The room was cold and every inch dark, save for the walls, which had been transformed into overlapping, perpetually shifting movie screens. It was a Friday night in late July, and a small, bewildered audience sat entranced by the seemingly non-sequitur progression of images: psychedelic iconography, Jimi Hendrix, symbols lifted from the occult and Egyptology, a giant cosmic baby.
Two films, Space Is The Place (1974) and A Joyful Noise (1980), ran simultaneously. Both rest somewhere between documentary, New Age/Sci-Fi epic, and free-jazz musical, and both take as their focus avant-garde jazz composer Sun Ra. Amid the flashing, morphing imagery pulsing on the room’s eastern wall, the bandleader and multimedia artist stood next to his only equal in freakdom — himself — and played an improv piano jam in each of the films.
The evening’s host, Miami-based video artist Kevin Arrow, called the event, straight forwardly enough, “Sun-Ra Listening Session”, but it might have been accurately dubbed “Sun-Ra Sensory Overload Happening”. The passersby walking to their dinner reservations in the Design District that night probably wondered what was going on in Spinello Gallery, not realizing that the venue had been transformed into an abstract “place” called the end/SPRING BREAK.
the end/SPRING BREAK has existed for almost two years as a mobile locus that founder Domingo Castillo describes as a platform for “people to share information, obsessions, and other things they know about or are interested in” using any media or format they please.
The name switches according to the art season. SPRING BREAK (all caps) is used during the winter months of snowbird migration and the art fair extravagance epitomized by Art Basel Miami Beach, and the end (no caps) takes over during spring and summer, when the art scene is relatively sleepy.
Along with fellow artists Patti Her and Cristina Farrah, Castillo set out to forge a space that broke fresh conceptual ground relative to those he had worked with previously. As a founder of La Cueva, a Little Havana residence and art space turned occasional music venue, and in collaboration with The Division of Human Works, in Brooklyn, the Miami native became captivated by space and spaces, both as theoretical concepts to ponder and realities capable of affecting and being affected.
“I realized that the politics of having an actual space creates limitations and boundaries that [you] don’t realize exist until the form and shape of the space creates itself through use,” Castillo says. Though somewhat opaque, his point — that you don’t know whether a space will accommodate you and your intentions until you test it out — perfectly explains the woes of DIY punk venue Miami Chum Bucket, whose limitations and boundaries we explored in Part I of this series.
The walls got weird at “Sun Ra Listening Session”
Theoretical musing aside, Castillo essentially wanted to use spaces creatively and with a maximum amount of creative freedom. To meet this desire, he decided he needed a space that could continually change. The problem was the usual one: money. Constant reinvention requires a lot of it.
“It was at this point that a nomadic space started to make sense,” Castillo says. “There are tons of empty spaces available in Miami, and all you need to do is talk people into letting you use it for a short period of time.”
Though the methodology may seem oversimplified, it is actually how the end/SPRING BREAK gets around. As artists, curators, and general participants in Miami’s art scene, Castillo and Her — the end’s current co-pillars — keep their ear to the ground regarding available resources, including spaces. Their project’s next dwelling place is often a mystery to the duo until shortly before they set up shop. Sometimes, there are gaps between programming as the end feverishly hustles for a new “campsite”.
While the end/SPRING BREAK’s strategy of tapping un-utilized resources is designed to minimize costs, its programming goal is to maximize variety of experience. The project currently hosts just about any kind of happening, from salons and performances to cooking demonstrations, as to constantly “change the nature of the space and keep the space functioning as a flexible conversation,” Castillo says.
When pressed to describe the end/Spring Break’s myriad contexts and influences — pop, high art, low-brow, nightlife — Castillo is quick to reject easy categorization.
“We want to provide a space that’s flexible and caters to whatever people propose,” he says. “I don’t think about labels when working with people’s ideas.”
“We’re celebrating without pretension,” he adds. “If we’re going to talk about something cool, why not talk about people’s obsessions instead of art?”
That free-form spirit was at the heart of Kathryn Marks’ Summer Ear Conditioning series, which the end hosted at the space formerly known as Spinello from late June to early August. Also a Miami native, Marks has undertaken a labyrinthine academic career in art and music that spans six colleges and five majors. Before Summer Ear Conditioning, she had collaborated with the end on an art show featuring prolific and eccentric local experimental pop musician Dino Felipe.
Since meeting in the local music scene nine years ago, Marks and Felipe have collaborated on a number of projects (mostly bands) including, last August, the end-sponsored Desert Animals. The show featured much of Dino’s private collection of homemade art, a live performance, and a recreation of Maryann Amacher’s “Dense Boogie 1″, a complex of sound that includes cicada chirping and equipment hissing.
This fusion between esoteric art world offerings and the pop-nightlife vibe of a live music show was the prototype for Summer Ear Conditioning, a series that enlisted an impressive array of local music artists to bridge the gap between rock-and-roll gutters and the wine-and-cheese tables at Art Walk.
Marks was inspired to host the series after taking a course on the history of 20th Century avant-garde compositional music — “basically from Debussy to Whitehouse,” she says. That meta-historical approach was present throughout the series, including in visual artist Jim Drain’s presentation on his band/art collective, Forcefield, which made the 2002 Whitney Biennial for their crudely psychedelic videos and incredibly crafted costumes.
Ultimately, Summer Ear Conditioning strove to locate the seemingly lowly endeavors of experimental musicians within the world of “entertainment” and the world of art in the ostensibly incongruous world of Miami. In its ambition and off-beat explorations, it could have had no other Miami home than the homeless abstraction known as the end/SPRING BREAK.
Part III of Miami DIY takes us to Beelzebub’s Cave. Stay tuned.
Matt Preira runs Roofless Records, a label specializing in vinyl and cassette releases from Florida artists.