‘Under the Highlands’ exhibit brings mysticism of the Lake Wales Ridge to Seminole Heights

Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa’s show opens at Tempus Projects on Friday.

click to enlarge Cristina Molina (L), Jonathan Traviesa and their rescue cat Ricki. - Ray Roa
Ray Roa
Cristina Molina (L), Jonathan Traviesa and their rescue cat Ricki.
Before "Under the Highlands" was installed at Tempus Projects, piles of sand were scattered across the exhibit floor at the Seminole Heights art gallery. Over the next few hours, once-Florida-based artists Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa would flatten them to function as bases for photographs in their new show, opening this week.

The sand is a hat tip to the Lake Wales Ridge, an overlooked geologic phenomena known as the highest elevation in Sunshine State. The photographs sitting atop the flattened mounds showcase botanical species endemic to the ridge. Attached are seafaring words to speak to the show's hope of transporting viewers to a time when the last remaining humans in Florida are on the ridge, surrounded by water.

"We're looking to these species to kind of teach us a lesson about survival," Molina, an art professor at Tulane, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
Nearby, Traviesa, who teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University showed off photos of limestone that will hang on the walls. Molina and Traviesa spent a lot of time in Miami and Lakeland, respectively, and they took a handful of trips back home to capture the limestone from different perspectives which—by human standards—are records of slow, deep time.

"Thinking about climate and sort of environmental evolution that may be coming toward us, with our societies and our infrastructures threatened, I sort of think we really gravitate toward these as monuments that have been around—again, by our kind of reference point—forever or slowly building and evolving forever," Traviesa said.

Elsewhere in the show are photographic experiments with sun lamps and A/C vents (which had to be completed with the help of a local seamstress), a short film, and a collection of photographs and nostalgia packed into a family album. Baked into all of it is the element of myth-building that's inescapable in this swamp we call home.
A standalone exhibition by all means, "Highlands" also serves as something of a bridge. Molina and Traviesa's recent "Sad Tropics" was named one of the top exhibitions of the year in 2016 Burnaway and Art in America and featured not just at Tempus but at The Front in New Orleans, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art and The Polk Museum in Lakeland. More of their work will soon be unveiled as part of the Peninsularium project opening at the Crab Devil art compound in Ybor Heights. But for now, "Highlands" asks us to think about a different future headed our way.

"I think our job as artists is to imagine. Imagine a time where this gallery will not exist or the house down the street will not exist," Molina said. "There will only be this 100-mile stretch of land. It gives a sense of urgency. What are you gonna do about it? Can you do anything about it?"


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Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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