The Light Box

 

The Miami Light Project has a new home.

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By Beth Dunlop

Drive toward the setting sun on Northwest 26th Street, and you are where the Wynwood that used to be meets that Wynwood that is still becoming. Galleries, restaurants and studios yield to factories and discount dress shops, and it’s all very gaudy (or maybe, since the artists have taken over, one could say, Gaudi). The street is a visual feast, ablaze with paint — some of it commercial and the rest artistic.

It is here that the long-itinerant arts organization called The Miami Light Project has finally found a home, after 20 nomadic years of presenting cutting-edge programming all around town. Miami Light is the prime occupant of this 12,000-square-foot former warehouse, which is also shared by the M Ensemble Theatre Company and Arts for Learning as tenants.

It is now called The Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, and everything about it speaks to the exuberant, experimental vigor of its prime tenants. The Miami architect Oscar Glottman found ways to make the ordinary into the extraordinary here without once crossing over into that dangerous and often-false territory where importance in design is equated with expensive materials. The Light Box officially opens Thursday with Symphony for a Dance Floor, a performance-dance-video piece by the composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain, along with art, photo and costume exhibitions.

Miami Light leased the building from the urban entrepreneur and arts patron Tony Goldman. The structure had previously been a satellite exhibition space for the Museum of Contemporary Art as MOCA at the Goldman Warehouse. With its own expanded building in the offing, MOCA decamped to its primary North Miami home, and Miami Light was the lucky beneficiary. Major funding came from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which contributed $400,000 that was matched by $400,000 from Goldman Properties. The Ford Foundation gave $250,000, which led to the naming of the central space, the 185-seat Black Box, which is also being named Ford Foundation Theater.

Glottman came into the picture a bit later, when Miami Light executive director Beth Boone asked him to take a look. “I found a pragmatic design that lacked a sense of spirit,” Glottman says. Then he turned to Boone and asked her, “Do you really want to know what I think?” She did. “We had no money to speak of, and it was almost ready to go to permit, but I knew I wanted to bring the project to another level,” Boone says.

To do that, Glottman determined to “discover the DNA of the building,” to strip it back to the basics and make a space that would be rigorous enough for the dance, music and theater productions that would take place within but would also allow The Light Box to morph over time but still be true to its roots. “There’s no denying that this is a warehouse,” he says.

The central idea of the design is that of boxes within the box; however, these are not the boxes one might envision. The central space is defined not by walls but and a ring of 170 fluorescent lights suspended from the ceiling and some 45,000 linear feet of black rope, cut and hung as a curtain wall. Sliding partitions can further separate offices and other front-of house functions from the performance space, providing both a physical and acoustical barrier as needed. But it is brilliant idea of the rope wall that sets The Light Box apart.

In this, Glottman took strong inspiration from Latin American artists he admires. He derived the idea of the rope from the contemporary Brazilian artist, Vik Muniz, but the installation itself, he says, “echoes the concept of some of the installations by Jesus Rafael Soto,” the 20th century Venezuelan kinetic artist. And indeed, the artistic possibilities are endless — tie it, braid it, intertwine the strands, let it dangle — with an equally infinite aesthetic payout. Glottman loves what he calls “the unpredictability of how the ropes will be contaminated over time” as the artists and organizations in The Light Box make them their own.

A key decision was to take the entrance off the street. Patrons walk past the vibrant mural on the front façade. The mural is by the Brazilian-born New York artist Eli Sudbrack, who works under the identity of Assume Vivid Astral Focus (AVAF is also a collaborative group of artists with Sudbrack at the lead) and deals with the heady concepts of our ability to absorb rather than be devoured by “this infinite swirl of information’s black hole.” That is statement enough. Turn the corner, and there is a small terrace, a burgeoning bamboo garden and a side door.

Inside is a ticket desk and a long hallway, itself a work of art on long-term loan from Nina Johnson-Milewski, owner of Gallery Diet, down the street and around the corner, and the artist, who is known as Detext. The mural says, persuasively enough: NOT ONLY IN WORDS BUT IN ACTIONS.

It’s not all heady stuff, however. The snack bar — at the other end of this corridor — is called the Lunch Box, and all the other spaces have names to follow, including the Green Box, White Box and Black Box (for the various component of the theatrical process from rehearsal to presentation). The shared office space — the idea is to add in other like-minded tenants — at the front of the building is called the Work Box (of course).

Be assured that there are no frills. Glottman is a talented designer who easily works with texture, color and materials that are refined or rugged. In the case of the Light Box, his only option was the latter, which he made the most of, exposing the structure, leaving the concrete floor as it was, finding economical solutions that were also inventive and even elegant.

This is a very edgy space, which is only appropriate. The Miami Light Project has a two-decade record of presenting intriguing, edgy performances that reflect both the direction and cultural composition of the arts community here.

And like the community, it’s still — and probably always will be (which is a good thing) — a work in progress. High on the list of unmet needs are black (rather than the temporary beige) theater seating and plants for the courtyard and, says Boone, another tenant or two. She points out that the idea behind the Light Box is to provide a stable home for arts providers who have not previously or necessarily had one, as was the case with Miami Light. “We wanted to build a home and raise our family here,” Boone says.

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