On a hot summer day, the harvest—bushels of wheat—is due. Several men swing sickles through the golden field while, with the same fluid motion, a woman slices bread for lunch. In the background, children kick a ball back and forth.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted this scene in 1565, linking labor and leisure as stops in the cycle of any day. Now on view at the Bass in Miami Beach is a new show of work, titled “The Harvesters” after that painting, by Jamilah Sabur that runs Bruegel’s idea into the ground, literally. It posits that work and play both involve extracting goods from the earth—and not without consequence.
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It’s a fitting theme to explore during Art Basel Miami Beach, an inherently climate-unfriendly event held in one of the most environmentally unstable locations in America. Hundreds of people and artworks have traveled to this expensive playground, pumping the atmosphere with harmful emissions and, eventually, feeding heaps of shipping materials to garbage dumps.
But to Sabur’s credit, her exhibition isn’t pessimistic. Instead, it proposes a world like Bruegel’s, where human and environmental motions align.
Sabur, a Jamaican-born, Brussels-based artist, has a long-running interest in the intersections of metaphysics, climatology, and capitalism. In “The Harvesters,” curated by Leilani Lynch, these themes play out in an eclectic mix of performance, visual artwork, video and installation.
On a pedestal is a sea sponge that survives on the ocean floor beyond the reach of light. The cornerstone of her show, the video, contemplates what we take from the ocean, with images of oil tankards and fishermen. Water is a motif here, and Sabur explicitly draws connections to the natural phenomena of Rossby waves, vast parabolic rhythms in the ocean that stretch horizontally across the planet for hundreds of miles. These planetary waves can change the earth’s climate, suggesting that people—just specks in the blue— should pursue the logical course of action: be like the sponge and adapt.
“The Bass has a pretty steady curatorial vision, and speaks to our audiences on issues of identity, labor, and climate change—in particular our relation to the planet and other people,” Silvia Karman Cubiñá, executive director and chief curator of the Bass, told ARTnews.
“I feel an urgency to create programs with artists that are speaking to these issues, the issues of our time,” she added.
In the exhibition “El fin de la imaginación” by Adrián Villar Rojas with Mariana Telleria, and curated by Cubiñá, the perspective has shifted from the bottom of the sea to the stars. The show, anchored by a series of site-specific installations and sculptures by Villar Rojas, imagines a future where people have moved from earth to the far reaches of the solar system.
It’s not a whimsical vision. Villar Rojas and Telleria are concerned with how the worst human impulses could manifest on new worlds. For example, would mining corporations strip copper, iron, or lithium from asteroids, upending terrestrial economies? And would human history be warped in the process?
Two Sun I (2015–22), by Villar Rojas, seems to suggest as much. It features a Hellenistic marble figure knocked on its side. Renaissance artists created copies of Roman statues, which were themselves copies of Greek sculptures, and each reproduction moved us farther from the truth.
A 2017 sculpture by Telleria, titled Las canchas de paddle, después los cíbers y ahora yo (Paddle Courts, Then Internet Cafés and Now Myself), is a stack of cold and dead things—ice blocks, cracked sheets of glass, and barren branches—that offer little warmth to the living. An untitled installation by Telleria in the show features a plaque buried in red dirt. It reads, “ya muerta y perdida en la historia por favor no me rescaten,” or “already dead and lost in history please don’t rescue me.” But someone, somewhere must have cared enough to honor her wish.