text by Eddie Arroyo

Over a month ago, I was at an opening in the Freedom Tower enjoying wonderful libations and documenting the work of Tatiana Vahan. The work focused on the conceptual framework of Capitalism. Afterward, I stood with a writer and gallery owner discussing the validity of cinematography as a form of art expression. The gallery owner found the nature of the conversation absurd, due to the lack of artistic merit, but alcohol numbs an individual’s tolerance for many things. The writer recommended John McTiernan’s “Die Hard” as an artistic film which I understood but then suggested something a bit more credible. This was a film which had been turning in my mind for quite some time. The reasons for this was due to the dynamics which seem to be exist in our society and its trajectory. So much so, I continue to witness it on a local level – particularly within my visits to art institutions and how it reflects and what projects seems to garner attention. It was a suggestion which caused the gallery owner, even in his influenced state of mind, to walk away from our nonsensical banter.

For that was a reaction a film like Robocop would incite.

For those who are not aware of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 American science fiction film about a police officer who gets turned into a superhuman cyborg law enforcer, well… it goes without saying that this film is highly recommended. This is not for the obvious hyper-violent and misogynistic nature of most films during this time period, to be sure there is plenty of that.  (Admittedly it does satisfy the male adolescent in me.) Robocop does what every good science fiction narrative does such as Nineteen Eighty Four, District 9, and The Hunger Games; which is to take a number of complicating themes and fictionalize it making it comprehensive. This has always been the strength of this genre. Unlike the previous films which address similar ideas about dystopia, authoritarianism, and identity within human nature; I have yet to see a film which addresses privatization as Robocop has done.

In reference to privatization the plot moves as such, Detroit, Michigan is near-dystopia, rampant with crime, and at the verge of financial collapse. This has led the mayor to sign a deal with the mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products (OCP) to run the underfunded police force in exchange to demolish undesirable sections of the city and construct a high-end utopia called “Delta City”. This would be managed by OCP as an independent city-state. Downtown Miami has adopted a version of this model with a number of high-end utopia condominiums. Recently, there was a video on Cubed which featured a virtual tour of what would be the Miami Worldcenter where it would rest on a 10-acre site between NE 10th Street between First Avenue and Second Avenue. It is slated to open a 195,000 square foot Macy’s and a 120,000 square-foot Bloomingdale’s by late 2016 according to the Martha Brannigan of the Miami Herald. The Forbes Company and Taubman Centers Inc who are two prominent region mall developers. Forbes stated, “The arts and entertainment and cultural activities are adjacent … the Performing Arts Center, the art museum and science museum. All the trips traversing this site, we think provide a great opportunity. They add to the draw of this downtown node for redevelopment.”

Back in Tatiana Vahan’s exhibition, I witness her traverse through ideas of capitalism which began in exciting and critical energy. Her first job at fifteen as a “sandwich artist” at Subway. Next was a shoplifting incident at a gas station in Key Biscayne where she hung a photo of herself from Bustedmugshots.com re-integrating theft in Florida being public domain. The conclusion to this tale had her produce art in the spirit of labor and value which seemed to have some socialist feel. It was a theme which reminded me of Soul Manufacturing Corporation by Theaster Gates at Locust Projects. This notion of production and the ethics of work. Both of their pieces had this meditative quality in reference to making objects. However, these ideas left me as Hunter Braithwaite stated in his review about Vahan’s work, “wanting more”.

Approaches to social practice were explored in Glexis Novoa’s curatorial effort Radio Miami exhibition at the Project 924 Art Center/ South Florida. It was an archival retrospective of the culture from the Cold War to the recent financial collapse and Miami’s role in it. There was a historical propaganda presentation by Kevin Arrow and Patricia Margarita Hernandez informing the audience to the pitfalls of socialism. It ended with the question, “something for nothing?” This past is paramount in reference to a future – which continues to turn in my mind as to what practices are used today.

presentation by Kevin Arrow and Patricia Margarita

And so, last Saturday got very strange. In retrospect, it felt more as an exercise in constructive and deconstructive impulses regarding the future of the design district. I returned to Locust Projects for the “Exhaustion” exhibition by 2J (Justin Beal & Jesse Willenbring). Both artists reside from an industrial background. Beal’s discipline is in architecture and Willenbring’s is in graphic design. The entire space was built for the future in the glory of commodification within its own identity. They used materials in a variety of degrees from printed and painted glass in transparency to products rendered in sculptural and architectural scale in a commercial vernacular. 2J agreed that this endeavor is seen as a passion project in its nature which was very interesting to know how these initiatives are seen within the industry.

Properly lubricated, I made my way to document RUSH! Perishable at Spampspace which was an exhibition to celebrate the graduation of students who grew up “swampy” from the National YoungArts Foundation. As stated before, “this is where things became odd”. The entire tone of the show seemed to be about deconstruction and this is not terribly surprising. Swampspace is moving from their current location and the building will be demolished, and so, the artists took it upon themselves to bring the damage. The space is latent with history in architecture and design where the next generation were gleefully tearing it down. A battering ram made of a massive PCV pipe was used to push against the wall over and over again. It was invigorating to witness. Many of the sculptures were appropriated objects utilized to play with the notion of postmodern dystopia. It was very chaotic right down to the mural painted on the walls encompassing the massive confusion of this act. I had a go at the PCV pipe myself and it was every bit as fun as it looked.

Craig Robins’ Design District where both Locust Projects and Swapspace are located is moving forward with constructions for the high end retail industry such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Miu Miu, Christian Louboutin, Christian Dior, Hermès, Cartier, etc… To some extent the City of Miami is “Delta City”. The film Robocop doesn’t seem to have the animosity with privatization such as it seems to treat it, to some extent, with an air of kitsch – something that South Florida celebrates more often than not. The movie is peppered with crazy commercials lampooning the nature of commodification. However, there’s this quite threat as to the nature of a totalitarian community which the protagonist carries with him thought out the film. It was his identity. It’s not enough for us to plan for the future while gleefully demolishing the past. I am curious to know what we’ll become and how that’s decided.

main image provided by Miami Worldcenter