Miami’s Locust Projects presents two new exhibitions this month, both exploring themes of home, migration and sense of place and community.
Juana Valdes’ “Rest Ashore” and Raúl Romero’s “Onomonopoetics of a Puerto Rican Landscape” will be available from Sept. 12 to Oct. 24 at the nonprofit exhibition space at 3852 N. Miami Ave. The space is open by appointment only, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
“Both are dealing with the migrant experience and immigrant experience. Both really give us a moment for pause and reflection,” says Locust Projects’ executive director Lorie Mertes. “There’s a lot of divisiveness and a lot of conversation about immigration, and there are various sides of the conversation, but both of the shows bring a real sense empathy for that person in that journey that someone takes when they make the decision to seek a better life.”
Valdes’ “Rest Ashore” is an immersive video installation, which represents a departure from her traditional arts media of ceramic work, sculptures and printmaking. Viewers are invited to explore different waves of the Cuban migration, from the exodus of the 1950s to the “balseros” (rafters) of the 1990s.
For Valdes, who emigrated from Cuba to Miami in 1971, this was a deeply personal exploration.
“I’m almost reliving my past, but from a completely different perspective, so it’s been interesting,” she shares from her studio in Amherst, Mass., where she is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “I knew that this show was a way to talk not just about my experience but the Cuban experience in these waves of migration, and the ways they have shaped Miami. It’s about how you welcome people, how policy impacts the well-being of futures and communities.”
The exhibition – which makes use of archival footage as well as new imagery – welcomes visitors into a space bedecked with stacks of old cathode-ray television sets. From there, they work their way through the exhibition, to scenes projected on sails showing ocean waves and shores strewn with luggage and clothing, evoking scenes reminiscent of not only Cuban immigration, but of immigration from all over the world.
“My work really uses metaphor a lot. It’s always used a lot of visual imagery to compile information, through icons or objects, or just the way things interact with one another,” Valdes explains. “I feel like in the past, I have really managed to compress that into objects and not moving forms, but I felt that for this investigation, into the impact of migration and refugees, that I needed a medium that would be able to tell a story in a way that I thought would be more compelling – and video and the moving image had the ability to do that.
“Once I started to work on the filming and bring out all the ideas, I knew it was the right medium to be able to convey the kind of trauma and loss that I felt I wanted to put forth.”
Romero’s “Onomonopoetics of a Puerto Rican Landscape” – presented as part of Locust Projects’ public art initiative “Art on the Move” – is another immersive experience, though this one is auditory.
Using a cargo bike, Romero has created a mobile sound transmission station that will broadcast his field recordings of the coquí frog – representative of his native Puerto Rico. He and other performers will drive around Miami, but for those who don’t catch the cargo bike on its journey throughout the city, viewers can hear the sound of the coquí through motion-activated sensors along Locust Projects’ North Miami Avenue exterior.
The idea is to explore how sound can evoke memory and a sense of place for Miami’s immigrant communities.
“The distinct sound will be transmitted alongside the everyday urban sounds onsite at Locust Projects and throughout Miami, creating an augmented soundscape,” according to a Locust Projects statement.
Today, Romero lives in Philadelphia, but the second-generation Puerto Rican immigrant grew up in Florida. He explains how his exploration of sound works to connect people through memories and shared experiences.
“Most of these things start with questioning, looking at identity, and thinking about culture and certain values,” he says. “Here is something, specifically, this sound, and it has all of these other representations. What does that mean to other people, and how do they connect back?”
In developing the project, Romero says he took inspiration from Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory and the beaming of transmissions into outer space, putting it on a more terrestrial plane.
“I’m taking the idea and that imagery of using a satellite dish, and thinking of the sounds of the coquí as a way where it is a transmission of culture, so from the sounds of the coquí, our culture is being sent out,” he says. “There is this idea that we are constantly searching, and looking out to create this sense of communication and connection, and this does that, reminding somebody of a place through a sound and a memory.”
People will also be invited to share their own experiences and stories of the coquí, or the native and iconic sounds from their own lives. To contribute sounds, leave a direct voicemail at 305-699-4233 or send a recording to [email protected]. Running concurrently to an exhibition in Philadelphia, these sounds will become part of an online archive of sounds and stories.
What: Locust Projects presents Juana Valdes’ “Rest Ashore” and Raúl Romero’s “Onomonopoetics of a Puerto Rican Landscape”
When: From Sept. 12-Oct. 24; by appointment only from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays
Where: Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami
For more information: Call 305-576-8570, email [email protected] or visit Locustprojects.org
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