The group exhibition “From Eden to Sahara” – presented by 131 Projects – took its title from a book authored in 1920’s Florida by John Kunkel Small. Based on the explorations presented in the book organizer, curator and artist Gustavo Oviedo selected works that represent a contemporary view on the themes examined in the book, such as nature, pollution and Florida-specific environmental issues.
Small‘s “From Eden to Sahara” resonated with Oviedo for its important and still relevant content as well as the author’s work process of documenting his explorations with photography ,which is also an integral component to Oviedo’s art practice.
The book was mostly written during the author’s many botanical research expeditions conducted for institutions such as the Smithsonian. Assisted by Charles Deering and David Fairchild, Small collected plant samples, explored and photographed thousands of miles of Florida’s natural habitat and documented the severe degradation of Florida’s natural environment, plant life and Native American village sites. As an early environmentalist, Small was concerned with the destruction of nature during Florida real estate boom in the 20s and his predictions for the future ring true today.
Selected around the three themes of nature, geometry and exploration, the works presented in “From Eden to Sahara” – ranging in medium from photography and collage to painting, sculpture, installation and performance – examine and engage with Florida and its natural environment as well as the local flora and fauna, the ocean, pollution and environmental awareness via subject matter, material choices or work process. The artists celebrate nature, examine the relationship between humanity and the environment and create a dialogue on current environmental issues that also contributes to the larger conversation on the subject matter.
Many of the works raise questions and address common issues also raised by Small that are relevant to the urgent current pollution issues in Florida such as bacterial contamination, algae bloom based on the release of contaminated water from Lake Okeechobee, degradation of the ecosystem in the Everglades due mainly to the expansion of the agriculture industry and the threat to marine life from excessive dredging.
The artists in the exhibition took varied approaches balancing aesthetics in celebration of nature’s beauty with conceptual concerns, and using materials ranging from wood, coral stone and ceramics to water, local plants and Styrofoam, a notoriously polluting material.
Jose Felix Perez’ trio of paintings presented a glance into dense and wild nature, Ernesto Kunde’s mangrove painting studied the Everglades and highlighted the importance of a balanced eco-system, and Derek Hunter geometric and architectural paintings were inspired by corals and crystallized rocks. Diego Guzmán’s installation incorporated drawings and found objects from boating expeditions he undertook alongside Oviedo to document uninhabited islands, while one of Oviedo’s own collages paid homage to the structure of the light house.
Jeffrey Noble and Allison Matherly aka Nice’n Easy presented a site-specific installation in a project room. The mixed-media installation in Miami-centric color scheme incorporated sculpture, painting, light sources, live plants, oceanic references and sand to combine into a sensory immersion into duality and definitions of the tropics.
On opening night Juan Griego’s performance captured the spirit of the exhibition by raising concerns and posing questions about the specific impact of NASCAR racing on the environment in Gainesville. Dressed up as Dale Earnhardt Jr yet simultaneously impersonating a natural spring, Griego was in search of a connection between the two worlds.
Oviedo’s practice as an artist and as a curator is deeply connected to his environment. He creates works, exhibitions, and dialogues about the environment that go beyond the surface because of an added visibility and understanding of said environment’s connections to life and culture in South Florida, and to notions of home and identity.
Everything is interconnected and he manages to curatorially translate that idea of interconnectivity.
For “From Eden to Sahara,” Oviedo created a space of communication between artists, artworks, audience and nature. The exhibition is alive and changing, thinking and speaking – literally as well as conceptually -through the artist’s evolving ideas but also the flowing water, the growing plants and the viewer’s interpretations that are all parts of this contemporary dialogue inspired by Florida.
AholSniffsGlue, Anthony Anaya, Bella’s Aquatic Gardens, Chris Oh, Derek Hunter, Diego Guzmán, Elysa D. Batista, Ernesto Kunde, Filio Galvez, Gary Fonseca, Gustavo Oviedo, HOXXOH, Huffer Collective, Jose Felix Perez, Juan Griego, Luke Chiswell, Monica Leslie Travis, Nice’n Easy, Nicole Salcedo, Noah Levy, Oliver Sanchez, Robert Chambers, and Sarah Mk Moody.