Cristina Lei Rodriguez: Agency
APRIL 25–JUNE 6, 2015
According to Cristina Lei Rodriguez, agencies are entities that make things happen. The term also carries distinctive definitions within different fields. In sociology, “agency” is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and employ free will; in philosophy, it is the capacity of an entity to act in any particular environment; and in commerce, it is a business or other organization providing a specific service. These separate forms of agency all serve to make things happen in different capacities.
The exploration of these capacities is implicit in Rodriguez’s Agency. The artist displayed furniture pieces and prints, held workshops, and lead discussions that all aimed at exploring agency in our particular environment. Within the exhibition and its programming, there were geologic processes at work: things shifting, metamorphosing, the lines between artifice and nature becoming skewed. Plastic, grout, silver leafing, and pigment became blue hemimorphite. Metallic vinyl printed with layered, abstract photography became prismatic terrain scattered with gold and silver deposits. My perceptions also fluctuated between objects that are more commonplace. What was a foot-tall block of green emerald became a slab of slimy cellophane. A marble table with pink veins became a wrinkled white bedsheet. A massive opal daybed became a mudslide.
Functionality was implicit throughout the exhibition. A desk, a shelf, a table, and a chest must be just as fitting in a gallery as in a home or a business, must pose the same possibilities to a child as an adult. As a means to create a functional, versatile environment, the artist held a series of workshops and discussions focused on bringing unique visitors into the space and allowing the works to be used. One of the most successful was a flower arrangement workshop. Offering pastel blooms mimicking the color palate of Rodriguez’s displays, the simple idea created a creative space simultaneously accessible and interactive.
A visiting installation, Materials In Process by Emanuel Ribas + Leslie Abraham, instructed the public on paper-making. Ribas and Abraham utilized recycled materials, including cardboard and local sugarcane pulp (bagasse) along with simple tools: a household blender, bucket, and drying tray. The pair showcased their small and large-scale creations: a collection of houses—like children’s toys along a shelf—and walls adorned with large-scale works like preserved hides.
Agency: Objects of Desire offered gallery space to artists under the instruction of Rodriguez (although she refrained from calling students) for one-day exhibitions. Rodriguez stressed the importance of such support within communities. Though a given event was only physically present in the gallery for one day, the results are archived online. Other events ranged from a clothing swap to a presentation from the Miami Mineralogical and Lapidary Guild.
I attended Agency on the closing day of the show, when Rodriguez’s works were joined by those of Brian Booth, a craftsman and painter featured in the exhibition Guccivuitton at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Booth has a history of boat building, furniture design, and chickee hut building, which especially enthused Rodriguez. His traditionally inspired wood and rope furniture seemed aesthetically opposed to Rodriguez’s work, but shared conceptual similarities. Designed in stackable elements, many of his creations are deconstructable. In several pieces, differing cuts of long, slender bits of wood are layered to create something that is organic, but polished, with wooden elements interlocking along the seams like teeth.
Agency: Defining Possibilities, this joint exhibition/discussion between Booth and Rodriguez, aimed to form a dialogue between artists and craftspeople about artistic power and self-sustainability. Two disparate groups with differing economies were represented: artists who are typically featured in a gallery setting and craftspeople whose work does not necessarily fit into the gallery. The event demonstrated an important aspect to Rodriguez’s work: that incongruities often only support connection. In Miami, where the only rock is bleached coral, her geological forms are out of place. But similarities are present in the rectilinear jutting of glass skyscrapers; the pink, blue, and yellow confetti bursts of neighborhoods; and the neon-strewn clubs, sports cars, and glittering jewelry—these only artificial elaborations of tropical avian and piscine colorations, blooming foliage, and ocean waves.
Like metallic vinyl wallpaper bearing simultaneous resemblance to an ocean shipwreck and an elaborate prismatic terrain, Agency is a matter of imagining possibilities. If we return to the sociological definition of the word, reflexivity is the ability of an agent to recognize social norms, customs, and ideologies and to alter their position depending on this information. An agent that is supremely reflexive becomes autonomous, capable of making sovereign, uncoerced decisions. Rodriguez’s Agency aims to develop creative autonomy. And as most aspects of Agency at first seem incongruous, the key to creating this autonomy involves community discourse. This work between disciplines, branching out to the larger community, and exploring various economies all serve to create more power for the artist, more creative free will, more reflexivity, and more opportunities to make things happen.