The phrase “a day at the beach” conjures idyllic weather, buoyant beach balls, scantily clad bathers, and beer-stuffed coolers. But peer through the veneer of paradise and you may see a land-grab in action, coconut-scented tribes of various sizes and demographics staking claims to patches of sand and keeping clammily to themselves.
For several months, Miami-based artist Misael Soto has been trying to subvert this tribal dynamic.
All photos by Misael Soto
For several months, Miami-based artist Misael Soto has been trying to subvert this tribal dynamic by rolling out a giant towel (56′ x 29′) on busy South Florida beaches and inviting strangers to join him on it. After a successful Memorial Day outing, which attracted hundreds of fellow beach goers, Soto decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund a Beach Towel tour up the Eastern Seaboard. On his first go-round, he fell far short of raising $5,000. Humbled but no less determined, he lowered his goal to $1,500 and then exceeded it by raising $1,765 from 74 backers (and counting).
The money will help fund an 11-stop tour that started in Miami Beach on Saturday and will end, if all goes according to plan, on NYC’s Rockaway Beach on August 11. Ahead of the tour, which includes Hollywood Beach (Monday, July 30) and Daytona Beach (Wednesday, August 1), I traded emails with Soto to find out how he came up with the Beach Towel concept, how it indicts American excess, and what someone would have to do to get banished.
Second time’s a charm for your Kickstarter campaign. What did you learn from the first attempt and why do you think you succeeded this time around?
MS: Kickstarter is all about your reach on the web. Mine simply isn’t big enough for me to have met the original goal. I think a smaller goal, added urgency, and a loss of shame in self-promotion is what did it. Anyone thinking of starting one has to hit the ground running and shamelessly post and ask through all means available. Facebook was huge. If people believe in your project, they’ll want to give. You simply have to remind them … often.
The concept behind the Beach Towel seems simple: Break down the barrier between strangers in a public place by inviting them to share a fanciful setting, namely, a gigantic beach towel. Your explanation of the concept goes further, describing an attempt to “indict and subvert typically American excess”. Can you elaborate on that?
MS: Well, I don’t want to get into politics and world views too much. The Beach Towel is for EVERYONE regardless of beliefs and ideals. That said, beach towels are a commodified object that serve many practical purposes, but can also be used and are used to separate us from one another. I believe this separation and need for space and real estate on the beach is a by-product of (most-typically) American capitalist excess, greed, and selfishness.
The towel concept came to me about a year ago from a need to subvert spacial claims on an individual level, but also on a larger capitalist level. The Occupy Movement and my initial idealistic involvement with it shortly there after solidified my concept. On Memorial Day we were surrounded by hotel lawn chairs, placed out there to cash in, claiming public area as the hotels’. Honestly, they irritated me all day.
Were you at the beach one day wishing you had an ice breaker to start a conversation with some foxy sun-soaker when the thought hit: “If I only I had a beach towel that was 56 feet long!”
MS: Well, it’s definitely an ice breaker of sorts. A lot of my work can be seen and used that way. The concept came out of many running themes in my work, but primarily the subversion of objects and behaviors that separate the masses from interaction.
Drawing on past experiences, can you describe a typical day on the Beach Towel? How do you get people to join you initially? How do they tend to behave? Do they get comfortable quickly? Any standout experiences? What would someone have to do to get banished from the Beach Towel?
MS: A typical day on the towel is full of surprises. Its starts out with confusion from passersby, which is then quickly supplemented by a combination of laughter, curiosity, ambivalence, and a little bit of anger. I try to catch all of these responses and quickly jump in, introducing myself and the project and inviting participation. Some choose to stay and others do not dare, but they all leave happy. Any kind of negativity is not welcome on the towel, but the worst thing someone could do is puke on it! That would definitely get you banished!
How did you make the Beach Towel?
MS: I sewed 150 plus yards of bulk terry cloth fabric together at night for about a week.
How do you wash a 56-foot-long beach towel?
MS: One giant washing machine. The one I use is in North Miami at a place called Spotmaster.
How did you pick your tour stops?
MS: After looking up the most popular beaches in the country, I made decisions according to efficiency and distance from one another. Of course my first three in South Florida and my last at Rockaway Beach are biased picks. I want to see my friends too!
What do you hope to achieve with the tour? with the Beach Towel concept in general?
MS: With the tour I hope to share the towel with a wide number of people. I’m constantly taking in and processing it in order to refine current and future projects. With the towel concept in general? Well, I guess I’m trying to make the world a better place.
Here’s the full schedule for the East Coast Beach Towel Tour:
Miami Beach, 21st Street – Saturday, July 28
Fort Lauderdale Beach, Las Olas Blvd – Sunday, July 29
Hollywood Beach – Monday, July 30
Daytona Beach – Wednesday, August 1
Jacksonville Beach, Jacksonville Pier – Thursday, August 2
Myrtle Beach – Saturday, August 4
Nags Head – Sunday, August 5
Ocean City, MD – Tuesday, August 7
Ocean City, NJ – Wednesday, August 8
Belmar Beach – Thursday, August 9
Rockaway Beach – Saturday, August 11
To keep up with Soto’s travels, subscribe to the tour’s event page on Facebook.