Last week we learned that visual artist Aileen Quintana is creating the world’s first “vaporwave mall” for Miami’s III Points festival. Featuring department stores, a food court and hundreds of neon mannequins, the 6,000 sq. ft. installation promises to bring the internet music phenomenon – defined as much by its garish visual aesthetic as its recycling of retro MIDI music, Muzak and easy listening– into the real world. Miles Bowe meets its architect.

Though it flourishes in online spaces, the internet-birthed genre of vaporwave has always offered a suggestion of the physical: background Muzak where there is no foreground. Vaporwave transports listeners to empty, endless malls, elevators going nowhere, hotel lobbies where your room is never quite ready. These aural suggestions, aided by the genre’s unsettling visual aesthetic, have become an obsession for Miami artist and designer Aileen Quintana, whose latest project takes vaporwave into the physical realm.

It started with her apartment. During Miami’s 2015 Art Basel, Quintana restyled her home into a psychedelic chamber influenced by the kind of imagery seen on countless vaporwave-tagged albums on Bandcamp.

“It took me two months to convert it and then I decided to live in it, and I’ve been living like that for almost a year now,” she says, speaking from her Miami studio. Quintana is currently finishing her next vaporwave-inspired installation: a 6,000 square foot mall named Sunset @ Noon, to be unveiled at Miami’s III Points Music Festival in October. The space is a tribute to the genre, which she first became attracted to through her interest in fashion and design.

“The relationship between the visual aesthetic and the audio component of vaporwave intrigued me so much. I loved how there was a visual to the audio that’s just as particular,” she says, adding that vaporwave’s holistic aesthetic helped her bridge the gap between her two passions, music and design.

Like a lot of vaporwave artists, Quintana got the inspiration for her current project from digging on YouTube, “watching documentaries on all the bankrupt malls in the nation.” One series, Dead Malls, provides tours inside malls on the verge of bankruptcy where shops are shuttered and no one bothers to fill the candy machines, but the pleasant background music plays on.

Just as a shopping mall houses distinct brands and concessions, Sunset @ Noon will bring together work by a number of Quintana’s contemporaries, including installations by local fashion brands Style Mafia, ISHINE365, and Algae, a VHS store by Veronica Gessa, and performances by musicians Virgo, Rat Bastard and Otto von Schirach. Quintana will also present her performance piece Interdimensional Baths, in which she uses light projections to marbleize her body and clothing.

The daughter of first generation Cuban immigrants, Quintana says her love of fashion was never hindered by a lack of luxury. One of her earliest memories is stealing her mom’s cosmetics to doll up her unsuspecting, sleeping father: “He looked amazing.”

That moment might have been a catalyst for Quintana’s initial career as a makeup artist, but it wasn’t until she began exploring her own art at III Points (where she is also creative director) that she began to find a way to intersect all her interests.

photo_by_aileen_quintana
Photograph by: Aileen Quintana

“I really enjoyed how Cindy Sherman used make-up, photography and clothing as a way of transformation.” Quintana also cites Iris Van Herpen, whose iconic water dresses blur the line between high fashion and experimental sculpture, as an influence.

Both artists combine style and medium with emotional impact; Sherman uses her own body as the canvas and subject in photographs that can be funny, tragic and mysterious all at once. Similarly, vaporwave often exists in a state between parody and sincerity, trash and beauty, high art and just really high. It’s a dichotomy that fuels and is fueled by the internet, a place that Quintana calls home.

“I’ve always lived online. I’m just fascinated by that concept and how people are portrayed inside of it. It’s a part of our culture,” she says. Designing a mall full of fake stores and coating hundreds of mannequins with neon paint is Quintana’s manifestation of that bustling online life.

“I’ve been able to use the loves of my life – fashion and music – and convert them into one giant inter-dimensional immersive world people can be a part of.”

Sunsets @ Noon runs at III Points from October 7–9

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