Temporary Autonomous Zones at MOCA North Miami

A space to release from the mechanical controls of the mind

Temporary Autonomous Zones at MOCA North Miami

The initial stirrings of a shifting change in hierarchy—within an institution, community, or something more abstract—are like growing roots, buried within the earth and intertwining with each other until they push something out (and possibly away). Plants don’t necessarily have a conscious goal, but for better or worse, they instigate change. That they are alive means these changes are, in some way, inherently temporary; with their death goes their new structures. And yet: they existed. They—the plants, their occupied space, the environmental shifts that occurred within said space—happened.

Alternate Contemporaneity: Temporary Autonomous Zones at M.O.C.A. North Miami—curated by writer Richard Haden, a bit of a casual instigator in his own right,and Cristy Almaida— takes its name from the ideology and work of famed anarchist/author Hakim Bey. He defined a Temporary Autonomous Zone as a space within which one becomes informed enough to release him/herself from the mechanical controls on the mind (these controls are enacted by institutions and systems, and unwittingly accepted by all of us). Once this informational freedom is obtained, a new system, with new behaviors and new functions separate from the former oppressor, can exist—fleetingly. Once it becomes structured, it, too, is at risk of stifling and oppressing.


Haden’s Temporary Autonomous Zones exhibition is in itself a self-described “intentional community,” existing briefly on the outskirts of—and squarely within—Miami’s own art-world hierarchy. Such communities are at risk of becoming controlling structures themselves; it is in their brevity, then, that they are most free from constraints and therefore the most powerful. (An I.R.L. aside: my high school Psychology professor had us create our own Temporary Autonomous Zones via “social experiments” in other classrooms. One student faced her desk away from the blackboard. Another snacked unabashedly. There were many variations, and we all our teachers reprimanded us.)

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Photo by Francesco Casale

Upon entering TAZ, you are overwhelmed—assuming you’ve “entered” the space at all is problematic; pieces of the exhibition have made their way to the museum’s front desk, front yard, backyard (when I visited, a child played on one of the structures, to security’s extremely vocal chagrin), while the works in the main room sometimes seem to spiral around each other. TAZ is establishing subversion by its very shape and size: 50-odd participants, simultaneously loud and quiet, containing immersive installation and unassuming small-scale pieces alike.


Each work embodies the philosophy of a Temporary Autonomous Zone in spirit, purpose, or place—or all of these. A few are clear in their intent to occupy and foster new spaces, new modes of thinking: Guo Jian’s Mock Tiananmen Square, pork-meat-covered and placed squarely in the center of a room, was made in response to the massacre that followed the ’89 Democracy Movement, of which he was a part. The piece prompted his arrest and deportation by Chinese authorities last year. Despite their placement in a traditional institution, Christina Pettersson’s warm The Mourning Tents are a space for both movement and memory, for sadness and remembrance; on the show’s opening night, performances occurred therein, and the piece became collaborative. As the sole visitor to the exhibition (mid-week, days after opening night), I questioned whether I really was allowed to crawl inside, fulfilling Pettersson’s intent but possibly confusing museum employees. (Would I really be breaking a rule? Whose? Would I get scolded like my high school Psych classmates?) Kalan Sherrard’s World—a structure containing “nails from da tru cross”—is accompanied by Battle of Basel, a video featuring Sherrard’s own Temporary Autonomous Zone during last year’s Basel (you can read about it, and his subsequent imprisonment, here).

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Other pieces refer to different aspects of a TAZ—ones that aren’t intrinsically rebellious, but implying a subtle movement away from the ordinary (whatever that is) in their execution. Sleeper’s The first time, a looped video in which the reverberating echoes of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”—written by Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger, covered by numerous others, and popularized by Roberta Flack—are sung, hauntingly, by a tender-eyed vocalist. The song is repeated over several screens, imperceptibly but deliberately out-of-sync with each other, affecting not only the order of the lyrics but the way in which your brain processes them. Barron Sherrer’s I See A Selection From The Permanent Collection is a staticky video—nearly blank—stimulating in its emptiness and hilarious in presentation. Autumn Casey’s It’s a Long Way to the Top contains ephemera from various local artists’ studios—one item per artist: a hat, a pencil, a set of dinosaur bookends, nail polish—and leaves you wondering what their Temporary Autonomous Zones look like. Tucked away from the art world and its critics and fans and projections and openings and closings, all artists, tuning into whatever drives them to process and then build something, create a brief TAZ, becoming ruler of their own one-man social class.

 And that’s the point of Temporary Autonomous Zones: art as a catalyst for the breakdown of order and, furthermore, this art as a catalyst for the breakdown of this art world’s order: lesser-known artists showcased next to big names, the work spilling into the museum’s lobby (Patricia Margarita Hernandez’s/end SPRING BREAK archive, played on a small screen, might’ve belonged to the receptionist herself), noisy and chaotic, only to be dismantled at the end of May. In a Temporary Autonomous Zone, it is important to suspend perceptions of normalcy, lest the space become subjected to the ideas from which it seeks to remove itself.One question remains: how far did the themes or “rules” of this particular exhibition extend? I was able to peruse the space on my own, slowly, for nearly forty minutes after the museum’s closing. Perhaps this is Temporary Autonomous Zones’ most invisible success: rules were dissolved, if only by accident.

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