Plastic people of the universe

Miami artist Katerina Friderici finds beauty in cast-off materials


through Jan. 2, 2015 | Twelve21 Gallery, 1221-C N. Orange Ave. | 407-982-4357 | | free

Motoring up North Orange Avenue, one escapes the heat and noise of downtown; Lake Ivanhoe shines on one side, and a picturesque row of white structures marches up the other. Deceptively square and traditional, Ivanhoe Row offers some of Orlando’s most delightful commercial space, with vine-covered courtyards and small shops. A narrow stair off the sidewalk leads you up to Twelve21 Gallery’s high perch, a single-room art space tenaciously maintained for the last five years. Some of the most provocative new art in the city has come through this gallery, and Miami’s Katerina Friderici continues this trend. I spoke to her recently while she installed her work in the gallery, wrangling plastic cocoons, metal cans and other art she hauled up from Miami.

“It’s kind of a contradiction,” Friderici laughs, indicating one of the glowing plastic blobs on the floor, “because nothing is living inside.” With her quick smile, sitting on the floor cradling her cocoon, she looks like a mother nurturing an egg. “You might think something beautiful might come out, like a butterfly or a bird,” she muses. An industrial designer, Friderici shares her current studio at Art Center South Florida with other artists. There she makes work out of bubble wrap, coffee cans and other items diverted from our burgeoning landfills.

Plastic chokes the oceans with garbage, chokes animals to death and is choking our landscape with crap. “But it’s not an evil material; we just have to make things better,” Friderici insists, waving her hands at the cocoons throbbing with light. Suspended by strings, they silently bathe the space in a kaleidoscopic rainbow. Much of her other work is internally lit. Already notorious in Miami is her Coffee Can Series, wall-mounted, with large circular lenses. You peer into each can like a microscope, seeing inside another little world. Larger square boxes hold more intricate dioramas that seem to expand and unfold the closer you get. Each one sucks you in; they’re so bright, slick and precise.

“WAKE UP” is writ large in aluminum-shiny vinyl letters across the top of the gallery, Friderici’s message to the viewer. Her glittering photographs of gold, jewels, diamonds and other trappings of luxurious wealth are self-consciously pretty, a worship of surface. “I put a lot of love into my work,” she says earnestly, and then grins, her dark eyes crinkling with wit.

“When you look in, you’ll see couples embracing, lovers holding hands on park benches inside these little worlds. I want people to wake up and realize there is a world of beauty!”

Friderici’s exquisite, jewel-like little dioramas are obsessive; yet she urges us to wake up out of an angry, shopaholic dream-state and start loving the world again. These pieces comment on the current consumerist frenzy just in time – and yet, it’s all relative, because those coffee cans are so cool and restful inside; I want one. Just one more peek, please, and then I’ll go.

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