EAST meets Arts

Carlos Betancourt

An eclectic and imaginative art installation by renowned American artist Carlos Betancourt has made its debut at the EAST Hotel in Brickell, Miami. This is part of a brand-new art programme, Art at EAST: Urban  Remix, presented by EAST Hotels. In fact, the installation, titled On the Edge: The Hopeful Forest, comes just in time for this year’s Art Basel Miami, an international art fair staged annually that is widely considered a highlight for art collectors everywhere. The Miami installation is currently ongoing.

On the Edge: The Hopeful Forest features a series of totems made from repurposed, abandoned objects found in the surrounding community. The collected objects used in these sculptural artworks are stacked and accumulated as if to mimic the towering high-rises of the Brickell neighbourhood, while alluding to personal memories and Miami’s overall identity.

The name “On the Edge” also correlates to the city’s geographic location on the eastern edge, and references the broader idea of being on the edge – a place of equilibrium and yet also a moment of anticipation of the unknown. The sourcing of materials from the neighbouring communities to create the artwork further conveys an immediate connection with them while also emphasising EAST’s dedication to sustainability.

In an interview with Options, Betancourt says that he was approached for this project by programme curator Ximena Caminos, and that it was immediately obvious to him that the collaboration would be a great fit.

“The programme is very aligned with the issues I explore in my artwork. It so happened that when Ximena and the EAST team visited my studio, I was already working on a couple of these totemic sculptures, loaded with repurposed elements,” he says. “From there, I started thinking about the site-specific installation approach, [that is,] how these sculptures would work in the [hotel lobby] space.” That was when the idea of creating a sort of totemic forest came to him. “The lobby space was shouting for this type of composition and experience, and I think I was just ‘listening’. The result is very symbiotic, I believe,” he adds.

The Miami installation is the first in the series, with exhibitions at EAST Hong Kong and EAST Beijing hotels to follow this year. In collaboration with locally-based artists, Art at EAST: Urban Remix celebrates each hotel’s dedication to help go-getting urbanites make the most of their stay through specially designed installations that reimagine urban living.

Designed with the go-getter, hip traveller in mind, EAST hotels are pushing to be at the forefront of the growing art scene in their downtown neighbourhoods. Betancourt explains that the concept of “Urban Remix” fascinates him as being loaded with syncretism – different cultures, religions and thoughts all mixing together. “I personally relate to this theme as I grew up in the Caribbean, where everything is mixing, blending and bending in a perpetual dance, energised by enthusiasm and life.”

As an artist, Betancourt is inspired by memories. “I strongly believe that art should be informed by one’s own personal experiences, not necessarily the other way around,” he says. “I take the past, and present it in a new context. Objects are repurposed and given a new meaning; they are loaded with memories and it is the artist’s role to activate these memories.”

He adds: “My artwork is highly personal and perhaps that is why it is universal at times. I believe in each person’s unique circumstances, as it is a catalyst to find one’s own authenticity, in any field. As a visual artist, what I want to say is, first and foremost, in a visual way. I believe in questions more than answers, and I need poetry and mystery in my artworks. I want my works to feel alive.”

Betancourt works with a multitude of mediums and often reimagines the ordinary in extraordinary ways. His artworks are part of renowned public collections such as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and are exhibited in galleries as well as art fairs such as Art Basel and Arco. He is also the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the Florida Department of State Millennium Cultural Recognition Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and the Miami Beach Arts Council Grant.

On the Edge: The Hopeful Forest, one of Betancourt’s most recent works, presented many challenges to him. “The recent sculptures for EAST had their degree of difficulty, as I had to solve, literally, the balance and equilibrium of each totem. The colour palette and composition was also time-consuming. But I love the process, it’s like a ritual to me, it keeps me in the eternal present,” he says. Betancourt adds that he is grateful to be the first artist to take part in EAST’s new programme.

“I am also excited for the possibilities offered to future artists. It allows the artists to express and challenge themselves outside the white cube gallery, in a hotel public setting where the audience is very dynamic and is in constant flux,” he says. “I am also excited that the experience was very organic in nature, and that these towering deities seemed to have always existed in this space.”