KERRY PHILLIPS’ DE-INSTALLATION REHOMES OVER 500 SALVAGED OBJECTS
Kerry Phillips: “Between the mundane and the miraculous,” (2023) at The Bass Museum, Miami Beach. Installation “Cross Section,” (2023). Found, collected, donated objects. (Photo courtesy of Zaire Aranguren/The Bass, Miami Beach)
Over three months ago in midsummer, Kerry Phillips “Between the mundane and the miraculous,” commissioned by The Bass Museum, Miami Beach, featured in-gallery, interactive laboratory events inviting the local community to donate household objects and to participate in hands-on builds for Phillips’s site-specific installations made from salvaged objects.
Two months later when the exhibit was closing, an open invitation went out to Miami Beach residents and to participants in “The Things Lab” reuse forum to be part of a three-day de-installation experience. They were to reserve pieces or to come into the gallery space for the de-installation, all were welcome to choose for free from hundreds of items once considered junk and repurpose them anew.
Since the age of seven, Phillips has been collecting what most people consider to be junk. On-site during the de-installation at The Bass, sitting confidently on a broken wrought iron garden chair, she explained, “It is near impossible for me not to collect, once I’ve picked up an object, it is almost like I have fostered it, it now becomes part of my family, it’s part of me, part of my soul. I can’t throw it away…from the moment I’ve picked it up, I’ve grafted it into my heart.”
Phillips describes how she cherishes objects for the stories they carry, seeing value even in discarded or broken items that seem to seek her out. She relishes the connection with people that these items foster, sharing their history when known and eagerly listening to the stories they evoke in others. This exchange transcends age, demographics, and geography, as visitors from all walks of life recognize something familiar or inspiring in the work, sparking anecdotes and shared memories.
James Voorhies, Curator of The Bass, explained the exhibition’s unusual timeline before the opening and throughout the de-installation process, “Kerry is very open to making an exhibition as a conversation between the curator and institution and an artist…(a conversation) about how the exhibition will transpire, and I encourage that kind of activity and also the institution has to provide a framework for it to happen.”
The exhibition started with a month-long call to Miami Beach residents to contribute domestic items, creating a unique, participatory project that saw these everyday objects potentially displayed for two months. This process involved discussions with artist Kerry about the significance of each object, presenting an experimental approach to exhibition creation that embraced a sense of organized chaos. Such participation imbued contributors with a sense of agency, making them stakeholders in the exhibition’s outcome and changing their perception of their ‘mundane’ contributions. Once placed within the exhibit, these everyday items acquired a new charge and meaning, altering their relationship with the larger institutional space and other displayed objects.
“I think that people who are able to participate in something like that are given a level of agency in the making of an exhibition so that when they return they have something at stake in what’s in there,” Voohries explained. He described the idea of how, in an exhibition context, seemingly ‘mundane’ materials can take on a new significance. Their relationship with the institutional space and other objects changes, charging them differently and making them distinct.
Phillips’ commitment to her salvaged objects extends beyond her site-specific sculptural installations, she also feels a true commitment to the objects themselves and what happens to them next. Phillips explained, “when we were preparing to do this show, I knew I could not be the only person responsible for rehoming it. I can’t just throw it away. Luckily my friend and collaborator Susan Caraballo was available and has been able to help… Susan and I are really great – I’m really great at finding things and she’s really great at getting rid of things.”
Caraballo is an arts producer, director, curator, and collective artmaker, formerly the Artistic Director at ArtCenter/South Florida, now Oolilte Arts. Since 2015 she has been working collaboratively with hundreds of artists focusing on environmental issues, such as for the syposium she organized at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, “ARTiculating Sustainability: Resilience in the Climate Crisis.”
In February 2022, Caraballo and Phillips collaborated on a project at the Deering Estate during Caraballo’s LALA residency with Miami Dade College’s Live Arts Miami. The project, “Prelude to 2100,” invited artists to envision life in Miami in 2050 under climate change. Phillips’ contribution was a pop-up installation featuring a collection of found objects, forming a library and reuse shop where visitors could purchase items with invented currency. This sparked a friendship and subsequent collaboration between Caraballo and Phillips, leading them to plan “The Things Lab.” This community project aimed to divert waste from landfills through art, replicating their museum experience within the wider community. Caraballo had researched similar concepts like “The Library of Things” in London, New York, and Phoenix before deciding to establish “The Things Lab” in Miami.
Caraballo and Phillips’ vision for “The Things Lab” involved a dynamic library of rescued objects, a reuse shop, community repair cafes, skill-building workshops, and a lending library to reduce new purchases. They started with an exchange WhatsApp group in 2022, which now has over 250 members and has facilitated thousands of exchanges. Recent funding will allow them to transform the online group into a physical space in a local neighborhood. Meanwhile, Phillips’ exhibition, which closed on October 21st, had a significant impact. The three-day de-installation process involved the public rehoming of over 500 items once considered waste, demonstrating the value of everyday objects and reinforcing the mission of “The Things Lab.”
Jan Galliardt, Chief Preparator for The Bass, with assistant Victor Girlado, helped people take pieces out of the museum and load them up in their cars. There was a constant back and forth for them, from gallery to cars, but they seemed to enjoy themselves. As Galliardt explained, “We usually don’t get to work this closely with the artist. Kerry is something else, we went and collected from her studio and two storage units, in a 26’ truck. She had decided to give away a certain amount here and this is what we are doing now, so we don’t have to take so much back! It is totally interactive, people get to come in and see, and she was telling us you could choose things before the show was over.”
Erin Parish, a Miami-based artist originally from New York, enthusiastically collected numerous items from Phillips’ deinstallation. She appreciates the history and “soul” inherent in old objects and antiques, and believes in their transformative quality when seen anew or repurposed. Parish acquired several items during the event, including lamps, light fixtures, a dining table, a desk, old tools, and glass items, which she has already begun to repurpose into various sculptures.
Meieli Sawyer, a member of “The Things Lab” community, appreciates the platform for connecting people with shared values of sustainability and repurposing. She works in an advertising and marketing agency with various clients, including in the arts sector. Sawyer has observed that those interested in repurposing objects often come from creative backgrounds, seeing potential in items others might discard. To her, the act of finding a new purpose for an old object embodies the essence of art.
“I don’t know if it’s just because, intentionally or unintentionally, people who are interested in these types of items tend to be artists and creatives. I see it again and again as a theme, and coming from an artist point of view, what they do see is hope in something that someone else would think is ready for the garbage. And for me that’s so important, like it makes sense to see something, and say you know what, I think I’ll repurpose that. That’s art.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
THE BASS MUSEUM
Upcoming Exhibits at The Bass Museum, 2100 Collins Ave, Miami Beach thebass.org
For questions about art sessions please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 786-477-6003.
THE THINGS LAB
The Things Lab is still under development, but you can catch a sneak peek HERE. If you are interested in learning more about The Things Lab and supporting the initiative, please contact Susan Caraballo.
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