Considering how to engage diverse new audiences with the arts remains a challenge on an institutional level. Particularly true in Miami - where the majority of the city’s art and cultural landmarks are concentrated in the urban core - local institutions are reflecting on whether their current outreach program is robust enough to include the vast population of the greater city.
Broadening access to the arts has always been at the core of Fountainhead’s mission, and in July the residency doubled down on this commitment. Lending space to two artists participating in a new public art initiative designed to increase Miami commuters’ access to the arts, this month’s cohort of Fountainhead Residency artists perhaps received one of the more far-ranging, unique views of Miami. Lily Martina Lee and Marie Lorenz, hailing from Idaho and New York, respectively, came to Miami to expound upon their long standing practice series in a site-specific context.
Participating in the Commuter Biennial, a public art initiative funded by the Knight Arts Challenge and designed to engage Miami drivers with the arts while on their long daily commutes, the artists were able to explore a side of Miami many Fountainhead residents might not see. “The Commuter Biennial was great because it was looking specifically at areas outside of where you normally view art,” says Lorenz. Led by local curator Laura Randall, the Commuter Biennial aimed to give Miami drivers living in father-flung cities like Kendall or Hialeah the opportunity to view and reflect upon art during a long drive home. “These drivers are looking at ads for personal injury attorneys, and I just thought that they needed to be looking at something else,” says Randall, who also works at the Rubell Family Collection.
Assembling a team of local and national artists who would build site-specific public works over the course of four months, Lee and Lorenz formed part of the Biennial’s first wave of projects. The Fountainhead played a critical role in the development of their projects.
“What’s great is that Kathryn’s network is so vast and flexible,” says Lorenz, who has now completed two residencies with Fountainhead. “She’s a total facilitator. It was Kathryn’s contacts that made my project happen.”
Lee primarily works with fiber and sculpture, and is interested in fusing low and high aesthetic traditions and materials. Selecting media based on her subject matter, Lee chooses materials that are already imbued with the essence of her chosen topic. Over the last several years, Lee’s theme of choice has centered around crime.
“Initially, I became interested in the parallel between auto bodies and human bodies and wanted to show how they were adorned,” says Lee. “A tattoo would become an anonymous element on a car hood, for example, like a tramp stamp spoiler. But then I started working more with crime as part of that path, and I would start to pay attention to most wanted listings. In local news they would tell you about these fugitives and what to look out for, so I would have vehicle and tattoo descriptions to work with.”
The resulting works - comprised of modified car hoods - would pick up on details like the fugitives’ tattoos or clothing, and incorporate elements of those details into the work. But one fugitive’s story in particular would send Lee into another direction, when she found out that the fugitive had been murdered and the crime was still unsolved. “[Making] it became more like a memorial as I worked on it. I then contacted his family and gave it to them, and it was so powerful that I transitioned to researching unsolved murders.”
Lee developed the series in the same manner she developed her work around fugitives. Woven tapestries might have burn marks if the body was found nude and burned; or the tapestry might include stitches representing the geographic coordinates in which the body was found. The detail she chooses to incorporate for each work is unique, but all are designed to allow the victim to leave an everlasting mark of their existence.
During her residency, Lee carefully studied bodies found in Miami’s local canals, selecting an unidentified male found floating in a canal in Hialeah in 1998. The resulting work is a floating monument to the mysterious dead, on view in the very place in which it was found so many years ago. In another work, Lee honors the body found in Homestead, working with bright colors to represent what the victim was found wearing. Each of the works feature plastic tablecloths sewn together, which Lee says pays homage to Christo’s infamous Surrounded Islands.
Lorenz focuses on bringing a heightened sense of place to the people that engage with her work. She focuses on her immediate surroundings, paying careful attention to the naturally occurring phenomenon that so many tend to take for granted. Since roughly 2002 - when the artist officially made New York her home - her practice has focused explicitly on tidal currents.
“I started studying the tide when I got here, because there is a significant tidal current that moves around the island of Manhattan,” says Lorenz. “You wouldn’t think of New York as having this planetary force guiding it, but when you find out how much power it has in the city, you get clued into this other immense forcing moving New York.”
Lorenz’s fascination with the tide is primarily linked to its ability to impact daily routines. “The tide changes twice a day and so it’s the other rhythm that disconnects you from your schedule,” she explains. In an ongoing project, Tide and Current Taxi, Lorenz encourages participants to step outside their comfort zone and let the water guide you. Lorenz studies tidal charts, and uses the currents to push a boat - built entirely by herself - throughout and around a variety of cities. She builds her boats out of plywood and fiberglass, able to carry anywhere between three to five people. Often times, participants help the artist gently paddle around the waterway; however, the exercise is designed to awaken a moment of reflection and awe at the force and pace of a changing tide. After each ride, Lorenz records images, notes and data points about the experience.
In Miami, Tide and Current Taxi took on a new meaning. Ferrying around the Little River and Oleta River, Lorenz gave participants the opportunity to consider how a trip they might be used to making can change when viewed through the context of art. “Unlike New York, in Miami many people are familiar with the water and are on it all the time,” says Lorenz. “So instead of taking them to areas they were unfamiliar with, we chose to take people into areas they are familiar with and the focus became them telling me about it. This shifted the experience for the participant and for me.”