In the Mix

Situations of Paradox

Claire Breukel

Claire Breukel reviews PLACE Miami - Preview Edition, on view now in the Miami Design District

“Materials have emotions and carry with them a spirit.” —Rose B. Simpson, artist


A home-like environment within an exhibition setting offers a fluid context to explore tensions inherent in materials and how we experience them. PLACE Miami - Preview Edition brings together the work of four Miami-based artists and designers—each of whom have traditionally incongruous practices—and forefronts their common affinity for cross-pollinating creative practices. The resulting material and conceptual juxtapositions evoke humor, (dis)pleasure, and irony.

Giddy Up See Saw by Vivian Carbonell

Vivian Carbonell of Carbonell Design, a sculpture-trained furniture designer, handcrafted a functioning seesaw, the highlight of ten pieces on view. A chunky slab of Douglas fir timber balances on a dark blue metal pivot and is detailed with naturally patinaed, cast bronze, heart-shaped handles. Formed and scaled as replicas of the internal organ, not the ideographic symbol, the hearts are cool yet heavy and full; the tactile sensation is reminiscent of holding a commemoration plaque or medallion. Once activated, the movement of this lavish play structure echoes the push and pull between materials. The raw metal and wood in contrast with the gleaming polished bronze reinforces the narrative focus on precarious equilibrium, love and life, give and take.

Asshole Banner by Tawnie Silva

Juxtaposition plays an even more overt role in Tawnie Silva’s colorful felt wall tapestries. Adopting felt collaging techniques he learned at a church he attended as a child, Silva replaces the religious messaging with provocative word plays. Artworks such as Lick Banner and Asshole Banner parade pastel rainbow colors and a soft furry texture while soliciting a gasp with two-part sayings like “I Lick The Frosting Off of Cake, With My Feet in the Air” and “God I’m an Asshole, Twirling my Hair.” The false safety net of soft sky blues turns conceptually dark within Silva’s theatrical satire.


“Shine and luster tend to block the view of things, while at the same time inviting fetishistic adherence.” —Tom Holert, curator and writer


If Tawnie Silva goes from light to dark, Gavin Perry goes from light to heavy in his bright paintings that function equally as layered wall relief sculptures. Using poured resin, Perry creates silky fluid finishes that on the surface appear light but in actuality are dense hardened plastic stratum dried over days. The sides of each work reveal these layered cross sections, recalling the appearance of age rings on a tree trunk but in colorful solid lines of time. Despite the artificiality of resin, Perry’s liquid surfaces appear organic and flowing, vividly titillating.

2nd Brain Session 1 by Hush Fell

Continuing this seduction, Hush Fell’s 2nd Brain Session 1 teases the taste buds—initially. The video duo’s food-based performances depict miniature assemblages of cut carrots, beet sauerkraut juice, peppercorns, tofu, and more, constructed with the methodology of an architectural model. Yet the “recipe” of each food construction is improvised; despite each assemblage being formally sculpted, the food combinations become increasingly at odds as the associations to their smell and taste conflict with the ordered depiction. The result is a shiny confusion of visual delight and sensorial aversion.

The piece calls to mind Tom Holert's Politics of Shine essay in Eflux Journal #61 (January 2015): “Indeed, it is the particular materiality of declarative shininess that we now recognize as a clear sign of paradox, as it is so often used to mediate decay and divert attention away from oncoming collapse. And as we now start to recognize how lighting effects constitute a primary function of what can only exist through mechanisms and metaphorologies of visibility, recognition, refraction, and dissemination, we might start to ask whether there is another side to shine altogether.”

The final frame of each food performance is memorialized as a black silhouette in a photograph, an everlasting reminder of an ephemeral material that will inevitably decay.

Detail of the bronze hearts on Vivian Carbonell's Giddy Up See Saw

Melding art and design concepts is not altogether uncommon. Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007), for example, readily blurred art, design, and functionality. This cross-disciplinary approach has carried through to modes of presenting in some contexts. The Ettore Sottsass and the Social Factory exhibition at the ICA Miami in 2019 was designed by Mexican architect Frida Escobedo and drew from various creative fields. Yet, collectors’ homes too often exhibit a caliber mismatch between the art and the furniture and design, as emphasis is commonly on only one area of expertise.

PLACE Miami addresses this prevailing disconnect by blurring art exhibition, design showroom, and home environment, suggesting alternative paradigms for collecting. PLACE Project curator and founder Grela Orihuela shares: “The inherent conversation that occurs when design and art are brought together heightens both disciplines and creates a natural familiarity within the space" By creating a situational environment with an unapologetic fascination with the power of materials, PLACE Miami embraces experimentation and provides an eclectic, thought-provoking experience. ◆


PLACE Miami - Preview Edition is the first in a series of nomadic, curated experiences that stage artwork and furniture with each city’s respective talent. Located at Paradise Plaza 127 in the Miami Design District, the show is open to the public until July 25.

All images courtesy of the artists, PLACE Project Group, and the Miami Design District.