Driving to Miami in a car, through scrub trees, pines and high water along the highway, I feel like I’ve come to the end of America. Here we are for the 2012 Miami Art Fairs, a city-wide, four day long event comprised countless art fairs, exhibitions, and unofficial events. Arriving in a city that I’ve never visited, my first night is spent in orientation. I’ve done little research to line up the best events, preferring to see where the city takes me. However, my intention when coming to the Miami Art Fairs was to find imaginative figurative work, perhaps because some of my favorite art is folk or brut, and often for me, conceptual art often lacks the energy and expression that I sense as vital to the artistic process.
At Aqua Art Miami, Japanese artist Katsu Ishida‘s primarily black and white drawings on paper were filled with tiny faces, reminding me of writhing souls in hell piled up on each other. Ishida told me that he makes all his paper and brushes himself, and the forms are dictated by the materials; he sees faces in the paper.
Later in the day at the same fair, Haitian art collectors Spiralis Ventures presented works associated with the Center for Art in Port-au-Prince, the only art school in Haiti, and the Saint Soleil style. Richard Nesley’s river-like intertwined humans conjure up spirits, connected with animals in a mesh of existence. Richard is the son of Antilhome, one of the leading Saint Soleil painters. Jean-Daniel Lafont, ambassador of Spiralis Ventures, explains this painting as a mother tree or mother nature, saying: “The multiple spirits that inhabit earth both on the inside and the outside are shown moving up an down and around the sacred ‘Poto Mitan’ or sacred trunk three. This is where the spirit rest peacefully.”
As I continued to think about figuration in contemporary art, two kinetic artists caught my eye in the main convention center. Lacking citizens in a miniature world, David Douard‘s City Sickness show the relics of the human ecosystem and an underworld with ladders to climb the social strata. Squeaking as the object spins, positioned high above the viewer, the piece resembles a game or playground ride.
John Kessler‘s strange machines utilized skinny, pale children in a way that addressed concerns about our mediated world its relationship to the human body. His bubble-blowing machine housed a stagnating youngster in a box that is only seen after moving around the sculpture.
A collection of figurines from Nelson Leirner paired husbands and wives of all sorts on a layered platform. Upon closer glance, the male/female dichotomy was not so clear, with angels, soldiers, and apostles pairing up. It reminds me of the kind of games that girls play when imaging their future roles with dolls, but also the fight scenarios that little boys situate.
- Jono Vaughan, The Back of My Head, 9/4/09.
And finally, I spotted these elegant fine line drawings of hair, mostly views of the back of the head. Shortly after viewing, I found that the work belongs to a beautiful tall person whose gender pronoun preference I would like to have asked. Instead, I asked “why no faces?” to Jono Vaughan. And, I received a reply that these works are about the ambiguity of identity. According to Vaughan, the works allow the viewer to impose their own concept of identity on the art. A highlight of Vaughan’s bio printed in the Art Pages program guide (called “The Triumph of Medocrity”) tells of a previous performance project where Vaughan “invited members of the public to become clones of the artist through hair cutting and makeup application”. An artist, especially in our reflective post-modern world, must deal with identity presentation, heightened by facebook and internet anonymity. It feels nice to stand face-to-face with Vaughan and hear the quality and sincerity of voice.