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Screaming at a convention

MIAMI, FL: Our Miami Art Basel correspondent was there when the performance artist Autumn Casey performed her piece "Cicada" – a long scream in the centre of the hall

Locals acutely understand the downsides of Art Basel. Miami natives know well the frustrations with traffic, guest and RSVP lists, and the knowledge that you’ll probably miss something spectacular. Autumn Casey, a local artist represented by Primary Projects, took on venting this exasperation as a means for creating art on its own. Rather than tackling a canvas or performing in a contained installation, her idea was to scream at the several art fairs going on throughout the week.

Titled “Cicada” after the bug that belts out one of the loudest insect-produced sounds (120 decibels – loud enough to cause significant hearing loss if held to a human ear), the project involved partly spontaneous, partly planned moments of visceral howling and screeching. This was a piece that Casey - a vocalist for the bands Crucial Taunt, Luma Junger and the now-defunct Snakehole - was well suited for.

She screamed twice at the very lavish Vernissage in the Convention Center, where the official Basel fair was just opening, and where security was extremely tight. She also performed at the NADA fair at the Deauville hotel and at Design Miami. In describing the moments leading up to it she said, with perhaps a bit of sarcasm, that she “would walk around and soak up all the great art fair atmosphere and then, more or less by intuitive standards, scope out a good location and an exit strategy.” After screaming she experienced “an eerie split second of silence that would fall right afterwards, and then things would click back into action.” 

Casey mentioned that though some people visibly jumped or seemed startled, most would just peer at her and then continue on. A few visitors and security asked if she was okay and if she needed anything, some of them clapped, while others seemed to get a kick out of it. I was at Design Miami, well on the other side of the 56,000 square foot tent, when she let out a blood-curdling wail that sounded pained, desperate and inhuman. I watched as security guards ran in her direction and the chi-chi and dapperly-dressed whispered to each other in concerned confusion.

The overwhelming and intense pressure on artists to show, be seen, and become known at Art Basel Miami Beach was taken by Casey and funneled into a series of fleeting but collectible moments for onlookers, ones that were likely jarring and amusing and disturbing for those seeking out art. Rather than being for anyone else though, Casey performed “Cicada” almost strictly for herself. “It was a huge adrenaline rush, and I felt like I had been almost spiritually cleansed after doing it. Like I was able to shed something.”