This past semester was the tenth year that FIU art professor Tori Arpad-Cotta has incorporated The Wolfsonian as a collaborator of sorts in her course Installation Art. “It’s a famous class,” says Alexia Escalante, an FIU senior who took the course this year.
For Arpad-Cotta, the collaboration with The Wolfsonian is a natural fit—the museum’s approach to its collection and exhibitions and how artists approach an installation are quite similar, she says. And that’s why she’s designed the course in such a way that students learn about installation art while they also learn about the museum, the collection, exhibitions, and the roles of various staff positions. Students, who are primarily undergraduate art majors, are required to conduct independent research at the museum and to create an installation. The course culminates in an exhibition—for many students the exhibition is the first time their work is shown to an audience outside of FIU. Exhibition venues vary each year; this year work was shown at The Little River Yacht Club, videos were screened at The Wolfsonian to a full house, and the work of this year’s students as well as course alumni is being exhibited on an ongoing basis at the Coral Gables Museum on First Fridays.
“I set the stage and give students the opportunity, but the course is really about the students being able to take charge of how they make something happen publically,” says Arpad-Cotta. “I’m not interested in giving a set assignment and having twenty-five similar products. I want students to find their own passions and methods and figure out ways of doing it.” As a result, the student work tends to be surprising and unpredictable. “I never know what to expect,” she says.
This year’s student projects included:
Right to Wynwood, a documentary film co-directed by Camila Álvarez (BFA, Spring 2013), won an award at the FIU Film Festival, earning it a spot at the Miami Short Film Festival in November. It traces “how Wynwood went from Miami’s oldest Puerto Rican community to its largest art district, and what that means for the future of the neighborhood,” explains Álvarez. She wanted “to understand why street art seemed to be reproducing almost exponentially in Wynwood, and how it was playing a very important role in the marketing of the new ‘up-and-coming’ art district. It was obvious that gentrification was happening, but I wanted to understand the factors that had made it possible to happen at such a fast pace in that specific area.” Her work was screened at The Wolfsonian. “I think it’s amazing that opportunities such as the film screening are given to art students who are just beginning to get their work out to the world,” she notes.
Making Soap, a performance art piece by Orestes De La Paz (BFA, 2013), has been somewhat controversial and attracted the attention of both the media and the art world. De La Paz had liposuction surgery, which was videotaped, and he used the fat that was removed to make twenty bars of lavender-scented soap. He then created a video in which the full process is interwoven—the surgery, the process of making the soap, and footage of himself in a shower, using the soap. In addition to the video, he set up a “live demonstration” in which he washed people’s hands with the soap. He was inspired in part by “observations on plastic surgery culture in South Florida, issues of the body and identity, and the craft of soap making,” he explains. His video was screened at The Wolfsonian, while other work of his has been shown at the Coral Gables Museum.
Untitled, by Mileydis Llanos (BFA/BA, senior), is a group of approximately fourteen small wire cages of different styles, shapes, and colors with ladders made of burlap thread hanging from the cages. The cages are suspended from a wire structure that resembles a spider web. While there were many sources of inspiration for the project, a focus of the work was “the idea of how trapped I feel sometimes, and how I build my own cages for every situation I have in life. Sometimes I leave the cage, sometimes I stay, and sometimes I go from one to the other, but they are all there and they are all suspended in the air,” Llanos explains. The Wolfsonian’s collection informed the project in part through many of the metal objects she observed, which spoke to her because she likes to work with wire and metal. She also notes that “for some weird reason all the Communist posters and books were some sort of inspiration.” Her work was exhibited at The Little River Yacht Club and the Coral Gables Museum.
Documentary, Right to Wynwood, 2013
Camila Álvarez (FIU student), co-director
Installation (detail), Untitled, 2013
Mileydis Llanos (FIU student)
Video, Making Soap, 2013
Orestes De La Paz (FIU student)