It's churlish to kvetch about temperatures in the 40s when the Northeast is being snowed under, but our recent run of chilly weather was the closest thing to winter Orlando has felt in a while. And what better way to ward off the "Florida Cold" than at an art opening? Snap's new gallery at 420 E. Church St. was certainly the hottest place in town last Friday night (see our cover story, page 11), but thanks to Time Waste Management, it wasn't the only place to warm up with piping-fresh art last weekend.
The arts collective (whose founders include Cody Zeigler, Tara Atefi and Jeff Gross) established A Place Gallery last August in a few upstairs rooms at the corner of Mills and 50. Though they quickly attracted attention for their early exhibits, including a nod in our 2015 visual arts year-end review (Dec. 16, 2015), I hadn't visited this block since the second floor next door was occupied by the Space, a similar experimental venue. Last Thursday and Saturday nights saw opening receptions for Keep Me in Your Prayers/Fears, their latest interdisciplinary exhibit incorporating two-dimensional, three-dimensional and four-dimensional designs.
As soon as I entered the intimate white-walled warren at the top of the steep stairs, I had to suppress an urge to sweep, having spotted what seemed to be shards of glass and splintered frames on the floor. Only a blue demarcation line around David Matteson's "Grave Digger" installation gave away that the debris was not only purposeful, but the piece's point. Likewise, Matteson's live performance piece – in which he endlessly cycled through yoga poses while wearing an ex-animal – is only aesthetically illuminated after reading his irony-laced title: "My Grandmother Died and All I Received Was This Fur Coat."
On the other side of the wall, Paul Finch was enacting "After Vanessa Beecroft," the evening's other live performance, by standing silently in pantyhose, heels and a wig next to a video of himself doing the same; the title name-checks the controversial Italian artist who posed similarly attired women en masse. Endam Nihan's "#thinkfuzzy" propaganda posters advertising armpit hair overlooked both performances, with Dylan DeRose's slowly decaying pile of oranges ("Preservation") and Lam Hoi Sin's beverage-bottle flower vase ("4eva") in between them.
Luckily for me, artist and show curator Vanessa Barros Andrade was on hand during my visit; armed with a mug of organic brew from the Vita Luna coffee and tea bar, she assisted me in finding the common thread connecting this eccentric collection. "The whole unifying idea was 'impermanence,'" Andrade explained. "I asked all of the artists to make a piece with that idea in mind, but I didn't give them anything else besides the word 'impermanence,' so it was their practice in relation to that word. So there are a lot of elements of beauty, and things that are seemingly vain. Basically, all of the things people do to keep things lasting forever."
For example, Betsy Johnson – who was named Best Local Visual Artist in our 2015 Best of Orlando awards – videotaped herself gluing waxy yellow strips on her face; their exact composition was a blessed mystery until Andrade revealed that it was the artist's own skin. "It's a little graphic," she admitted with a smile. "She has this anxious tic where she peels her skin. The title is 'Graft (Male Pattern)'; we were hoping the word 'graft' would give a hint."
That uncomfortable intersection of creativity and compulsion carries through Andrade's own work, "Reality of a Digital Desire," which repetitively depicts one cute cartoon character slitting another's throat. "All of my works, I feel, are about the same thing: being obsessed with the digital image, memes, things that are found on the Internet and don't exist in real life," Andrade said. "I'm trying to pull it from that and put it on this newsprint, so it's like organic material. The whole thing is that I'm obsessed with the image, and I've had it printed 40-plus times now. ... The pink image was done in gel pen in the style of anime. They're all original drawings, and I just printed over my drawings. I call them my 'bad anime,' so it's poorly drawn, and [also] 'bad' as in morally wrong. It's this funny, very violent image."
While my responses to the individual works varied widely, what impressed me about Keep Me in Your Prayers/Fears was the way it integrated performance art, traditional visual art and multimedia into a single show, a combination that is unfortunately uncommon in downtown galleries. Bringing that fusion into our city more frequently is one of TWMT's goals, according to Andrade: "You know, you have to have things that sell to pay rent ... but we want more video, more performance art, things that aren't sellable. We want people to see that, because when you go to Miami it's there everywhere. We want to bring it to Orlando somehow."