José A. Vin­cench in New York

Art On Cuba - - Music And Arts Festiva - Meyken Bar­reto

From Fe­bru­ary 26 to March 26, the gallery Thomas Jaeckel of New York wel­comed the solo show by José Án­gel Vin­cench,

The Weight of Words. The ex­hi­bi­tion in­cluded paint­ings and sculp­tures of the homony­mous se­ries in which the artist has been work­ing since 2011. Also, works of the se­ries Ac­tion Paint­ing and Cuestión de Óp­tica (Mat­ter of Op­tics), made last year, were shown. This ex­hi­bi­tion of­fers con­ti­nu­ity to a se­ries of pre­sen­ta­tions of Cuban art that have re­cently been held in New York, espe­cially in the district of Chelsea, con­firm­ing the grow­ing in­ter­est that has been gen­er­ated around it in the North Amer­i­can cul­tural sphere, since the last political changes in the re­la­tions be­tween Cuba and the United States.

Vin­cench’s work highlights be­cause of its solid­ness and sin­gu­lar­ity within the panorama of vis­ual arts in the is­land. His work starts from a process of ac­knowl­edge­ment and crit­i­cal anal­y­sis of the so­cio-political con­text sur­round­ing him and the cir­cum­stances in which the artist lives and works. Espe­cially in­ter­ested, since about a decade ago, on the events, sub­jects and political no­tions char­ac­ter­iz­ing the present panorama in Cuba, his re­cent cre­ations show a cre­ative strat­egy in which the artist, in­stead of as­sum­ing ac­tive stances in­ter­ven­ing in the so­cial sphere, brings these is­sues to the in­ti­macy of the stu­dio and sub­mits them to an in­tel­lec­tual and fac­tual elab­o­ra­tion which re­turns us an ap­par­ently not ide­ol­o­gized and ab­stract prod­uct, even with a cer­tain dec­o­ra­tive na­ture (ac­cen­tu­ated in the re­cent cre­ations be­cause of the use of gold leaf as main com­po­si­tion ma­te­rial).

The ex­hi­bi­tion re­ceives us with two can­vases of the se­ries Cuestión de Óp­tica. One of them is the por­trait of political ac­tivist Oswaldo Payá, who died in 2012 in still not clar­i­fied cir­cum­stances; the other one re­pro­duces an im­age of the crashed car in which he died. In both cases, an ini­tial look places us be­fore an ab­stract com­po­si­tion that uses the re­sources of op­tic art. Ob­serv­ing with more de­tail, or looking at the snap­shots cap­tured in our mo­bile tele­phone or dig­i­tal cam­era, the rep­re­sented scene then reveals it­self to us with clar­ity.

Like­wise, at first view in the main ex­hi­bi­tion space it would seem we could find a di­a­logue be­tween ge­o­met­ri­cal ab­strac­tion, no­tice­able in the works of the se­ries El peso de las pal­abras

(The Weight of Words) and the ap­par­ent ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism that can be ap­pre­ci­ated in the pieces of Ac­tion Paint­ing (as its ti­tle in­di­cates). What is fas­ci­nat­ing is that a sec­ond look be­gins to dis­man­tle the ini­tial ef­fect and we discover those ac­tion paint­ings are only the re­pro­duc­tion of scenes of fa­cades or in­te­ri­ors ex­hibit­ing the marks of vi­o­lent or pun­ish­able events these struc­tures have wit­nessed; and these are ac­tu­ally houses of dis­si­dents that have been van­dal­ized in acts of re­pu­di­a­tion against these fam­i­lies. It is an in­ter­est­ing con­nec­tion the artist estab­lishes be­tween the per­for­mance com­po­nent of that ab­stract work and the vi­o­lent ac­tion of the groups that carry out these acts of re­pres­sion and in­tim­i­da­tion. It is not the first time that Vin­cench ar­tic­u­lates political or so­cial com­ments based on the ref­er­ences of art history; al­ready in for­mer se­ries as Lo que te puedo de­cir con… (What I

Can Tell You With…) we ap­pre­ci­ated this strat­egy, which ap­peals to the use of those for­mal traits char­ac­ter­iz­ing cer­tain fig­ures or move­ments in the art of the 20th and 21st cen­turies to dis­course on the no­tions or political events of re­cent Cuban history.

In­stead of as­sum­ing ac­tive stances in­ter­ven­ing in the so­cial sphere, Vincech brings the top­ics to the in­ti­macy of the stu­dio and sub­mits them to an in­tel­lec­tual and fac­tual elab­o­ra­tion which re­turns us an ap­par­ently not ide­ol­o­gized and ab­stract prod­uct…

Ex­plain­ing this para­dox­i­cal process of trib­ute and, at the same time, do­mes­ti­ca­tion of sym­bols and prob­lem­atic and bit­ter nar­ra­tives, the artist com­ments: “In Cuba words are very heavy”.

In gen­eral, in Vin­cench’s work there is an in­ter­est to ar­tic­u­late a game be­tween what is veiled and what is ev­i­dent, what can be said and what must be si­lenced. It is a pro­posal that, in a given way, syn­thetizes the strate­gies of sur­vival de­vel­oped by the Cuban in the is­land and per­fected by him dur­ing years to deal with his daily re­al­ity, whether in the prac­ti­cal as well as in the ide­o­log­i­cal field. That is why in the can­vases El peso de las pal­abras the artist con­verts con­cepts of the so­cio-political vo­cab­u­lary, key words in the history and the present of Cuba, in styl­ized and ab­stract images. The ex­er­cise of de­con­struc­tion car­ried out im­plies the su­per­im­po­si­tion of the let­ters com­pos­ing words like Ex­ilio, Disidente, Gu­sano, Cam­bio, Au­tonomía (Ex­ile, Dis­si­dent, Worm, re­fer­ring to peo­ple that leave the coun­try or dis­like the regime, Change, Au­ton­omy). The artist chooses, then, some of the new ar­eas cre­ated in the re­sult­ing com­po­si­tion and re­pro­duces them us­ing, as we men­tioned be­fore, the gold leaf. It also hap­pens in this case that only a sec­ond look or a deep ob­ser­va­tion and, above all, since the read­ing of the ti­tle, will give us the clues to un­der­stand the back­ground and op­er­a­tory dis­played in these works. This result takes us to con­sider those words, their con­cept, their evo­lu­tion and their mean­ing in the course of the coun­try’s history. Vin­cench con­ducts an in­ci­sive sig­nal­ing on what these terms have im­plied and the way in which they have af­fected and af­fect Cuban so­ci­ety, based on a prac­tice that ap­par­ently neu­tral­izes the sub­ver­sive po­ten­tial of these words, by iso­lat­ing and styl­iz­ing their for­mal at­tributes, re­turn­ing them to us as a mu­seum spec­i­men or a rare and valu­able ob­ject. This process also warns us to think in the ex­pi­ra­tion of many of the facts as­so­ci­ated to these words and the way in which they will re­main in history as a suc­ces­sion of dates and anec­dotes that un­knowns the per­sonal drama of all those who have suf­fered the crooked ten­ta­cles of power.

A sim­i­lar dis­cur­sive in­ter­est is ap­pre­ci­ated in the sculp­tures of three golden in­gots we see in the gallery ac­com­pa­ny­ing the rest of the works. These pieces—made in wood and later cov­ered with gold leaf—also have words in­scribed: the terms Ganso, Ne­gro y Gu­sano (Goose, re­fer­ring to gay men, Black/Nig­ger, and Worm). Words that, by them­selves, do not have a sym­bolic load be­sides that of the an­i­mal or the color they name and, how­ever, in the con­text of the history of the is­land, and fur­ther away from it, ac­quire pe­jo­ra­tive con­no­ta­tion and re­mit us to events, mo­ments and per­sons who suf­fered or suf­fer the dis­crim­i­na­tion they im­ply. Many are the ideas that sud­denly come to mind be­fore this cre­ative, para­dox­i­cal, ironic ex­er­cise, which has sev­eral lev­els of con­cep­tual elab­o­ra­tion and is still be­ing marked, as the paint­ings com­mented be­fore, be­cause of that prin­ci­ple of mask­ing to be able to dis­close, trans­form to be able to discover, dis­guise to be able to ex­press; strate­gies to evade cen­sor­ship and be­ing able to say, or at least point out, spa­ces of silence in the so­cial ac­count of Cubans, whether in the of­fi­cial speech as in the daily pop­u­lar one.

Ex­plain­ing this para­dox­i­cal process of trib­ute and, at the same time, do­mes­ti­ca­tion of sym­bols and prob­lem­atic and bit­ter nar­ra­tives, the artist com­ments the con­cep­tual premise on which his op­er­a­tive turns: “In Cuba words are very heavy. They are as feared as an im­age may be; a word may weigh in your free­dom of ex­pres­sion and in your phys­i­cal free­dom.” This pre­cept sum­ma­rizes the po­etic strength of the last sculp­ture we see when leav­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion: a golden and gleam­ing form ex­tracted from the word Cam­bio (Change), a short and easy word but with an in­com­men­su­rable weight and ab­so­lutely cru­cial in the past, present and future of the is­land.

Will it be that, with the new times, words will stop weigh­ing so much and, lit­tle by lit­tle, will be milder? We ex­pect it will be that way and we will not have to suf­fer the eter­nal fate of the gi­ant At­las al­ways hold­ing the world. We hope these and many other words, whose weight we can­not change nor for­get, will be lighter and eas­ier for the future gen­er­a­tions. ƒ

Disidente, 2016

Gold leaf on can­vas

48 x 48 inches

Courtesy the artist & Thomas Jaeckel NYC

Cam­bio, 2016

Gold leaf on can­vas

19½ x 19½ inches

Courtesy the artist & Thomas Jaeckel NYC In­stal­la­tion views

The Weight of Words, by José A. Vin­cench 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, NY

Courtesy Thomas Jaeckel NYC

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