Time of the Empress: Architectural Identity and the Persistence of Hope

The sun has set on Art Basel Miami Beach. The art glitterati have left, marking the end of one year and heralding the next. But in a small gallery in Wynwood, time stands still where a spell has been cast by artist duo Aziz + Cucher.

At Rhonda Mitrani's The Screening Room, it is as if nothing has ever changed. The undulating rise and fall of images feel like the gentle, calm, cyclic rhythm of human breath. The moving images are Time of the Empress, excerpted from Some People, a survey exhibition of Aziz + Cucher's most recent work, curated in 2012 by Lisa Freiman at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Historically, Aziz, who is of Lebanese descent, and the Peruvian-American Cucher (whose Jewish family recently emigrated to Israel) have manufactured a fastidious semblance of objectivity, embracing a hyper-conceptual impersonal style. However, in 2006, the Lebanon-Israel war broke out, propelling the pair to confront their political and national affiliations. Reversing their process, they began to explore personal narratives, examining their own familiar biases. The result was Some People.

For The Screening Room, curator Tami Katz Freiman has devised an intimate setting consisting of video panels that gently curve, wrapping the space, screening the seven digitally animated architectural renderings that comprise the piece. Each panel depicts an artificial composite grafted by the artists -- here, a hint of International style, there, a taste of Postmodern, Mies, Corbu, a nod of the head to Brutalism, another to Rationalism, on and on -- the effect of all seven like watching a historical review of architectural iconography.

Drawing closer, it is as if we are viewing the interaction between an invisible draftsman's mind and hand, as he fashions each creation from his imagination. Even as his lines converge, shaping contours and manifesting familiar shapes, they begin to erode. Treating each image independently, Aziz + Cucher have personalized a rhythm and style to each set of colliding features as they culminate in each respective façade's construction and collapse. Some buildings grow faster. Others topple or crumble slower. Some build or decay on a slant, others at right angles. Sometimes the moving images recall ashes or falling embers. Still other times they move mechanically like a tetris game. There goes a building like the local Herzog and de Meuron 1111 Lincoln Road and another, with regular, deep recessed niches that reminds me of Italy's Casa del Fascio or the Coliseum.

These animated images seem innocent enough, illustrated edifices, rendered, built and destroyed in real-time. But there is something uniquely intriguing about them. They are not just lines, images, video, flat -- they have character, personalities. And the sum total of their movements, the choreography, is something soothing, meditating -- even hypnotic. It feels like a womb in here, and the buildings, they feel like gestating embryos -- organic, living, breathing organisms. They are born and they die.

Like the cultures who built them.

Like the individuals who comprise those cultures.

At the end of the day, Time of the Empress is a very telling tale about humanity. Our identities cannot be isolated. They will ebb and flow like a draftsman's drifting lines. They will be site-specific. They will join hand and mind to fight wars and to build cultures. Those cultures will construct victorious monuments to values supposedly touted by so many individuals. But our identities, like our bodies, grow stronger, change, then age. Nothing is static. And there is something comforting in that. There is some absurd hope in the never-changing truth that everything is always changing, yet always remaining the same.

Time of the Empress

Time of the Empress runs through March 14 at The Screening Room - 2626 NW 2nd Avenue Miami, FL 33127.
For more information, please contact 305.582.7191.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the countries of origin of Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher. Aziz is of Lebanese descent and Cucher is Peruvian-American. The post has been updated to correct this.