The Ball & Chain: It’s not only S&M at MAM

It is dark and cynical in that observant fashion that reminds the viewer of nightmares and guilty pleasures that no one wants to experience, but the systems of oppression bob and weave through all of our contemporary landscape. Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles’ Strictu, on display at the Miami Art Museum, is an aggressive critique of the authoritarian structure that exists within any power complex. Dare to enter..

You come in a long room with low light protruding from a single lamp that bathes you among a small table and chairs at the far end of the space. At first it is comfortable to just stand back as a voyeur because that is what happens at a lot of galleries when art is on display. This room, however, sucks the audience in and forces one to make the long journey across the room over a stretched single chain that is laid, almost ceremoniously, on the floor wrapped between fifteen stainless steel poles that flank the area and run along the wall. Two large heavy balls are tied to the ends of the chain. Also, the small table invites the audience to sit down and read a message in English and Portuguese about the highly intrusive mechanisms of authority.

You then notice a television program (which inspired the artist) depicting a Ku Klux Klan “grand wizard” speaking about non-whites. The words “We want to steal their time. We want to steal their space. We want to steal their mind” resonate through the structure of Meireles’ piece because the very organizations that bind humans in social, personal and political relationships are the same forces that define the hierarchies that exist within power struggles..

The 1960s opened up the niche of performance art in the mainstream and part of the point of this piece is to redefine the interaction between the gallery-goer and the art itself. Some people will touch the chains on the floor or the ten pairs of handcuffs attached to it, while the keys to these cuffs reside on the wall as an “out” in the struggle against unbridled power and oppression.

“To make peace with authority is to become authority,” Jim Morrison said. Meireles’ work addresses the fight against fascism or privilege or inequality by clearly drawing a line between what is authority and what is righteous rebellion. The process of antagonism can be complex, but instead the ideals of this artwork are simple, eloquent, physical and linguistic manifestos of liberty.

“Authoritarianism-cultural, curatorial, artistic-is only one of the faces of violence. Strictu takes a position against all such perverse and absurd illusions.” This is the final statement written on the table by the piece. There is no doubt what this work is attempting because there exists a world of illusions that define exactly what Strictu is against.

Strictu is on view at the Miami Art Museum, 101 West Flagler St., Miami, through October 26. Call 305-375-3000 for more info.

Alex Saleeby can be reached at