Radamés “Juni” Figueroa tropicalizes indoor spaces and architecture by combining organic and existing materials. The artist’s exploration of urban and natural settings of Puerto Rico is a form of connection, namely between the urban architecture and the larger story of North American occupation and the formation of Puerto Rico’s culture, history, and identity. Speaking of the tropical planter series that he began in 2006, the artist has said, “I live and work on a tropical island and it is important for me to talk about where I come from and what I am. When I completed the first one, I was trying to make art in a pure and honest way—using materials I had at my disposal. I was an athlete since childhood. Sports played an important part in my environment and was a tool that kept me on the right track and healthy. It is a tool for many young people to stay away from the negative—in my case sports and art were the best decision I have made.”
For ACE, Figueroa includes a series of works that come with instructions on how to combine discarded, used sports equipment with plants as a way to give objects another life and to harness ideas of aspiration and growth. The unfolding project is realized throughout the span of the exhibition with participation of UAlbany students.
The artists represented in ACE use sports and athletic culture to explore how youth, gender, race, promise, and identity are intertwined with athleticism. At the exhibition’s core are topics of specific relevance to the university campus, reflecting the social and cultural impact of competitive sports on young athletes.
ACE draws parallels between the physicality of sports and the active process of creating art. How do athletes and artists balance their passions and self-imposed challenges with the prospect of thwarted expectations and potential failure––or conversely, the intoxicants of fame and power? What are the cultural impacts of harnessing and commodifying youthful stamina and drive? Who defines the rules of the game, and who gets to break them? What does true resilience look like? And what does the future hold for the aces of today?