Delicate flower print installation adorns Miami Design District’s Sweetbird Building

Written By Josie Gulliksen
October 7, 2020 at 7:50 PM

Artist Cristina Lei Rodriguez has a strong connection to nature and also to the Miami Design District and she has combined the two with a public art installation in the heart of the neighborhood.

Displayed on the second-floor windows of the wooden clad Sweetbird Building on NE 39 St. are her five large scale prints, entitled “Digitizing the Phenomena of Nature (Orchids at Sunrise).”

Cristina Lei Rodriguez explains her process:

“One aspect of my craft is creating 3D objects on a scanner. The process is a combination of collage, putting together these objects and then using the scanner which in essence, captures the photo,” she said. “I then use the scanned image and because it’s so ‘hi-res’ they can be made into very large prints.”

Early on into the Covid lockdown, she was producing scans that captured the image of sunlight coming through the window, incorporating several orchids that her parents gave her into the images.

“My parents have always been orchid growers and so they gave me some they’ve had for about four years,” said Cristina.

She then decided to lay them out for a composition, and since the images are so “hi-res” it takes 30-45 minutes to fully capture. “During that time, the sun shifted in the background and affected how the plants looked creating an abstracted image, which was very interesting to me,” Rodriguez said.

The process was as follows:

The images were created by making compositions of real exotic orchids and local plants from the family garden on top of the scanner bed, done while light changed at sunrise. The high-resolution scan captured the plants and the actual sunlight read by the scanner in the moment, creating abstraction and digital interruptions in the images. Living in this moment of tension between the digital and real world, Cristina was inspired to try to digitally capture the ever-changing phenomena of nature in an image.

“My work looks at nature against the urban environment and the way the world is natural but artificial. During the pandemic the world’s become so digital, that this is an exploration of how it’s possible to capture something so simple as a sunrise or nature in process in an image and showing what that looks like,” she said.

In essence, Rodriguez’s art questions what is truly natural in today’s urban world. Additionally, her work is a hybrid of natural and artificial materials and ideas.

It was those natural elements that fit perfectly into what Claire Breukel, Miami Design District curator wanted for this specific building.

“My colleague Alex Shapiro had been working with this location and came to me to ask if I could suggest an artist. The wood finish on the Reiulf Ramstad Arkiteckter-designed building lent itself to a dialogue between natural materials and urbanity, and Cristina’s scans of flora were a perfect fit, both in content and in scale for the large second floor windows,” said Claire. “Cristina also has a longstanding relationship with the Miami Design District having a studio here in the early days and a solo exhibition last year.”

Cristina agrees saying, “when Claire came to me, the location was a perfect fit with this project which was about capturing light and creating these images with natural objects. Because the Design District is very exotic and nature based, I wanted to give it a green oasis feeling.”

In choosing the final pieces, Cristina curated the images that best matched the building’s colors to best complement it. After combing through around 20 images, she edited that down to seven or eight and then presented those to Claire.

Claire recalls that, “once she had a selection, we met and walked around the site with prints to decide on the final imagery to present to our team.”

They eventually picked out five and “those were finished in vinyl that’s reflective with the intent of changing the look of the images at different times of the day. It was one of those moments of pure joy, I was so happy how it all turned out,” said Rodriguez.

“We shared a colorful mix of images on the South and North sides that showed the gradations of time as the sunrise light she was using exposed the images she made. Significantly, the images work both on their own, and as a collective installation,” said Breukel.

Claire also felt Cristina was an ideal fit for this building and project because “she has always been interested in the politics of shine, specifically how images can allure viewers. These images play with the context of a desire-based environment, while offering beautiful, colorful and tropical images of nature, made through the use of technology.

That interest is evident in the more than 10 commissioned projects Rodriguez has created over the years, including ones at The Bass on Miami Beach, the University of Miami Business School and the Brooklyn Academy of Music for their Opera House lobby.

For these and the many other commissioned projects, “I use the site as a source of inspiration to create the works like in the Design District where I wanted to give it a green oasis feeling because the area is very exotic and nature based,” said Cristina.

At the University of Miami “my images also have plants because the commission was to bring the environment and nature into the building. I used materials from the royal poincianas on campus in my images,” Rodriguez said.

As for her connection with the Design District, Cristina grew up in the art scene with Claire, “I’ve known her since 2003,” said Rodriguez. “Also, a lot of my friends were interns in the Rubell Collection after graduate school.”

Claire says, “having creativity integrated within its architectural makeup is at the core of the Miami Design District neighborhood and continues to be. My hope is that visitors walk away with a meaningful creative experience.”

Rodriguez is excited to be a part of this experience saying “artists in Miami will take a corner and make anything out of it. Between the spirit of the community and Claire who is so tied into it, it’s really a great movement.”

The “Digitizing the Phenomena of Nature (Orchids at Sunrise)” installation can be viewed at the Sweetbird Building located at 90 NE 39 St. is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. Sign up for our newsletter and never miss a story.

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