My first encounter with Misael Soto’s work was indirect: I saw photographs a friend had taken of his piece, I can’t see you, but I can feel you, in which Misael and several participants stood — on bustling Wynwood sidewalks during Art Walk — facing walls or lampposts, eyes closed, as if oblivious to the passing activity. A key component of the happening, invisible in the photographs, were spray-painted footprints behind the participants’ own feet, inviting passerby to stand back-to-back with them. According to my friend, onlookers were shocked, amused, occasionally angered. Some even joined in.
Creating a very deliberate rift in the accepted or understood social environment is a hallmark of Misael’s work, but so is open participation. The sheer size of his giant (56 feet by 29 feet) Beach Towel installation, which he’s taken out three times — the latest over Memorial Day — is bemusing; beach towels are individual, mostly personal spaces, not open to strangers. But over the holiday, the gargantuan nature of the thing served as a catalyst inviting confused beachgoers to join in the revelry. Deeming himself a “situation-based” artist, Misael feels “creating disruptions in the social atmosphere [to be] one of art’s essential characteristics. I am fascinated by the possibility of sparking cognitive presence, or the awareness of the ‘here and now,’ through disruptions in normality. I attempt to go one step further and create disruptions that provide an option for participation.”
That inclusion is something very beautiful, a concept that exists less in the realm of art and more in ideas of genuine humanity: “Once participants become part of the work, that moment of their existence is elevated,” continues Misael. “Elevated not only to ‘art’ — who cares about that! — but elevated to a moment of presence where options present themselves, newness exists, and collective unity is experienced.”
In an attempt to understand how this event unfolds in other settings, Soto is taking the Beach Towel on a tour up the east coast that will end in Rockaway Beach and grace Fort Lauderdale’s shores Sunday. The hope, of course, is that actual participation is fostered — once the crowds won’t consist of friends and fans of Misael, the work’s effects can perhaps truly be comprehended. “Taking it on tour was the next logical step when thinking about accessibility in my work and with this piece in particular,” Misael explains. “Just how universal is this idea of beach real estate and how different would beachgoers react to it in other areas? I am dying to find out! It was a huge step forward for me in terms of my progression out of the gallery/institutional setting, as well as creating a scenario that could include individuals as part of a mass, with or without me.”
Misael and his towel will be on Fort Lauderdale Beach Sunday from 10 a.m. till sunset — the exact location is to be determined, but you can check his Facebook and his official website on the same day to find out —
with Suede Dudes playing in the evening. Suede Dudes were booked to play, but pulled out. Soto is currently looking for a replacement.
“Guests should bring everything they would normally bring to the beach and anything they think towel visitors would enjoy,” Misael advises. “Guitars, radios, games, et cetera. It’s all welcome.”