She’s in Control: Antonia Wright at Spinello Projects for Art Week

Control. Antonia Wright’s fast, brutal blast of a performance piece at Spinello Projects for Miami Art Week, took on multiple interpretations with that title. It’s a kind of miracle of meaning, a whole potentially tedious aesthetic and political essay in two syllables.

The preparation took longer than the piece. On the Saturday I attended, the audience waited in Anthony Spinello’s Little River gallery to be escorted outside into the cold rain and through the gate to the parking lot, where we huddled under umbrellas by a back entrance to sign and hand over damp waiver forms, then filed down a dark hallway to line up behind a chain “for your safety” at the end of a long dark room.

All light disappears, leaving you in utter darkness, a phrase we don’t really know the meaning of any more because most of us never experience it. This was simultaneously dense and empty, infinite-seeming blackness, the kind that literally doesn’t let you see your hand in front of your face, that forces you into your head and dissolves your boundaries. Darker than closing your eyes, because light can penetrate your eyelids. You understand why darkness is a tool of torture; you instantly feel disoriented, helpless.

control-by-antonia-wright-close-up-photo-by-diana-larrea.jpg
Antonia Wright and part of the set-up for Control. Photo by Diana Larrea, courtesy of Spinello Projects.

The first crash was louder because you didn’t know it was coming, a scream inside your non-seeing mind. Harsh strobe flashes illuminated a high metal barrier a few feet away, evoking brutal images of jail, cage; as sections of metal barricade, the kind used to hold back crowds, came hurtling from the back of the room to crash into the barrier. We couldn’t see who or what was sending them towards us. Each one felt like an explosion, an attack, a burst of rage and frustration, the barrier shaking, light and noise shrieking. Though the surprise was gone after the first time, the anticipation of the next crash had its own violence. The whole thing lasted less than five minutes.

Who knows what we would have made of Control without the title? The name multiplied the meanings. We, the audience, were out of control. We were being controlled. Walls are a tool of control. Crowd control. That raging, unseen person hurling metal at us was rebelling against control. And since we can’t see the agent of that screaming force, that disembodied rage could be something released inside our own minds – we too could be out of control, with anger, with fear, in an instant of madness.

And in the context of Fair, the overarching title of Spinello Projects’ Art Week programming centered on women’s work and voices, (fair for art fair and the antique patriarchal phrase “the fair sex,” who aren’t treated fairly in the art world, or the whole world), Control takes on another meaning – women’s rage at injustice, the ways they are fenced in and controlled.

A Miami-raised artist who works in a hybrid realm of body, photography, video and image, Wright does something powerful in Control that visual artists working in performance (don’t get me started on the “time-based art” label) often do not. To use performance as nothing but an illustration of an abstract idea is a simplistic abdication of the myriad sensate ways live performance can convey meaning. Control shook you to your bones; for those few moments, Wright was in control. And we felt what it was like to lose it.

Bikini Kill doing Rebel Girl. Just because I couldn’t resist.

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