Art Spills Outside Booths and Taps Into Politics

Osman Can Yerebakan’s Daily Dispatch | December 8, 2019

it is not down on any map; true places never are, Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares, 2019 (Luis De Jesus Los Angeles) Photo: Casey Kelbaugh

Today I’ve looked outside the booths and talked to artists whose works go outside the white walls and prompts critical discussion around national identity and labor. Positioned at entrance to UNTITLED, overlooking the South Beach is Ruben Millares and Antonia Wright’s It’s not down on any map; true places never are (presented by Luis De Jesus Los Angeles), a motorized public sculpture made out of flagpoles, chains, a steel platform, and 16 flags of countries currently involved in migration crises, such as Venezuela, United States, South Sudan, Myanmar, Turkey, Germany, and Mexico. Rotating in a steady half loop, the chain structure moves the flags up and down, creating a metallic machinery noise as the flags ascend, squeeze through the chains, and rise again. Flags which have traditionally been placed on high ends of dwarfing poles are upside down, crumbled, and eventually risen, in a system that recalls the instability and interchangeability of sociopolitical power and nationalistic ideologies. “We’ve been observing how a little piece of fabric creates so much tension since the fair opened,” told me the Miami-based duo in an early morning, while making sure the machinery runs smoothly. The public reaction has, however, varied, from not so smooth to favorable, catalyzing an active discussion since they placed the 8-foot tall sculpture — “an anti-monument,” according to the duo — in front of the fair. In addition to police questioning of the American flag’s upside-down presentation with an attempt to stop the work, there have been different reactions from passersby. A Venezuelan woman supported her flag’s critical representation due to the South American country’s current situation “in shambles;” a Mexican man was not happy to see his country’s eagles moving upside down attached to chains.

Aliens of Manila, live performance at UNTITLED, ART Miami Beach 2019 (Pintô International)

On December 3, a group of three “aliens” dressed in astronaut-like costumes in vibrant neon colors marched across the UNTITLED booths, similar to extra terrestrials discovering a new planet they had just landed. The performance was a part of Pintô International’s presentation of six Filipino artists at their booth, which includes multimedia works by Clan Dayrit, Pow Martinez, Kawayan de Gula and Raffy Napay. Leeroy New, who had inaugurated the Manila-based art institution’s New York space earlier in March, is responsible for the fair’s alien invasion. The artist brought his Aliens of Manila series which incorporates everyday utilitarian plastic objects, such as rubber baskets and sponges, into wearable sculptures to Miami after taking over Manila and East Village streets, adding a flamboyant color palate and movement to the fair’s opening day. Similar to Millares and Wright’s outdoor sculpture, New’s intervention questions ideas of foreignness and nativeness, shifting and blurring the two supposed sides of political identity. Using objects associated with labor and working class in costumes, he satirizes power dynamics depending on economic exchange. Born into a Filipino mother who was a housekeeper in the U.S., New repurposes objects and roles determined by class and nationality differences in a colorful and accessible fashion. “Having these happy-go-lucky, freely moving ‘alien’ bodies, assembled from the most basic objects I’ve collected from my travels, ‘invading’ the different booths offers a unique perspective and context to most of the objects being featured in the fair,” explained New, who considers the performers as “migrant bodies in the form of possessed sculptural suits ‘attending’ art fairs in place of traveling for work.”

Osman Can Yerebakan

UNTITLED, ART is an international, curated art fair founded in 2012 that focuses on balance and integrity across all disciplines of contemporary art.

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