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Oct 24th
Experimental Lens on the Landscape PDF Print E-mail
Written by Anne Tschida   
September 2010

Art_Feature_1Walking down by the Miami River, the air was so hot and still, so thick with humidity this August evening that it took effort to move through it. Then the sounds of Cuban percussion, reminiscent of a Santería ceremony, wafted up from Sewell Park, and flickering lights became visible through the trees. Actually, the lights turned out to be in the trees, and were in fact filmed images of leaves being projected onto the varied foliage. It was all too seductive to pass up, so we didn’t.

It’s just what Dinorah de Jesús Rodriguez wants us to do at some point during her unique, interventionist artistic park experience, called Elusive Landscapes, taking place at area green spaces over the summer and fall. Rodriguez selected five urban parks, shot and handcrafted 16mm nature films from each spot, and collaborated with composer Ricardo Lastre to come up with site-specific images and sounds. The idea is to get people interested in their local ecosystems, and maybe to discover a bit of art in the process.

Art_Feature_2At Sewell, seven film projectors were rolling, one showing a short film of a boat’s travels down the Miami River, with a tree trunk standing in as the screen. Other images were more abstract, and seemed to dance around the leaves. Down near the river’s edge, towering Royal palms created their own natural installation, while the music continued to add a hypnotic element.

This park in Little Havana, with the lights of downtown reflecting on the water, was what first inspired the Cuban-born artist to explore the idea of the Elusive Landscapes. “Maybe I have a personal attachment to Sewell Park, because it was the first amazing green space that I ever experienced when I arrived in Miami in 1992,” says Rodriguez.

The park is also popular within the Santería community as a sacred ground for ceremonies, “due the presence of Royal palms, grand Poinciana, and direct access to the waters of the Miami River,” Rodriguez explains -- hence the Cuban soundtrack they came up with for this site. “I began to conceive of doing something in that park, and from there the idea grew and expanded.”

She decided on seven films for five locations in different neighborhoods, from North Miami to the Upper Eastside and over to Miami Beach. “I wanted spaces that represented Miami’s diverse ethnic populations, as well as Miami’s diverse subtropical ecosystems,” says the film and video artist, who has shown her work internationally and has been active in the community for years. “I wanted venues with bodies of water either directly accessible or close by, and I also needed areas with dense foliage and low lighting, for best visibility of the work.”

Rodriguez presented the idea to granting organizations, and won the 2009 Funding Arts Network/Knight Foundation New Work Award for $25,000. Then she got to work scouting.

She first settled on Arch Creek Park, on NE 135th Street in North Miami. The particulars of this spot are about “conservation of native Floridian species and the protection of ancient Tequesta artifacts,” she says. “It’s a place to see the ‘undeveloped’ version of the South Florida landscape.” Then she picked Legion Park in the Upper Eastside, which is more about “sports and activities -- there are tennis and basketball courts, a soccer field, a launch for kayaks and canoes, and an after-school camp for kids.” Along with Sewell Park, the Miami Beach Botanical Garden and Vizcaya completed the grouping.

When Rodriguez entered each park with her movie camera, she knew some images would be unique to the location. For instance, she captured “a couple launching a kayak at Legion, a tugboat pulling a barge along the river at Sewell, the statues and fountains at Vizcaya.” But she also guessed that other footage would be fleeting. “The landscapes have inevitably changed between the time when I filmed them and the time that I project back onto them,” she says. But that intangibility is something she wanted to play with, which is where her artistic expression comes in. She superimposed her own drawings and coloring on the films, “my personal interpretations of each particular landscape. It’s about how we project our own truths onto things, but also about the way time works to alter any possible absoluteness in anything.”

Rodriguez also brought in Lastre to add another layer of interpretation. “I wanted the soundscapes to be very theatrical, to cue people as to how to feel while they’re experiencing this -- because people are unaccustomed to seeing films this way, and they often don’t know how to react to this type of work.”

Art_Feature_3So after the first three events, how did people react to this type of ecosystem intervention? At the last one in Sewell Park, neighborhood people sweated and swatted at the ubiquitous bugs. They also smiled when they heard the Santería-style soundtrack. Kids seemed to interact the most with both the manmade and natural objects, while some adults looked perplexed. More were in attendance at the previous Elusive evening at Legion Park, a more open space whose main tree attraction is the Florida oak. The first outing at Arch Creek was perhaps the most elusive, as visitors had to trek up and down a dark trail to find all seven projections.

Rodriguez maintains a sense of humor about it all. Legion Park had a little more ambient light than expected, and a generator at first refused to cooperate, but it was “less spooky” than Arch Creek. When working with living nature, nothing is predictable. So far, she says, it has added to the sense of magic and appreciation of nature that she has tried to engender with these evenings. “I love the questions people ask me,” she says, “the dialogue that goes on at each park. The project is a real conversation-starter.”

Art_Feature_4The dialogue might be the most expansive -- and the landscape the least elusive -- at the final two events, as they are some of the most popular outdoor spaces in Miami. The Miami Beach Botanical Garden will emphasize cultivation, mostly of unusual plants, while Vizcaya will highlight the ultimate collaboration between artificially and naturally created beauty. “These venues draw large audiences and have always traditionally presented art,” she explains. As at each venue, however, there will always be the element of the unknown: “It will depend on how each landscape catches the imagery; we will have to play around to get the best effect at each site.”

Finally all of the films plus video documentation of the events themselves will be shown in a more traditional setting at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery in November. But these elusive escapades really should be experienced in a subtropical Miami park first -- the hotter, the stickier, the buggier, the better.

 

Elusive Landscapes: Saturday, September 11, at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, 2000 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach; 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Thursday, October 7, at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 3251 S. Miami Ave., Miami; 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. Culminating exhibition, November 18 through 25, Diaspora Vibe Gallery, 3938 N. Miami Ave., Miami. For more information, visit elusivelandscape.blogspot.com.

 

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