Words by Anne Tschida
There are many sensory and cerebral aspects to the fascinating group show at Primary Projects, called “International Friendship Exhibition.”
First off, what about that name? What about that burning smell? And the electrical sound of the mechanized chair moving up and down the wall? In this eclectic exhibit of mostly local artists, they all do tie together, but you have to pay close attention.
The name is taken from a pavilion in North Korea that houses various gifts and artifacts given to the dear leaders of that bizarre, ultra-authoritarian state through the years. The founder of Primary Projects, Books Bischof, doesn’t know what’s actually in that pavilion — few do — but guesses that it is filled with an eerie combination of kitsch and propaganda. Long before the very odd controversy over the movie The Interview erupted, when North Korea objected so strongly and possibly hacked distributor Sony Pictures’ site to make Sony pull the movie, Bischof and the other directors of Primary had thought that the contradictions so apparent in this Friendship Pavilion would be an interesting foundation for a show.
“This is not an overtly political show,” Bischof says. “There’s no George Bush on a stick type of thing.” But the tension between patriotism and protest, between propaganda and kitsch, were intriguing ideas. “Things are not always what they seem on the surface.”
Like the rainbow sculpture from Gavin Perry. A centerpiece of the show, it might strike some as a little too happy coming from this artist. But the rainbow turns into a black bow in the adjoining room.
Next to it is a heap of 94 burnt American flags from Cole Sternberg — that is the work that has created the smell. The noise comes from a chair lift created by Reed Van Brunschot. A nondescript, tan chair moves up a track on the wall, stops and comes down again. It has a Kafka-esque feeling to it, a monotonous seat where creativity and dialogue have been crushed, and we only go through the motions.
Look up to the high ceiling, and there is another faux-joyful piece, painted by Jim Drain. Its colorful lettering includes peace signs and religious symbols, but it spells out “Exorcist.”
The photographs from Zachary Balber are heart wrenching. One is a series of small snapshots of a lovely girl, maybe from a modeling shoot — a form of commercialized propaganda especially of the female form. She was Balber’s sister, who died of an overdose.
One of Miami’s most interesting emerging artists, Jessie Laino, has created sculptures that can go unnoticed at first. They are car mufflers, painted and spruced up, like an authoritarian country trying to make the ugly underbelly presentable.
Beatriz Monteavaro introduces the exhibit with a corner in the front of the space filled with pure kitsch and humor, while also poking a finger at terror mechanisms. She has set up a house of horrors, walls and two little rooms plastered with comic-book fright imagery, bathed in black light. Like North Korea itself, it is filled with the absurd; but repetitive images of skulls are scary too.
These are just some of the works from the 19 artists in the show, which has taken a risk with all its layers that is ultimately successful.