Artists Occupy Trojan Horse Against Climate Change at Aspen Ideas: Climate Miami Summit

Written By Taima Hervas
March 29, 2024 at 2:24 PM

From left to right: Jessica Freites, Conduit; Asser Saint-Val, Artist; Thandolwethu Mamba,  Baritone Opera Singer; Adrienne Tabet, Body Painter; Micheal Gil, Musician; and Paloma Dueñas, Musician.  Photo courtesy of Roy Wallace.

Local Miami artists join forces to help realize solutions to climate change and sea level rise at Aspen Ideas Climate Miami 2024.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava looked back at Aspen Ideas Climate 2024 and said, “For the third year in a row, Miami-Dade County has hosted the Aspen Ideas: Climate Summit bringing our environment to the forefront in new and innovative ways. This annual event is a model of collaboration with participation from the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact and multiple Miami-Dade County departments that elevated our local artist community to uniquely and creatively respond to these critical challenges we are facing. We look forward to welcoming the Aspen Ideas: Climate Summit back in 2025.”

What did it mean for artists to exhibit, perform, or screen work at a global climate change conference amongst 150 climate speakers, 110 future leaders and 6000 attendees all focused on finding solutions? At Aspen Ideas: Climate Miami 2024, March 11 -13, thirteen local Miami based artists were invited to metaphorically occupy the fabled Trojan Horse with their works of art as a secret weapon to trigger emotions, instill hope and inspire urgency to find solutions in the face the world’s greatest existential challenge, climate change. Their commissioned immersive visual art, multidisciplinary performances and short films ranged from an ephemeral post-apocalyptic temple to underwater installations creating life, and from the generational rituals on how to eat a mango to coping with the loss and grief resulting from the impacts of climate change.

Visual Artist, lou anne colody, presented “CiRCA., 2020 – 2023,” a mixed media installation and immersive exhibition. Photo credit Monica McGivern, courtesy of Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and City of Miami Beach.

In the far corner of the vast Hall C of the Miami Beach Convention Center, wedged in a dark space behind two enormous structural pillars, stood a strange construct, what appeared to be a mystical walled Stonehenge. If you found your way into this labyrinthine installation, you would have noticed, on an institutional informational pedestal, a photocopy of the “The Miami News” headline, “Archeological enigma emerges after the great floods of 2025,” and the accompanying article, dated Monday, April 8, 2250, with the lead, “An enormous sculptural dwelling has been discovered near the previous Biscayne Bay…”

As visitors entered Artist lou anne colodny’s meticulously created installation, first they crunched down noisily on dried out dead leaves, then found themselves encased in tall, undulating plinths and walls of weathered stones. If they looked down, in the corners were authentic clumps of off-putting, yet intriguing dust balls populated with collections of artifacts. Mounted in the walls were convincingly all-important, but utterly indecipherable small temples to something, someone, unknowable, long forgotten and decorated with significant, perhaps holy, odds and ends. There were feathers and parasitic air plants. False crows looked down from the ledges of walls above. On closer inspection, structural columns were made from giant cardboard boxes and paper-mâché stones formed walls made of newspapers, with legible headlines decrying too much heat, droughts, fires, then floods, celebrity idolatry, ugly politics, and fiery elections. Through a short, twisting hallway in a hidden grotto was a seat, which invited one to sit down, to read, to examine strange diagrams with stranger creatures and wonder what had gone so horribly wrong for the people who created this monument in the headlined years between 2020 and 2023.

Over the three-day summit, colodny was often stationed beside her mixed media installation, “CiRCA., 2020-2023,” watching visitors, a welcoming guide pointing out certain details in her mixed media installation for Aspen Ideas: Climate. She explained, “This opportunity has been revolutionary for me because it takes me out of the art world into another section of society to see what people who are probably not as familiar with art (as art gallery visitors), and to see their reactions means a lot. My work is a labor of love, and here (in a climate conference) to realize things you don’t really know are in your head, and they are there magically…it makes me happy, makes me realize that obviously I am concerned with it (climate change), but there is nothing intentional here.”

Visual Artist Amanda Keeley’s “Words To Sea,” is an immersive, site-specific installation constructed with images of magic hour photos Keeley took on Miami Beach, printed onto reusable modular building block panels and featured a podium displaying Keeley’s limited edition artist book. “Words To Sea” was at the entrance to Hall C for the entire conference with Keeley, who invited attendees and speakers to pause before entering the vast hall of climate solution ideas, and to contemplate and write down an important personal word or phrase of gratitude on a page in her toxic free dissolvable book. Next, with a wet paint brush, they could remove and take away their page to later release to dissolve into the ocean, or in any way they chose.

Keeley explained, “I’m interested in spiritual ways of cleansing and the concept of healing, releasing, and surrendering. I read about the paper; I loved the idea of destroying to create. The book itself is made to be destroyed.” When asked, Keeley, said she had chosen to release a Haitian expression which meant ‘the joy of seeing someone you haven’t seen in a long time.’”

Miami ReefStar 3-D printed concrete prototypes informed by the imagery of the migration of starfish that allude to the reflection of stars high above in the sky for the Miami Beach’s Underswater Public Sculpture Park and Artifical Reef, the ReefLine. Image of Miami ReefStar by artist Carlos Betancourt in collaboration with architect Alberto Latorre.

Visual artist Carlos Betancourt in collaboration with architect Alberto Latorre presented “Prototypes for Reflections Under the Sea: Star World.” Their Miami ReefStar is to be the second of several installations to come in the environmental public art project, the ReefLine, a multifaceted, multi artist collaboration creating an underwater sculptural marine habitat, a living artificial reef and snorkle park on Miami Beach, led by Artistic Director, Ximena Caminos. Betancourt and Latorre have a long history of collaboration, both are from Puerto Rico, with a shared passion for art and architecture, nature, and the environment, and say they find all important balance working together.

Betancourt described Miami ReefStar in terms of his art practice, “My personal work is all memory based. My stars are very simple, it is the idea of being a kid, a child, and being in awe with nature…seeing a starfish for the first time…and then not only seeing just one, but seeing many starfish conglomerated … I thought, ‘this is so beautiful – what nature can do with these shapes and colors!’…and I referenced them to the sky, with stars in the sky, stars in the ocean, and this has stayed with me…” Betancourt weaves memory, nature, the environment, identity and community into his work, added, “My work is loaded with optimism and mystery – a visual image is the best result you can get.”

Latorre elaborated, “The starfish are going to become marine habitats, the structures will attract fish to live and give a surface for corals to grow. We will be implanting corals using an innovative Coral-Lok which will help accelerate the process of their growth…the starfish will be sprinkled (throughout) the 7 Miles of the ReefLine and become the binding element.”

When asked if he intended for his art to inspire action to solve climate change, Betancourt thoughtfully replied, “For centuries artists have fought to remain truthful to our feelings…some people call artists, poets, the keepers of truth…We have these feeling and we want to create the feelings that want to exist…we want to remain truthful to that voice inside…I don’t sit down to create to inspire, I do something because the forces that come into my mind, my soul, my spirit – my third eye! – is pushing it! I am not a preacher; however, I think philosophically when you are honest with your work it cannot help to inspire.”

Betancourt explained that meanwhile Caminos is intentional about using art as a vehicle to convey a message in The ReefLine, specifically as a pathway to help solve the climate crisis. Although he does not consider his own art intentional in this way, he knows that in the process, in the collaboration of the artists and the team of marine biologists, conservation experts, marine architects, and innovators, his art adapts and grows. He summarized, “we are educating ourselves (on this project and at Aspen Climate)…we know much more… and I know that the ReefLine has a force of its own, the theme wants to exist…as a collaboration the project picks up new meaning that is not strictly your own, Ximena and Alberto guided me, and my art becomes a vehicle where corals are going to grow, where new fish will live, and starfish will hang out! It is a living thing, I am proud of this, it is like a fantasy, but it will be very real. This is an attempt to create life where it is needed.”

(Read more about the ReefLine project on Artburst HERE.)

From left to right: Jessica Freites, Conduit, wearing a skirt designed by Costume Designer Shunelle Porcena, Micheal Gil, Musician, and Asser Saint-Val, Artist seated at keyboard. Photo credit Monica McGivern, courtesy of Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and City of Miami Beach.

Asser Saint-Val is a multidisciplinary artist and thinker who collaboratively creates multi-sensory interactive art installations. “KLASS-C-FI,” his multidisciplinary installation and performance for Aspen Ideas: Climate, was featured at the Opening Reception for Aspen Ideas Climate 2024 at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens Opening Reception. Saint-Val’s “KLASS-C-FI” is also a celebration of his collaboration with Paloma Dueñas, Musician; Michael Gil, Musician; Jessica Freites, conduit; Adrienne Tabet, Body Painter, Shunelle Porcena, Designer; Thandolwethu Mamba, Baritone Opera Singer. According to Saint-Val, “KLASS-C-FI is I am, I feel, I create, I love, I speak, I see, and I know climate change. The installation performance encapsulates the profound parallels between the two entities on a macro and micro level. The objective of this work is to create a surreal environment that celebrates and intertwines with the internal and external transformations occurring within us while eliminating the fears associated with it.”

The body painted performers were magical, mysterious, funny, seriously wild works of art in themselves, from small touches of color with abstract forms, to full body paint with artistic embellishments and combining humorous or formal wardrobes, a skirt repurposed from old rubber hoses. They collaborated to simultaneously create and perform, to glide, spin, kick a soccer ball, dance, and move and throughout make their own intense, dynamic sound scape. There was operatic singing and classic Debussy played on keyboard, percussion beats from multiple drums to a long toothy animal skull. There was a quiet solo sound bowl concert. All of this and more, all performed to the silent, listening, perhaps sleeping performer, on a bed sprinkled with scents, lying beneath a huge helium balloon sporting a crazy wide toothy grin.

This enrapturing, collaborative performance came into being after a lifetime of personal research and contemplation in which Saint-Val steeped himself in ancestral African, Japanese, and other worldly spiritual wisdom, with an overarching curiosity, a need to understand humanity at the molecular, evolutionary, and spiritual level. Saint-Val’s fascination has long been with melanin, specifically, neuromelanin and the pineal gland, a tiny organ in the center of the brain, which is the origin of skin color, due in part to help him make sense of the racism he experienced as a young man when he moved to Miami from Haiti.

Saint-Val speaks freely of his deep dive into research, including into the works of philosopher René Descartes, who believed the pineal gland was seat of the soul and the place in which all our thoughts are formed, and into the work of scientists Edward Bruce Bynum, Ann C. Brown and fellow PhD T. Owen Moore who, in “The Power of Melanin on the Brain,” debate that the pineal gland is the physical place in the center of the human brain where the spirit goes through the body.

“If all thoughts and creativity come out of the pineal gland,” Saint-Val said, “I realized my work couldn’t be too figurative or representational. It had to be somewhat surreal, out of this world or unexplained, ambiguous. Whatever I had to do, it had to come from within rather than out, from within the pineal gland. It’s not something that would be easily understood. It shouldn’t be understood if it comes from that region of the brain, because it’s so pure, and it’s so fresh, and it’s different for everyone. And based on who’s looking they have to see it with their own… development, with how that region of their brain has developed. Everyone will see it differently.”

For all his heady thinking, Saint-Val laughingly revealed, ”Kids see it for what it is because they’re not making any connection to the outside world, or politics or whatever, they just see it for what it is and they laugh…they get it…they see something funny…and maybe the work is funny because you can’t explain. It is coming out of a non-judgmental place…but it has intentions.”

Hurricane of Trash (HOT), 2023, art installation, brought to life by California based visual artists Joanne Wang and Nick McBrian in collaboration with Clean Miami Beach. (Found objects, suspension cable). Photo credit Monica McGivern, courtesy of Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and City of Miami Beach.

Other artist activations at the Climate summit March 11 – 13, 2024, included “The Hurricane of Trash” (HOT) art installation, a collaborative hanging multimedia by Oakland, California multimedia artist Joanne Wang and Nick McBrian, who got involved with Aspen Climate Miami through Clean Miami Beach. They worked together to make HOT with Clean Miami Beach who collected plastic debris at their beach cleanups for over two months in every color of the rainbow to hand over to Wang and McBrian to create their 25-28-foot-long hanging installation in the entrance of Hall C for the summit. According to the program, “HOT symbolizing both the magnitude of the issue of plastic waste and the potential for preservation and change.”

Artist Beatriz Chachamovits was invited to activate Aspen Ideas: Climate 2024 totes and swag with her detailed drawings of marine life based on her original drawing, ‘Exhibition Room #1,’ (India ink on vellum). Chachamovits is an environmental artist and educator from São Paulo, Brazil living and working in Miami, Florida. The Aspen Ideas Climate bags also had a quote from Miami poet Cherry Pickman’s poem, “How to Greet the Spring,” featuring the opening line, “The sun was out the flood came anyway.”

Artworks were presented by the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs through its Arts Resilient 305 Initiative, made possible with the support of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Affairs Council, Miami-Dade County Mayor and Board of County Commissioners, City of Miami Beach Mayor, City Commission, and City of Miami Beach Tourism and Culture Department’s Cultural Affairs Division. is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music, and more. Don’t miss a story at

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