A 15-Foot Pyramid of Treasure and Trash Towers in Miami

Pet ashes, court papers, and the artist's wisdom teeth are just a sampling of the junk in this installation.

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Dec 1 2016, 5:45pm

All photos by Zack Balber

When you behold Huffer Collective's massive pyramid of knick-knacks and detritus (Christmas lights! Bootleg GG Allin videotapes! A blue ribbon from a youth fair!), the first thing you actually see is yourself. A camera pointed at the exhibition entrance beams visitors' visages to a mini flatscreen TV. The effect is awkward and overwhelming, but then it all makes sense: At its core, Save Your Selves, the trio's three-tiered altar of personal treasures and kitchy junk, is an exercise in self-reflection.

Currently on view at Locust Projects, the artful trash heap has been culled by the collective over the past several years. And though it's impossible to cognitively process each object—Orisha statuettes, a tiny R2D2, protest flyers featuring George W. Bush—Save Your Selves is mesmerizing as a whole.

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Comprised of Jason Handelsman (The President), David Anasagasti (AholSniffsGlue, or Ahol), and Jacob Katel (Swampdog), Huffer Collective was founded last year when the artists began performing and creating pop-up exhibitions together, like re-enacting Mötley Crüe-style pyrotechnics at Miami music festival Death to the Sun and displaying work next to dumpsters on Biscayne Boulevard.

Their own practices are wholly disparate. Ahol's signature eyeballs are scrawled across the walls of many a metropolis. Katel is a writer and videographer, and Handelsman is a wonderfully weird multidisciplinary artist. Together, says Handelsman, they "brainstorm until we reach a Category 5 [...] It's abstract and concrete. It's harmonious and provocative. It's dialectics, man."

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It's also exceedingly "Miami," especially if Save Your Selves serves as sole representation of what Huffer Collective is all about. Miami gets plenty of flak for its artistic and academic immaturity, but Miami artists keep grinding, long after the Art Basel-bound tourists have flown away. All the items in the altar are scraped from the streets or unearthed from the artists' homes, collected over the course of three years. More poignantly, they're imbued with placeless history, bound forever to the person for whom they served some sort of purpose, however brief.

That same veneration is given to every single object on the pyramid, no matter how seemingly random: Swampdog's photograph of Dwayne Wade and Alonzo Mourning, Ahol's wisdom teeth, notes from ex-lovers, old ATM machines, life vests, a crisp suit jacket hanging from a jutting chunk of wood.  A microphone sits in a wine glass, a tampon dispenser helps prop up a keyboard, a bong gets its own mini-spotlight.

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The Save Your Selves altar is grimy, loud, and defiant, featuring blaring music and bottles stuffed with cigarette butts. Hordes of out-of-towners, flocking to Basel, will get to see Katel's video of the infamous butt hole tattoo girl, court papers from Ahol's legal battle with American Eagle, an urn containing the ashes of a pet dog, and scraps from the sidewalks of Miami. The pyramid towers to the ceiling; to see it all, you've got to look up, in reverence. "Miami is the best city ever. We're doing our part individually to make this city work for us. We're going to matter whether the art world wants us to or not," Ahol says.

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Save Your Selves recalls the religious meaning of being "saved," but it's more about creating your own history, asserting yourself while life remains fleeting—even if that means imbuing your old trophies or shoes with importance. "It's a message of empowerment to ourselves," explains Ahol. "You can exist, but it's up to you to matter. We're just making things work.

He ascribes that veneration to the altar's pyramid shape. "Each object on that altar sparks memories," says Handelsman. "Pyramids historically have been used as tombs and places of sacrificial worship. Ours is a large scale installation."

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