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Leo Gabin’s Florida

Shana Beth Mason

Leo Gabin, Rocked After Being Caught, 2013. Lacquer, spray paint, acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 106.3 x 77.95”. Courtesy of Peres Projects, Berlin./p>

Three Belgian artists, represented by a gallery in Berlin, stage an exhibition in London concerning life in Florida. Chew on that. Chew slowly and hope it stays down. Lieven Deconinck, Gaëtan Begerem, and Robin De Vooght are three multidisciplinary artists who have meshed their names together to form Leo Gabin. For their recent solo exhibition, part of the alternative Inside the White Cube series at White Cube (Mason’s Yard) in London, Leo Gabin addressed Florida as a modern Limbo: where those occupying it lie in wait, in longing but with little hope, for a future above and beyond their current circumstances.

Visualized elements of Harmony Korine’s 1998 novel-of-sorts A Crackup at the Race Riots are central to their project. Borrowing the novel’s title, a two-part film is screened on the ground floor of the gallery. The artists also present a series of gestural paintings with traces of sports team logos (the Miami Dolphins and the Florida State Seminoles make appearances), McMansions, and pixelated photographs of vacant parking lots and side streets. During my conversation with them via Skype—De Vooght was, undoubtedly, the commanding officer—I was told that the gallery was a vessel for a larger series of paintings, collaged video clips, a book entitled Tallahassee, and a forthcoming, extended stay in the Sunshine State. It should be noted that Tallahassee originated in Berlin at Peres Projects, founded by Miami-born Javier Peres.

The films are atmospheric investigations of what Florida, supposedly, feels like to the anti-tourist (like Gabin themselves): a rarely-publicized glimpse into the life of a Florida teenager away from the beaches, the nightclubs, and Disney World. Unlike the neon splashes of Korine’s more recent “Spring Breakers“ (2012), Leo Gabin captured the empty spaces between suburban lots, teenagers creating YouTube videos of twerking and rapping in their taupe-carpeted bedrooms. They are interested in the mess that kids are mired in as a result of cultural and societal entropy. “There’s this duality,” De Vooght continued, “It’s a magic place, but also a very sinister place… not that it’s staged like a movie, but there’s always something perverse and fake.”


Leo Gabin, A Crackup at the Race Riots, 2013. Video, 37’ 21”. Courtesy of Peres Projects, Berlin.

Slowed-down audio snippets of 11 suicide notes, faithfully reproduced (including their authors’ original signatures) in the novel, are offset by amateur videos: young girls critically examine their bodies, choreographed hip-hop routines are executed in their parents’ living rooms, and an extended sequence of a girl calling out of her window to any “friend” within earshot during a typical tropic rainstorm. The paintings leave much to be desired in the ways of traditional draftsmanship or color choice—nothing more than an inane collection of gestural babble. But the aim isn’t justified by the means in this case: the method is the madness, it is the emptiness, and it is not pretty.

So what do they see in Florida? If Leo Gabin’s contentions about young Floridian living are taken at face value, viewers would quickly dub Florida as the unhappiest place on earth, a place where aspiration, effort, imagination, and persistence shatter under crushing societal and environmental inertia. Thomas Nagel’s seminal essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (1974) points out that no matter how much a person attempts to immerse themselves in a foreign situation—even to the point they may look similar to a completely different species—their constitution forbids them from ever absorbing the psychology of that external condition.


Leo Gabin, Inside the White Cube (Mason’s Yard), installation view. Courtesy of White Cube, London/Peres Projects, Berlin. Photo credit: Jack Hems.

Leo Gabin have cast Florida as a bastion of glossy mediocrity: the gentle oppression of suburbia, just on the outskirts of cocaine, big tits, gangster rap, and the upscale hotel subculture. Three young artists from Belgium (hardly a paradise compared to more dynamic locales in Western Europe, which they would readily admit to) seem to have located a depressing, stagnant version of a potentially interesting place. They do not fully damn Florida as a rainy (almost all of their films are set either indoors or on impossibly gloomy days) wasteland, but it’s not exactly flattering, either. When you are raised in Florida, it produces a Novocaine effect on the brain: culture and artistic exposure are present in the landscape, but you still feel fuzzy and not fully resolved to interacting with it. The work of visual artists, musicians, actors, directors, and writers in Florida has very often been of the DIY nature that Gabin is drawn to. Watching their work unfold, Leo Gabin have held a mirror up to themselves as a creative entity.