Best Art Event 2016 | "The Nerve": Performance Art Festival | Arts & Entertainment | South Florida

In March, an eccentric two-day performance art festival was launched in Fort Lauderdale's artsy FATVillage. "The Nerve" introduced 14 artists and creative groups performing conceptual pieces. The majority were slightly bizarre (a good thing!) and totally mesmerizing. Artist Lisa Marie Stephens attempted to break 50 cement bricks with a sledgehammer. Karina Pais carved words onto carrots. Rosemarie Romero got into character using a hyper-kitschy nail salon as her backdrop. Jen Clay brought stop-motion animation, handmade costumes, and puppets all together to give silly yet creepy vibes in her projected pieces, "Let's Be Friends" and "It's All Really Real."

It's been almost a decade since artists started setting up studios in the Flagler Arts and Technology Village. Husband-and-wife team Leah Brown and Peter Symons, both graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, were among the first to move in, and their presence helped build FAT's reputation as a place where serious artists could execute sophisticated work. The ideas never stop coming with these two. Not only do they build killer installations themselves (to walk into one of Brown's mythical forest-scapes is to be transported to a calm but unsettling alternate world), but they've fostered a sense of community by organizing and curating group shows that manage to be fun, high level, inclusive, and of the moment. "Beep Bop Boop" was an attempt to make sense of digital culture. "Game Show" incorporated the idea of play. "The Nerve" was perhaps the best-realized performance art exhibition to ever take place in Broward, and a current show on political art seizes the Zeitgeist. Brown and Symons' current space, called the Projects in FATVillage, is a 10,000-square-foot hangar-like warehouse and remains the go-to spot every last Saturday of the month when Fort Lauderdalians are out in full force for the monthly art walk.

It's easy to take captivating pictures in exotic or busy places like New York City or Mumbai, where the surroundings do the work. But even the most talented National Geographic shutterbug would have trouble keeping things interesting given the parameters of shooting the same subject at the same time, daily. That's why Andy Royston's work is so fascinating. Every day at dawn, he takes his trusty iPhone4 and snaps photos on Fort Lauderdale Beach where he manages to eke out a vast range of images, from abstract shots of waves crashing to ethereal images of wildlife silhouetted against the horizon. He posts his shots on his popular Twitter feed @FtLauderdaleSun, which hovers at more than 27,000 followers.

Bizarre cartoons are the specialty of Christopher Ian MacFarlane, a self-taught 30-something who works with vibrant color palettes in a rare, playful way. Influenced by Looney Tunes cartoons and cubism a la Picasso, MacFarlane's murals are full of characters who look like they've gone mad, like a wolf riding a trash-can rocket, or a lady with a schoolmarmish hair bun and dress but a grotesque face. His work has been commissioned all over town at sites including Young at Art Museum, FATVillage, Respectable Street, and Broward College. In addition to his 2-D work, he's been experimenting with movable robot sculptures, like an "animatronic raccoon" and a "spaghetti mutant" with light-up devil eyes.

Usually, the phrase "street artist" conjures up the idea of some crust-punk with paint cans scrawling graffiti or a Wynwood hipster painting a wall. But Robin Merrill outdoes them all. A woman who defies stereotypes (she's a Christian missionary with a wicked sense of humor, a white lady who hangs with Seminole and Miccosukee Indians), she's always thinking up projects to improve the world. At her brick-and-mortar shop, the Upper Room Art Gallery, she sells fair-trade gifts and paintings. In 2013, she won a Knight Foundation grant to keep alive the tradition of cypress canoe carving. And this May, she took action to combat one of her pet peeves: dangerous intersections. The City of Fort Lauderdale won an "Art of Community" grant from the Community Foundation of Broward for their "Connecting the Blocks" project and Merrill was hired to paint her design at crosswalks along Breakers Avenue in bright, eye-catching colors and geometric designs. The project works as a beautifying measure but doubles as a traffic calmer, since people slow down to check out the works. A third effect is that the patterns evoke the underground aquifers that nourish us and our land. Genius!

Lake Worth-based artist and filmmaker Jacques de Beaufort boasts an oeuvre that is made of magic. His paintings and drawings usually consist of shamanistic, slightly surreal images (and exotic topless chicks); red, gold, and orange tones convey power and mystery. This past year, he won us over with "Deep Inside the Man-Cave," a series of portrait drawings (and his self-portrait) in which he masterfully captures the aura and essence of masculinity in his male subjects, all friends like PureHoney magazine publisher Steve Rullman and Raggy Monster bandmates Sage Duvall and Billy Schmidt. With pastels, pencil, and white conté, de Beaufort allows the men's individual personalities to jump off the page and prompts the viewer to wonder more about each person. De Beaufort is also an associate professor of visual arts at Palm Beach State College.

Readers' choice: Christopher Ian Macfarlane

Absurdity. Surrealism. Playfulness. These qualities pop out in almost all of the work by Clay, who admits in her artist's bio that her practice "is influenced by hallucinatory experiences that manifest doubt in one's surroundings and the self." The artist, who holds an MFA from the University of Florida, invites viewers on a subversive ride through her experimental, multimedia body of work. The charming and quirky North Carolina native is inclined to juxtapose realism (sometimes using leftover food or making a nod to grotesque bodily fluids) with cutesy pop-culture elements. This both entices and throws off viewers. A jack-of-all-mediums, she sews her own costumes, paints, sculpts, and even makes stop-motion animation.

Monica McGivern

As beautiful as any painting may be, as inviting as any photograph may seem, and as funky as any sculpture can get, it's hard to escape the feeling that museums are staid places — no matter how many wine and cheese nights they might host. Props must go to Young at Art for its focus on getting the community eagerly swinging through the doors. There's just no beating art that you can play with, so a toy exhibit is almost a no-brainer... except that in signature style, the YAA team does feed the noggin. It elevates the discourse much higher than at your standard kids' museum. Sure, kids were able to make their own "Trash-former" robots and create short films on iPads, but with help from cool cats of the South Florida arts scene (including Tate's Comics), this exhibit explored the attraction to, the psychology behind, and the joys of collecting toys.

Photo by John Lee / Eric H. Douglas

Cheap drinks are cool, but if the atmosphere isn't up to par, you're left feeling empty. Hip crowds have their place, but they mean you'll end up paying an arm and a leg. You want something different, but you want to feel comfortable. The Social Room has most definitely been a fantastic solution this year. Not many bars can say they have oversized Connect Four and Jenga on an outdoor patio, but the Social Room rolls like that. Chill as it is, it's not a dive; the decor is beautiful. Candles and beautiful lighting fixtures lead you to cushy seats with ample space to stretch out. Starting at 6 p.m. patrons can listen to music on the inside or mosey outside and enjoy the DJ from a distance. Drinks are affordable ($6 for a Jack and Coke) and usually feature local breweries' beers, which is always a plus.

To start things off at the Rebel House, grab some flavored popcorn and local craft brews. After you work up a buzz, order a plate of delicious fried rice or a Pickle Jar — an assortment of cucumbers, grapes, onion, pineapple, and peppers, all pickled in different ways, each of which somehow gives you just enough salt to make your beer taste that much better. We think the Rebel House was meant to be a restaurant that's also a bar, but some would argue it's a bar that just so happens to serve some delicious eats. Whatever you call it, it'll become one of your favorite places.

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