4.4 / Miami

Agustina Woodgate

By Tess Thackara November 15, 2012

Image: Agustina Woodgate. If These Walls Could Talk; 2011, installation view; sanded classroom walls, wall dust, found chalkboards. Courtesy of the Artist.

When I first arrive at Agustina Woodgate’s Miami studio—a small bungalow in a gated community that she shares, courtesy of the Fountainhead Residency, with the artists Typoe, Cristina Lei Rodriguez, Manny Prieres, and Clifton Childree—she is laboring intensively, as she has been daily for months, over the pages of a large hardcover atlas. Woodgate arrived at her studio one morning to find the formidable atlas on her studio table. It was a gift from Rodriguez, who watched Woodgate work on her World Globe Series (2011), sanding away the surfaces of globes to reveal a neutral base color under the speckled forms of land masses, with the lines of latitude and longitude just visible. Woodgate sized up the atlas for a while, letting the material resonate before embarking on the considerable task of erasing the colored countries and continents on all of the atlas’s six hundred pages with sandpaper. “There was no choice!” she laughs in her deep Argentine accent. “It’s not about taking decisions—it’s about being responsive to the object, exploring the object.”

She has progressed about a third of the way through when I meet her, thanks in part to the assistance of volunteers, and the atlas lies open on a page that is almost completed. Its thick, creamy surface is no longer populated with the puzzle of bright blocks and borders demarcating states and regions but with the ghostly shadows of territories and barely discernible scratch lines that give away the artist’s slow process of erasure. Around the edges of the book lie tiny plastic baggies of fine powder—the book’s extracted pigment—meticulously divided up and labeled according to tonal variation and elevation level. A subtle gray-green powder fills a bag marked “Very tall mountains.” No part of the atlas will be discarded, Woodgate notes. Once she completes the atlas’s deconstruction, she will use all the powder (enough to fabricate a small mountain, she is beginning to realize) to create a single sculptural topography, entitled New Landscapes, that will be exhibited by Spinello Projects in the Art Positions section at this year’s Art Basel Miami Beach.


Agustina Woodgate. The World in Hemispheres,2012; sanded world atlas; 24 inches x 14.5 inches. Courtesy of the Artist.

Through the artist’s process of paring down the visual representation of borders and land masses, political and geographic divisions no longer declare themselves but suggest delicate traces of abstract forms. In Woodgate’s painstakingly careful transformation of an object so weighted with the political tensions that overlay geography, she offers a poetic antidote to the conflicting political and environmental agendas the atlas represents and the violence wrought on the earth’s surface. The object is softened both literally and metaphorically. The sanded paper is velvety to touch; the subtle hues of the powders convey none of the solid colors and bright contrasts one expects from a map. Woodgate’s piece is more or less an inversion of an atlas: divisions have been eradicated and distinctions neutralized.

The organic trajectory of this project is characteristic of her multidisciplinary practice. Woodgate’s fluid and responsive embrace of the accidental means that side effects and by-products often become central elements in her work; residue that has collected around the atlas during sanding becomes its own topography, glued into place by the artist. Woodgate’s approach to material parallels her relationship to space in her site-responsive works; she peels back layers, revealing the depths of an object or the history and cultural memory lying dormant in space. For If These Walls Could Talk (2011), an intervention in a disused classroom space, Woodgate once again engaged in a reductive process, sanding down the classroom’s painted walls and gathering the resulting powdery residue into a heap resembling chalk dust, which she piled beneath chalkboards left in the space—a minimal, aesthetic gesture to activate the room and evoke the histories contained therein.

Her embrace of the accidental is equally evident in her performance work. While conceiving of Jack and the Bean Stalk, part of her Fairy Tale Series (2008–11), which she staged at the Miami public library, Woodgate was compelled to research and integrate the space. During the process, she uncovered two hundred music boxes in the library’s storage and solicited permission to employ them in her piece; in exchange she spent two weeks working in the library, documenting and archiving. In the final piece, she played

all two hundred of them, producing a concert of music boxes that became a central component of the work.

Woodgate tends to work within the existing parameters of an object, space, or action and with an economy of material. With a classroom, as with an atlas, she intervenes or transforms, but only working with the materials therein. One of her early projects, Mobil Hairdresser (2004–8), entailed the artist installing a pop-up hair salon, in which she played the role of hairdresser, in various cities in the United States and Latin America. She collected the remnant hair and used it to create a series of wonderful sculptures, slippers, and almost comically self-reflexive hairbrushes, with long locks sprouting from them, in some cases. Mobil Hairdresser began with Woodgate collecting her own hair in the shower drain to sew with, treating individual strands as organic thread. “I was interested in the idea of residue,” she says, “and I wanted to start with myself. As I got deeper into the project, it became more about identity.”


Portrait of Agustina Woodgate with Globe. Photo: Anthony Spinello.

For Kulturpark (2010–12), a major project that Woodgate collaborated on with her Miami-based dealer Anthony Spinello and a team of curators and other artists, the group took over an abandoned Cold War–era amusement park in Berlin, approaching it as a repository of cultural memory and probing the stories and identities haunting the overgrown space. The ongoing project included site-responsive works from local artists; in 2011 the park opened to the public for two days, during which visitors could experience the artists’ interventions and performances. One artist produced what Woodgate calls a waiting performance, a meditation on time and its effects in which the artist invited members of the public to wait with him in different areas of the park. Another used a stencil to create an ephemeral garden of powdered sugar roses at the entrance of the park, conjuring the ubiquitous candy vendors at amusement parks while referencing the story of the park’s family of owners, two members of which are serving time for attempting to smuggle cocaine from Peru to Berlin in the masts of a flying carpet ride. Woodgate herself broadcast a radio station from a boat near the park, transmitting and amplifying dialogue around the stories, conflicts, and issues embedded in the site. 

Having won various public art commissions over the past few years, Woodgate is no stranger to working with restraints. She conceives of these parameters as fuel for her imagination rather than as limitations, “enabling, rather than a negative force on a project,” as she says. In 2011, Locust Projects commissioned Woodgate to produce a design for two billboards and thirty bus shelters around the city. Confined by space, budget, and civic regulations, Woodgate found an affordable iridescent poster material that responded to conditions of weather and daylight, appearing flat at certain times of day and in overcast weather systems and producing a kaleidoscope of light effects in other conditions.


Agustina Woodgate. If These Walls Could Talk; 2011, installation view; sanded classroom walls, wall dust, found chalkboards. Courtesy of the Artist.

Woodgate followed her husband, graphic designer Sebastian Bellver, to Miami from Buenos Aires in 2004 and has remained ever since, with occasional breaks for residencies elsewhere. “It was more destiny than choice,” she says, “One thing led to the next, and after three months I met Anthony Spinello and had my first show.” She finds freedom and opportunity in a local art scene that is emergent, accessible, and generous to its cultural producers. As so many young artists do in Miami, Woodgate enjoys rent-free studio space (she currently occupies a space in the Fountainhead Haus). In Miami’s underused public spaces, which contrast with those of her native Buenos Aires, where art and culture spill out onto the streets, she and other artists have found inspiration in activating parks, disused spaces, and abandoned lots. For an artist whose most compelling work to date involves a process of erasing boundaries and building new environments from the residue, it is no wonder that Woodgate finds herself at home in Miami, a city that continually reinvents itself.

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