MIAMI BEACH — Just a 15-minute walk down the road from this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach is an exhilarating exhibition of work by 33 female artists. Acting as a foil to the painting and sculpture that dominate the fair(s), the show features only videos and performances, many of which focus on the body; appropriately, the exhibition is titled Auto Body and takes place in a former auto body and paint shop.
The space is vast, but rather than leave it feeling grungy and happened-upon, the organizers — a four-person local curatorial committee, which culled nominations from 25 other curators — have tidied it up. Twenty-four video monitors hang from the ceiling in neat rows of three (each spot include two screens back to back, playing different videos), with one outlier tacked on at the end. A pair of headphones and a single black stool accompany nearly every video. Given their size and collective duration, exhibitions of video art can feel overwhelming nearly immediately upon entry; the organization of Auto Body welcomes the viewer and invites her in.
And she will not be disappointed, because there’s a lot of powerful work on display here. Closest to the entrance is Daniela Ortiz’s “FDTD (Forcible Drugging to Deport)” (2012), a video in which Ortiz reads aloud in Spanish a report on the United States’ practice of forcibly drugging people for deportations, followed by the free trade agreement between Peru (her home country) and the US. As she reads, a man comes and administers a dose of some of the drugs used in these situations, holding a needle in her arm for longer than a minute. The effect is swift: Ortiz stumbles over her words, repeats them, swallows audibly, and holds her head in her hands while attempting to continue her reading. It’s visceral and acutely painful to watch.
Tameka Norris’s “Untitled (September 16, 2011)” (2011) engenders a similar reaction. Norris enters the frame and sits down, the camera closes in on her face. She purses her lips together and proceeds to pass through a series of facial expressions that at first imply thinking and waiting, but quickly escalate to a higher emotional pitch. I noticed that her lips looked strange and contorted, almost as if they’d been digitally manipulated, but it was only after several minutes that it dawned on me: when she pursed her lips at the beginning, she’d glued them together, and now she was struggling to pull them apart. When at least she does, you can almost feel the breath rushing in.
Also taking up the body as subject, in a funnier way, is Alex McQuilkin’s “Unbreak My Heart” (2012). Wearing a shirt strategically bloodied to signal a broken heart, the artist begins a striptease to Toni Braxton’s song of the same name. The joke, however, is on us: when she removes articles of clothing, her skin becomes just more of the room’s floral-print wallpaper. By the end McQuilkin is simply a head lying on the floor looking decapitated, her body invisible against the carpet. The creepiness of this resonates with Molly Lowe’s nearby “Formed” (2013), a mash-up of moving images that pits the fluidity of the body against the sleekness of the digital. Set to small, intimate noises alternating with dramatic instrumental music, Lowe’s images of a mask throwing up thick ooze onto a tablet screen and fingers emerging from within a keyboard pass by quickly but stick in the mind.
Not all the videos in Auto Body are as masterful or moving as these, but the strength of such a gathering outweighs its individual weaknesses. As for the performance element of the show: Eloise Fornieles is performing “The Death of Nature I” in an enclosed, red-lit, plant-filled room at the back of the space for the entire duration of the show. For the piece Fornieles walks naked on a treadmill while a series of nature videos — showing apes and giraffes in the wild, etc. — are projected onto her chest, transforming her into a species of activist animal in an artificial zoo. There are also daily performances: On Thursday I saw Ana Mendez’s “Liminal Being,” which involved the artist rolling up and down the space’s metal staircase for 15 straight minutes, her pain more visible with each trip.
If you can’t make it for any of this in person, you can tune into Agustina Woodgate’s online, nomadic, bilingual Radio Espacio Estacion, which is broadcasting out of Auto Body for the weekend. She’s already spoken with the head of Miami’s Parks and Recreation Department and plans on hosting representatives from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Miami Dade Transit, and more, as well as a lineup of local musicians. If you like to feel your art in your skin and bones, Auto Body is well worth the trip.
Auto Body continues at 1750 Bay Road (Miami Beach, Florida) through December 7.