adler Guerrier: Formulating a Plot at Pérez Art Museum Miami. Courtesy Pérez Art Museum Miami. Photo: Miami Fine Art.

Pérez Art Museum Miami:  August 7, 2014 – January 25, 2015

Lemon City, Lemon City becoming Little Haiti, Little Haiti becoming Little River. The Haitian-infused Miami neighborhoods present a state of flux, a city within a city encroached upon by new development interest while still establishing itself. A stunning photograph of a bush of fuchsia colored tropical flowers is offset by a road side at 62nd Street and NE 2nd Avenue in Miami, a site Adler Guerrier recognizes as a threshold between neighborhoods heavy with associations. As much as identity is related to place, it is more decided by the personal narratives and stories that are told there and about it—the invisible factors of memory. Adler Guerrier has meditated on this theme, this place, and several other historically black and immigrant neighborhoods in the greater Miami area for more than 14 years, culminating now in a seminal museum exhibition at PAMM. The show features photographs, prints, videos, and installations in addition to an architectural intervention (an aspect of which is a floor to ceiling MiMo-aesthetic room divider screen, proportionally much larger than one would find in an interior). It traces Guerrier’s process of troubling and dealing with myths, poetics, aesthetics and politics of a handful of particular geographies and narratives rooted here in South Florida.

While it is tempting to point to racial inequity and gentrification-tension as the central core of Guerrier’s interest, it’s not the whole story. In fact it’s just one side, when taking into consideration the artist’s liberty in blurring facts and fictions, and the speculation and formulation of perception. For instance, one of the most well known works in the exhibition and indeed in Guerrier’s oeuvre is a set of works that suggest the production of history of a race riot in Miami’s Liberty City, presented as a dense arrangement of hand-placards, (as quasi-historical artifacts or primary objects), documentation (real sources undisclosed), and most powerfully, the production of rumor. Like Walid Raad, Guerrier is proposing affect, in the influence of narrative to convey a message or sensibility, rather than any journalistic insistence on relying on the facts. The question is, what is the air that is produced by the narratives told by Guerrier? Just down the hall at the museum, Fred Wilson presents a curio cabinet of real artifacts and contemporary objects, re-positioned to reveal aspects of colonialism’s devastation and propaganda. The discomfort over the veracity of what is presented invites the viewer to become aware of the fictions that necessarily rule our existence and the near impossibility of deciphering them.


Adler Guerrier, Untitled (Flâneur), 2000. Chromogenic print, 8 x 10″. Courtesy the artist and David Castillo Gallery.

The muted rumbling of these divisive racial and economic narratives are carried in Guerrier’s particular skill in merging landscape with object, creating a set of self-referential semiotics. The object references the image that references the object. Ultimately, the mesh of locational-vernacular and aesthetic cues creates a strong sense of connection to the real places they reference. This tactic is brought further by the literal extraction of objects from these locals, in the example of the diminutive geometric sculptures made from the corrugated plastic of political campaign signs collected from Miami neighborhoods, bringing up the issue of who is represented politically in these neighborhoods how? There is unresolved tension in this inquiry. From here, an interesting question for Guerrier at this important point in his career is to really consider his practice. Is it ethnographic, anthropological? Would this kind of deliberate funneling of local color happen in his examination of other places—Alaska, New Jersey, Shanghai? Or does this body of work reveal a diaristic exploration of identity about what it means to be of Haitian heritage in a transforming city with distressing social realities? Guerrier’s position is complex, as a perhaps unsolicited representative of a semi-marginalized and exoticized community. This is a role the work does not seem to reject, but the uneasiness is palpable.

In many cases, the standpoint of the work seems as an ambivalent observer, a flaneur as has been self-proclaimed as the de-facto title of one of his most well-known photographs. In the psychogeography of the landscape, Guerrier’s colors, light, and aesthetics are lush and particular, whether a street light bathing a concrete lot at night, an art deco motif, breeze block, or tropical bloom. The pure interest in aesthetics, signs and symbols and how they conjure place is ever-present. Yet, is this appreciation channeled as a somewhat polite call to action? As if to say, take responsibility for this place, pay attention to the realities and the clamorous struggles of immigrant and marginalized populations, open your eyes to the real Miami—even if only expressed by a plot.