‘Holoscenes’ imagines a snippet of future life–underwater

Arts / Article

Photo: Domestic life underwater, a scene from Lars Jan’s “Holoscenes.” Photos courtesy of MDC Live Arts.

On an outdoor plaza in downtown Miami, a giant aquarium starts to fill with water. In response, the occupant within it–a performing artist–starts to deal with the everyday activities in which he or she is engaged in a manner that adapts to, well, living underwater.

This is the massive public art piece called “Holoscenes” taking place during Art Basel Miami Beach week, presented by MDC Live Arts, a Knight Arts grantee. It’s the brainchild of artist, TED fellow and self-described concerned citizen Lars Jan, who was inspired to produce “Holoscenes” after the devastation of hurricanes Katrina and, closer to home for him, Sandy. But it couldn’t be more relevant to Miami.

South Florida has, of course, always had a closer relationship with water than most places: we are a filled-in swamp that suffers the powerful forces of ocean storms on a regular basis. But recently, to anyone whose head is not metaphorically underwater, the warnings of the impact of climate change have become urgent, as we witness and experience the flooding from rising sea levels brought on by king tides and coastal land erosion.

Jan addresses an increasingly wet world in this artistically gorgeous, engulfing performance piece. As water in this tank begins to rise–almost 4,000 gallons are used per vignette–a performer reacts. One is playing a guitar, and eventually floats around trying to strum his cords. A woman in a colorful sari swims around with fruit that has been let loose from her fruit stand by the water. Another has been drinking coffee and reading a newspaper in a chair, and all become weightless as the water rises. The tank fills and empties at different speeds, so the performers don’t know exactly how to react each time (as one performer exits the human aquarium, another climbs in). The entire performance lasts six hours, daily and into the night, through Saturday.

A fruit seller in India in Lars Jan’s “Holoscenes.”

MDC Live Executive Director Kathryn Garcia saw the first version of “Holoscenes” at Ringling University in Sarasota (it was initially set indoors) about a year ago. “But it seemed tailor-made for Miami,” she said. It also was a great public art piece, she thought, meant to be something average people would encounter outdoors, and “allow us to think about climate change in a different way.” What better time to present it than when locals and the visitors converge in Miami for Art Basel?

The looming crises created by climate change, from droughts to ocean deluges, are no light matter. And it is something many people have put off thinking about because it can feel so overwhelming and seemingly impossible to stop. But the time is now, according to Garcia and Jan–in fact, just this year some of the most visible flooding ever from the king tides has occurred in the lead-up to Art Basel week. “We need to start the dialogue, jump-start the conversation,” Garcia said.

Adapting to life underwater in Lars Jan’s “Holoscenes.”

The great thing about “Holoscenes,” however, is that is it anything but ponderous. It is also spectacle, truly lovely spectacle. The performer slowly navigating life through water is mesmerizing. In the hyperactive urban landscape of Miami, with its nightmarish traffic and over-development, watching life slow down like this is special. “It is somewhat meditative,” according to Garcia. “You can hear the ‘glug, glug glug’” from the water in the tank, and see an art piece formed by the layers of a sari undulating and waving in slow motion.

While living in an aquarium is an artificial setting (at least for now), seeing someone deal with moving through waist-deep water no longer seems surreal–we’ve experienced it on average roads throughout South Florida just this year.

But on a somewhat bright side, “Holoscenes” also presents a future in which we can live. “What’s amazing is how much humans can adapt to situations,” Garcia said. You can see when the performers figure out how to deal with their new, watery worlds.

The performances start in the afternoon so that students at Miami Dade College and downtown employees can run into them without really trying, and then run into the evening, with the lighted tank forming an amazing visual beacon–maybe one of hope.

MDC Live Arts presents “Holoscenes” from 2-8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, at MDC Wolfson Campus, Kyriakides Plaza, 300 N.E. 2nd Ave., Miami. For more information, call 305-237-3010 or visit the MDC Live Arts website.