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Fringe Projects

Ricardo Mor

Nicolas Lobo, À Rebours/Against Nature , 2014.

Now in its third year, DWNTWN Art Days has grown exponentially with well over a hundred events taking place in downtown Miami on one weekend in September. Fringe Projects has acted as a curated public art exhibition during the weekend, offering a sense of artistic direction over the frantic schedule of activities. While past years have brought interesting projects, the efforts had been a tad scrappy and perhaps underwhelming (likely due to budget constraints). But this year, Fringe Projects has come into its own with a series of ambitious projects that have raised the curatorial stakes. Surprisingly, this is the first year that all of the selected commissions came from Miami artists, something that curator Amanda Sanfilippo mentions was a coincidence. That happy accident has given Fringe Projects a sense of vitality, as not only are many of these artists working outside of their element but are also creating incisive works that address rapidly changing city brimming with dualities.

Fragrance companies have long tried to capture the essence of non-specific downtown cityscape and many others have wanted to mimics Miami’s sexy tropical image. For artist Nicolas Lobo, downtown Miami smells like knockoff celebrity fragrances. Or at the very least it did after he had his way with it. Every hour on the hour, he sprayed the streets surrounding the Miami Center for Architecture & Design building with counterfeit variations of Puff Daddy, J.Lo, and other scents.

There’s something undeniably pleasurable about smelling these fragrances in the breeze, alluring and repulsive. But Lobo seems more interested with downtown’s fragrance economy; for those who don’t know the area, it may come as a surprise that fragrance shops are among the most popular shops in the area. While these shops will likely go away with the next wave of development, Lobo seems hell bent on celebrating this area before it blows away in the wind, a community who has survived on legal acts of disobedience by reappropriating the allure of designers and A-listers to hawk for a few bucks.

With Methods of Action, Emmett Moore has taken his love for design to the streets by chaining iconic chairs by renowned designers to bus stops; the chairs he chose for the project include Jens Risom’s Lounge Chair, the Eames Shell Chair, and the Emeco 1006 “Navy” chair. The connecting thread for these objects is that while they are all prime examples of great design, these once humble objects have been deified, co-opted by high-end furniture manufacturers and sold for exorbitant prices (the $495 retail price for an Emeco chair is particularly distressing, considering these were designed for use in Navy submarines).

Through his interventions, he returns these “luxury” objects back into the public realm (at least for ten days). Moore’s actions are simple and the artist is smart to not over-complicate his ideas. He addresses issues of class and taste, suggesting that good design should be accessible rather than a pleasure enjoyed only by the well-heeled.
Moira Holohan went big for her project, creating a three-story installation that scaled the walls of the Miami-Dade Wolfson Campus Building 3. Using one’s smartphone, the sculpture would turn into a green screen where you could see a short animation video. The panels were attached to dancer Monica Sharon who would perform a series of brief choreographed movements. These gestures, created by Angela Fegers, mimic actions one might see by people in downtown such as hailing a taxi or tying one’s shoe.
The project is likely the most ambitious, with a dizzying amount of different disciplines and collaborators at work but the end result is sedate and meditative, perhaps to a fault. The piece was best enjoyed when the actions of the bystanders and the dancers unknowingly came into sync, a serendipitous moment of art imitating life and life imitating art.

Jenny Brillhart explored her painting practice through an architectural intervention at the Cultural Plaza. She filled the arches of the Philip Johnson-designed structure with vinyl stickers that featured images of paintings she created. The images the artist created were vistas of the surrounding area’s architectural forms rendered down to flat planes of color without detail. The Cultural Plaza has long been the thorn in the side of everyone from architecture critics and urban planners to local residents. Critics say the imposing structure is uninviting and dissuades the public from entering. Brillhart offers her own opinion by painting a rosy picture of the surrounding area and stamping it across the side of the building; the result is subtle and imbued with painterly wit.

For Photo Stream, Kevin Arrow and Barron Sherer developed the #DDAFF2014 hashtag which they tagged photos they taken within an one mile radius of the Alfred J. DuPont building in downtown and posted to Instagram for several months leading up to DWNTWN Art Days, eventually inviting the public to join in on their game. The project’s goal was to create a living archive that documented the rapid transformation that has occurred and is occurring downtown. The one-use-only hashtag, often times the product of a fleeting meme or the brainchild of marketers with more money than sense, is a curious medium to work in. The project succeeds largely because Arrow and Sherer are exceptionally skilled Instagrammers eschewing #foodporn and #selfies for minimal dissections of urban living.

Perhaps the most confounding project is from Domingo Castillo. The work, whose title is an image of Felix the Cat lying on his back, had the artist and his merry gang of misfits loitering a downtown mall for several hours a day for 10 days while sometimes rehearsing Ubu Roi.

His take on mallrats is intriguing, as he’s grappling with the decidedly suburban phenomenon of mall culture and placing his vision of this dying culture in the context of downtown Miami’s urban malls, which have been well past their prime for decades and are ripe for gentrification. But as a work made for public consumption, it fails spectacularly. While the happening took place every day as scheduled, they were easy to miss if you didn’t catch them in their home base in an empty storefront. When they were to be found, it is hard to get excited watching youths being youths. There’s a sense that Castillo doesn’t wish to engage a viewing public but will engage with his inner circle and make it a blasé spectacle for others to view if they wish. One can’t help the feeling that Castillo sought out to create a work that is underwhelming to the spectator and succeeded. With that said, it is the work that provoked the most discussion and probably would have worked better as a stand-alone project rather than in the context of a public art exhibition.