Sunday, April 14, 2024

A Local Artist’s Oversized Dystopia

One of the major pieces in “Rolling Stop,” an exhibition of works by local artist Mark Handforth at the Museum of Contemporary Artin North Miami, is titled “Vespa.” It’s a small motorcycle covered in motley candle wax, with lit candles perpetually dripping onto it, constantly adding to its evolving patina of color. It looks every bit like a shrine to the fallen, funereal in its sentiment despite its rainbow of melted wax.

It is perhaps no surprise that the piece was completed in 2001, the year everything changed. “Vespa” has the solemn air of a makeshift memorial, the kind the sprung up throughout New York City and beyond in the wake of 9-11. The sense of memorialization that permeates “Vespa” is countered by a more potent sense of apocalypse now in Handforth’s other site-specific installations, made between 1998 to 2011: the tactile remnants of terror, blown up to giant proportions and strewn about the museum grounds like debris after a Category 5.

The beheaded light of a street lamp lies helplessly on the floor in “Untitled.” In “LampostSnake,” a giant lamppost towers above patrons, its bottom coiled into a serpentine tangle, waiting to pounce. A concave street sign reading “Slow” is bent and misshapen, curved inward at both sides and plastered to a wall. On another wall, the evocatively titled “Syd Barrett” depicts a steel trash receptacle jutting toward us in three-dimensional fashion, illuminated above it by four fluorescent tubes. There is no order to any of this, only anarchy; Handforth’s mini universe is a world on the fritz, albeit one composed of clean, geometric lines.

One room of the exhibition is dominated by an enormous wishbone, sitting on the floor in an immovable hulk, attracting the eye like a T-Rex replica in a history museum. Presented in such an oversized scope, the otherwise banal object indeed resembles some primordial, prehistoric creature, one of Darwin’s casualties. Part of the fun of Handforth’s work is ferreting exactly this kind of inkblot symbolism from their matter-of-fact natures. What do coat hangers and candles really look like when they’re magnified to such awesome scales? What do these objects look like now to ants? “Rolling Stop” reduces museumgoers to the scale of insects, making us reassess these objects in new, evocative contexts. Whether they conjure the sense of post-apocalyptic carnage that they stirred in me is entirely up you.

On a side note, be sure to pick up an exhibition guide as soon as you enter the museum. Not all of Handforth’s works are located inside the building, and this blueprint points out several installations in the outdoor Art Court and Plaza Pond, as well as Handforth’s off-site magnum opus, “Electric Tree,” a dazzling fluorescent light fixture in nearby Griffing Park.

“Mark Handforth: Rolling Stop” is at Museum of Contemporary Art, 770 N.E. 125th St., North Miami, through Feb. 19. Admission is $5 adults and $3 students and seniors. Call 305/893-6211.

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