Art

Finding Art in the Afterlife of a Foreclosed Home in Florida

In a new exhibition, Ser Serpas explores the connections between destruction and reclamation.

Ser Serpas: Dust Patterns, installation view (image courtesy the artist and Current Projects)

MIAMI — In 2016, the poet and artist Ser Brandon-Castro Serpas wrote an untitled poem for DIS Magazine. It began: “ripped apart/you rip me apart/collage million dead/collage donde/queda mi cuerpo/el temporal/como dios/en mil partes.” (The Spanish roughly translates as: “collage where/my body is left/the temporary/like god/in a thousand parts.”) I didn’t immediately think of it when I visited Dust Patterns, Serpas’s solo exhibition at Current Projects. It glimmered into my memory weeks later, a spark of recognition that slowly flared up as I saw what the show and poem share: the idea that destruction is an indispensable part of reclamation.

At Dust Patterns, familiar household items—vacuum cleaners, glass tabletops, a mattress—are overturned and under-stuffed, placed on their sides or backs or jammed with wooden planks that fan out like fingertips. They’re taken from a foreclosed house a few miles south of the gallery, remnants of a life that Serpas was never privy to, but that she has transformed into almost bodily configurations: a crowd of plush, rotting people. (Florida is filled with empty homes. In 2016, the state’s foreclosure rate was the highest in the nation, at 1.95%.) The footrest of a La-Z-boy sprawls like a tongue; two shell-colored ottomans, one atop the other, recall roughhousing children.

“In my approach to sculpture in the past, I’ve hoarded objects, furniture, things that meant something to me, and rearranged them to suggest something more,” Serpas explained to me at the show. “In this state, it seems they might’ve always been figural representations, [hiding] right under the surface of how they appear.” In effect, they undergo a metamorphosis.

Ser Serpas: Dust Patterns, installation view (image courtesy the artist and Current Projects)

The conceit of object as body is evocative, but it’s also a kind of a truism. Furniture carries the literal outline of the muscles that sleep and sit on them, creating a continuous loop of bodies and beds claiming each other. Your vacuum cleans your floor in exchange for your own sticky fingerprints. Here, Serpas imbues the objects with humanoid activity, not unlike the magical quality ascribed by children to stuffed animals — as if they might start moving, once the gallery’s lights turn off.

The title of Dust Patterns, though, is inspired less by the furniture than by Serpas’s white-and-beige paintings that seem to pulsate from underneath, with branch-like veins (again, they intimate life). These works reference Lichtenberg figures, the reddish leaf patterns that sometimes form on the skin after a lightning strike, burst capillaries exploded into flourishing shapes. The shapes reveal what she discusses in her sculptures: patterns beneath the surface. Skin and the body appears here a great deal, if not in the peeling layers of paint and fabric, then by allusion.

Ser Serpas, “Pen ultimate warrior (self-portrait)” (2017). Armchair, latex, ash (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

One wall is covered with small drawings of figures that curve and swoop with no apparent logic; Serpas made them while recovering from gender-affirming surgery, shortly before flying to Miami. (The surgery was crowdfunded, and the drawings are her gifts to the donors, scheduled to be mailed at exhibition’s end.) “I draw trans bodies,” she told me, “and when I convert them into their environments, I’m also usually trying to highlight the dangers of that experience … how you feel you’re being perceived, how you’re actually being perceived, how you’re engaged.”

Detail of “In The End Times” (2017), 98 drawings, ink on paper (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

I like knowing these profoundly personal experiences — Serpas’s rehabilitation and the birth of her figures — will soon be transported elsewhere, to hundreds of other bodies, who might decorate their own walls with these images. It’s not unlike Serpas’ reclamation of furniture, which seems violent only by virtue of the objects’ state of rot. More accurately, giving them a new home, a new shape, is a tender offer of refuge. That reclining chair, she told me, is a self-portrait.

Ser Serpas: Dust Patterns continues at Current Projects (170 NE 79th Street, Miami) until February 23.

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