Photos by Francesco Casale
Text by Monica Uszerowicz
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.)
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).