Friday, September 23, 2016

Myths and Reality

With the sounds of steel drums in the background, the visit at The Front in the St. Claude Arts District starts on a cheerful note, however Sad Tropics, the title of the exhibition, implies a somber theme. Two artists, Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa, combine their skills for this show which includes videos, site-specific photo murals and a gift shop installation, filling the four rooms of the gallery.

Upon entering, faced by a huge photograph of lush greenery, the visitor feels like walking in a pristine tropical jungle. The music belongs to a four min. video, a succession of local news about outlandish situations like "Florida man asked by wildlife officials to stop spray painting birds" or "Baby pulls cocaine out of Florida woman's bra during traffic stop", snippets of the Floridian culture. A pink neon sign with the title of the exhibition completes the display. For most of us, Florida equals vacation: sun, sea, sand and fun. In the next room, a photo mural features the two artists in the nude and for backdrop, a beachy tropical paradise. Framed photographs cover their privy parts, a lighthouse for the male, a dome for the female breast and below, a very suggestive architectural structure, possible reference to René Magritte who framed the real thing in The Eternally Obvious, 1930. Across, a video of local fishes evokes a Walt Disney cartoon and on each side, eight small lightboxes covered with delicate collages of tropical landscapes line up the walls. The next big piece is a bright sun in a perfect blue sky with black and white photographs of a futuristic habitation set in the middle of nowhere. Photographs pepper the exhibition: clichéd advertisements (giant pineapple, conch shell, ...), old cars, architecture, landscapes, decayed sculptures. A few hint at spiritual life. The exhibition concludes with a gift shop, set up with flags above the entrance and all required items: t-shirts, postcards and tote bags bearing the first sentence of the book from the French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss: "I hate traveling and explorers".

"Tristes Tropiques" published in 1955 inspired the show which brings us from the untamed land, named by Ponce de León "place of flowers" to mercantile Florida and its gift shops, reflecting the impact of  "colonization". The irony expressed in Levy Strauss's sentence permeates the works filled with humor, from the tragicomic video to the naked scene. Through their lighthearted exhibition, the Florida-born artists describe the fake reality of a make belief paradise thought to be the place of the fountain of youth, a long time ago.

photographs by the author

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