South Florida artist Misael Soto likes to make his audiences stop and think.
Soto, who identifies closest with the “Q” in the LGBTQ spectrum and prefers the pronouns “they,” “them” and “theirs,” is known for unconventional, experiential installations:
The avant garde artist first attracted attention in 2011 with “Watch with Me,” in which Soto set up a small battery-powered television, four chairs and a cooler of drinks on a busy sidewalk and proceeded to watch a movie. Passersby could sit with the artist and engage in a free-flowing conversation inspired by the film, the unusual surroundings and each person’s personality. Those interactions became the “art.”
Six years ago, Soto created a giant beach towel that was displayed on public beaches up the Atlantic Coast. In his artist’s statement, Soto said his goal was to encourage others “to occupy and enjoy the towel as I hope to subvert the way beach-goers claim their temporary real estate on the beach. I intend to indict and undermine typically American excess, in an attempt to comment on how we choose to share the wealth (or not).”
Just last year, Soto created a week-long installation, “Flood Relief,” in Miami Beach employing multiple industrial gas-powered water pumps “in a Sisyphean display intended to broaden the scope of local and national conversations on Miami's rising waters. Typically used to disperse flood waters, these pumps created a continuous flow of water removed from and funneled back into Biscayne Bay. Stripped of their original purpose, essentially becoming fountains, the water pumps were activated daily by three performer operators.”
“Flood Relief” got the attention of city leaders in Miami Beach and led to the biggest challenge—and opportunity—of the artist’s career. This spring, Soto was awarded a prestigious residency with ArtCenter/South Florida and a commission from the city of Miami Beach to expand upon that installation and focus further public attention on the environmental challenges ahead.
“Together we’re trying to get a sense of what’s going on at every level concerning sea level rise, mitigation and resilience efforts in the city,” Soto explained. “I’m in the research phase, but eventually pretty soon, maybe around September, I’ll be unveiling a public project and it will be somewhere in south Miami Beach…it will be participatory in a way and will host various performances, art by other artists and also voices from the community. I’m hoping to get the public engaged in a real dialogue.”
Soto, who moved from Puerto Rico to Tamarac with his parents while still a toddler, originally envisioned a behind-the-scenes career as an art historian or curator.
“I had a personal upheaval around 2010 and realized I could affect change by affecting change within myself and then radiate out in some way. That’s really when I became an artist…engaging with others on a personal level, interrogating how far I can take things. I’m comfortable now creating works in public that have a lot of entry parts and participants— passersby, the accidental viewer, all the way to someone who goes specifically to engage with the work.”
Soto is confident the art that results from the residency will force both experts and the lay person to take a fresh look at the issues of climate change and sea level rise across the region.
“That’s what artists strive to do,” Soto said. “Present a new perspective.”
To learn more the residency and Soto’s upcoming installations, go to MisaelSoto.com and ArtCenterSF.org.