Multimedia artist Flores McGarrell was among the more than 100,000 lives lost in the 7.0 magnitude Haitian earthquake of January 12th, 2010. McGarrell was born in Rome, raised in St. Louis, and educated at the Maryland Institute College of Art and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In recent years, McGarrell split time between semi-solitary work at a studio in Vermont and administering the FOSAJ Arts Center in Jacmel, Haiti. McGarrell moved between personal identities and modes of production with an underlying emphasis on art as a practice of everyday life and increasingly, a focus on recycling and reuse of materials in an intentional attempt to lower personal ecological impact. This led to work in low-tech architecture, building spaces, and gardening and food production as aesthetic activites. A greenhouse, for instance is made entirely of recycled clear 5-gallon plastic water containers. The resulting object is enough of a sculpture to warrant a gallery showing, while also being a fully-functional, low-cost, environmentally friendly, small scale building for practical food production.
Greek-born, Chicago-based artist and blogger Georgia Kotretsos conducted an extensive interview with the artist for Art:21. Their discussion included the art direction work that McGarrell did for Cary Cronenwett’s independent film Maggots and Men, which premiered in 2009 at San Francisco’s Castro Theater as part of Frameline’s San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Regarding the range of practices and eclectic methodology, McGarrell told Kotretsos: “The objects of my ministrations include sculpture, art direction for film, performative identity adjustments, installation, kleptomaniac collecting schemes, so I must be poised to work wherever I am at all times. Whether it’s from my own body, or my car, a suitcase, a friend’s house or anywhere else I find myself.”
And regarding living in Haiti and working with the artists of FOSAJ: “I could have lived quite happily in the Bay Area, where everything is ideal and everyone is a lot like me (queer and transgendered, environmentally and socially aware, etc.), but why be somewhere so perfect? Why be so comfortable? Why should all my friends be so similar to me? Why not be someplace that is in flux? Someplace where the advantage is that it is NOT overdeveloped and fixed?”
At only 35, McGarrell’s loss will be felt by many people across many different communities: friends and family, both chosen and biological, classmates, students, assorted queer cultural circles, the arts communities of New England, Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco and especially Jacmel, Haiti. Alex Polotsky, a friend of McGarrell’s in Chicago is representing a groups of artists there who are organizing an on-line raffle of art and other items. Beneficiaries will include Doctors Without Borders and Friends of the Children of Haiti.