(ART) XIOMAS: THE NEXT GENERATION
December 17, 2014. In Cuba that midday tore the land as a season finale of Game of Thrones. When going to the street you felt something different, as if the air suddenly carried weight, as if it had become denser. Later was that enormous crash that for a second resounded on the ground; an explosion of pistons, a giant structure which began to undertake the march after years of rusty wait. I am optimistic… What can we do! I could not avoid thinking that History had started its course. Finishing this line I hear in my mind a sarcastic Julia Roberts: “Thank
God we cannot predict the future or we’ll never get out of bed.”1
Of course, the air had not condensed and neither did the earth tremble. Definitely not. Something made a “click” in the way people see the world; something that was not there before: expectation. Now reality must be at its height.
Two weeks later the ice was broken in the art mainstream. With precise haste, a decided Tania Bruguera initiated the persecution of her white whale, before it definitively sunk in the ocean. Up to a certain point, I understand the passions the debates around her aroused, many times in voices and because of causes alien to art. But that is, after all, history for a different text. Among other things, Tania’s act—in my opinion with seams and exceedingly visible interests—was the first of many flares that would be thrown to the public arena from then on. Cuba, from one day to the next, was again trading.
Since those days we could follow the discontinuous trail of breadcrumbs to an endless number of orgies between that god of many faces Cuban art is and a disperse etcetera of institutions and personalities related to (or arising from) the United States context. On this trend, in June 2016, between the massacre in the Orlando Club and the Pokémon Go epidemic, a news emerged in internet involving familiar names.
(Art)xiomas: The Next Generation was an exhibition curated by Gabriela García Azcuy in which the work of 15 young
Cuban artists was connected. With a wide coverage of the
North American press, the result (explicitly stated in 23 works of diverse expressions) was exhibited between June 9 and August 7 of 2016, in the Art Museum of the Americas (AMA) in Washington D. C.2
The exhibition gave continuity to the homonymous show organized as part of the project Cubaahora: The Next Generation, on November 2015, in the Miami Spanish Cultural Center. And, as every event, it was marked by circumstances, with causal links among colleagues and connoisseurs of art.
But let us center on the exhibition.
GUIDELINES FOR THE (ART)XIOMA
Reading the words in the catalogue we understand that (Art) xiomas… do not pretend to be exclusivist. The exhibition was conceived as “notes”, as a mutable experience and in full development,3 always open to artists who disclose new facets in that generational lapse they intend to apprehend.
Educated under the same precepts of our parents, we grew up with the gradual rupture of the utopia and of the so-called hombre nuevo (new man). The disparity between the speech and the prevailing reality was an unavoidable fact. And that supposedly “lost generation” of our parents was the same that found ways for a greater well-being of their children. That is how we became a generation alien to cheers and slogans; we simply lost the splendor of collectivism, of the mass as an emblem, and took refuge in the supremacy of the self, of the individual being.4
That is how Azcuy describes the time of some Cubans in which she includes herself. On art and its artists she talks about the “very particular characteristics of their work and social positioning”. The referents emerge with every line I read in the catalogue. Here goes a sample of those unavoidable tangencies.
When, in reference to this generation, Gabriela mentions a “remarkable autonomy”, an “individual management in her own spaces and workshops”, I cannot avoid thinking in Estudio 331, where Alex Hernández, Frank Mujica and Adrián Fernández have joined forces. When she talks about the “continuous work with the national institutions and with galleries and international centers”,5 Mabel Poblet suddenly comes to my mind, a youngster who has known how to take in her hand outstanding exhibitions in the UNEAC, as Patria (Homeland),6 with a constant work in international galleries (Co Galería in Chile and Patricia Conde in Mexico are just two examples). In that same way, when referring to “aesthetic-conceptual articulation” as “amalgam functioning as sufficient tautology”, the interweaved photos by Jorge Otero, the landscapes with openwork paper by Ariamna Contino, Frank Mujica’s charcoal drawings and the exquisite visual narrations by Adislén Reyes suddenly emerge. Finally, already closing her text, Azcuy points out: “They are indisputably Cuban artists, but they belong to the era of cultural globalization. So they should not be analyzed as part of a local art, separated of the international sceneries and approaches.”7
With this in mind, I think on the gearings that could function for this generation, which grew with Facebook and the myth of Damien Hirst as a possible path to success. A generation for which to be an artist is not only to appear in the slides of the professors of History of Art, but—as former generations in Cuba have demonstrated—implies a sign of social status, a legitimate escape of deprivations and feeble economies.
We live in a world where, whether we like it or not, the catalogues of Christie’s and Sotheby’s establish a good part of the social meridian; a world where Andy Warhol is the fourth most goggled artist—whatever this means—, while Joseph Beuys is ranked 74.8 Cuba, of course, belongs to this world, so to ignore this would be as useless as talking to a cactus.
On the other hand, with regard to the dialectic that—in the exhibition—is established with these artists, something intrigues me. “They are Cubans living in Cuba”, the press repeats over and over again, as if they were speaking of exotic birds. And it seems the phrase has something magic, as if in its inexplicably necessary redundancy it answered all possible questions. For a Cuban artist to remain in Cuba is an everyday condition that results in the most vintage for the market, something like having wine in Paris or study Buddhism in the cliffs of the Himalaya: a condition of mark that previously guarantees the quality—or at least the status—of his works.
It has become common to speculate on the reason of this mysticism. In facts, until recently it was attributed to the egocentrism product of our deeply rooted cultural inbreeding. But something is really happening. I perceive it when a character as global as Don Thompson, joking on the paradoxes of the cultural world in Havana and the possibilities of its artists and art academies, refers that: “The graduates of Fine Arts in Yale Columbia may have chosen the wrong school”.9
Finally, on the notes by Gabriela on her (Art)xiomas, I would add that this is a generation that has grown with time to learn the mistakes of the past; that understands the disappointment and uselessness of the sacrifice for alien causes. This is a generation that avoids unnecessary conflicts, that balances on the margin of the borders; that endures what it does not like and takes all the possible benefits from the peculiarities of its context. This is a generation which knows that, to succeed in art, the path is not far from their island, but well inside the land.
Brief although necessary journey
Adriana Arronte, Ariamna Contino, Gustavo del Valle,
Adrián Fernández, Alex Hernández, Frank Mujica, Osmeivy Ortega, Jorge Otero, Josuhe Pagliery, Mabel Poblet, Lisandra Ramírez, Adislén Reyes, Roger Toledo, Grethell Rasúa and Harold García. For each of these artists, being a Cuban means something rather specific. (Art)xiomas…, although outlining tangency zones among these 15 individualities, unifies very diverse forms of existence. These are brief—and perhaps a little arbitrary—impressions on some of their works.
When Lisandra Ramírez talks, the voice of a girl comes from her throat. Hers are sublime meetings between implicit speeches and forms of overwhelming simplicity. They are coming (2015) is an installation of airplanes, hot air balloons and other ships, toys as those hanging from babies cradles. In their surfaces she prints juxtapositions of powerful contemporary symbols (Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Marilyn Monroe, even herself) on pictures of the Havana of the 1950s. A little bit the way in which Cuba is seen —unexplored jungle, virgin market, jewel of the past—and a little as a Cuban sees his country, the installation hangs from above, over the heads of those that, like children from their cradles, hardly distinguish what is happening, but have no influence or power to change it.
Frank Mujica draws from silence. His context is dissolved between the canvas and the charcoal. His intimism is nothing but a refuge. Untitled (diptych, 2016) is not a piece of deep interpretations, but rather of hedonistic connection. The enjoyment of who receives it is only comparable to that of the artist when he creates. Of Mujica I can point out the exquisite calm his works exhale, that aesthetic delight protecting us, even when the World may hatch outside.
Migración (Migration, 2016), by Adriana Arronte, is like taking out from the closet those memories and nostalgias we all have, dust them off and give them work. The piece is an installation of night butterflies—beings commonly associated to aversion and prejudices that usually migrate following moon cycles—, beautifully crowded in a corner. A little of Cuba, but also much of the World in this image.
For Jorge Otero his environment moves from discursive forms, anchored to an unavoidable past, and the reality that constantly twists the paths of the island. Cáscara (Peel, 2013), one of the most enigmatic works of the exhibition, reveals that conflict between the subject and the context/tradition that gives it form, but at the same time limits it. It could be said that for him the world is not divided between rich and poor, but between children and parents, between yesterday and today, between the inherent rigidity of the tradition and the necessary will to break it.
Mabel Poblet set up a structure with blue, red and white threads. Then she returns and dances naked. She wraps herself among the threads and, with each movement, defines the traces of her path, molds the space and it, as reducing itself, begins to channel her actions. Madeja (Hank, 2015) shows us in a certain form how History functions, and the identity, and the irrefutable time. When giving it physical form and revealing it as lattice threads, as knots that increasingly constrain our environment, Mabel discovers the weight of each of our actions and their future consequences.
Grethell Rasúa presented an overwhelming work. The bloody legs/dancing shoes of a ballet dancer, who refuses to give up no matter what happens, leave me the same impression of the smile of that model who goes on with her work, even with her recently twisted foot. Tenerse a sí mismo, tan llenos de fe y esperanzas (Having Yourself, so Full of Faith and Hope, 2012), before all, has to do with being coherent, with respecting that we hope to achieve even when life tries to convince us of the opposite. In the work we perceive a moment of existence when feeling part of something (an ideology, a nation) implies a given level of commitment, of pride for the merits achieved, but also of incalculable doses of suffering. Rasúa’s statement in the catalogue summarizes it almost as well as her work: “The best way to be on pointe is by giving everything from ourselves.”
In his article on (Art)xiomas…,10 Armando Trull narrates the visit by Emilio Cueto, a product of the Peter Pan Operation in 1960, who today owns one of the largest collections in the world of memories on Cuba. Cueto, now 73 years old, searches the walls of the AMA. And, in his step, he stops in Cáscara by
Jorge Otero, and is moved by the series Mediadores que marcan experiencias (Mediators that Mark Experiences, 2016), a collaboration between Grethell Rasúa and Harold García.
“I like that”, he says. I wonder how someone as Emilio Cueto, with almost 60 years out of Cuba and from a generation with so distant concerns, identifies with the voices coming from the works of (Art)xiomas… In greater or lesser extent, from all of them the traces of a nation which survive emerge in the attitude with which its artists assume it. Traces that, it seems, make fun as children on the passing of time; that are still Cuba, even for those who left.
Notes in the margin
I do not think that (Art)xiomas… would be an event that will go by unnoticed. Although it is one more attempt to canonize a sector of contemporary Cuban art before international audiences—after all, which exhibition is not like that today?—, there is something interesting in its main focus. There is the searching for a particularity in the newest production of the island, which demonstrates its point, its axiom, supported in works and artists, not the opposite. On the other hand, Gabriela does not restrict her curatorship to formal definitions or to the relative role of these youngsters in the History of Art. She talks of their place in society and how they belong to it: how they are related with the peculiar mechanisms underlying in Cuba at the beginning of the 21st century, which not only implies the development and production of a work, but also going to find a truck to transport it.
For these youngsters, Cuba goes further than any debate, posture or political party. Tatlin's Whisper does not worry them, nor the tantrums of that agonic past they have inherited. They know that Kronos will eventually do his work. They know the world belongs to them and it is only a matter of time.
For these young artists, Cuba goes further than any debate, posture or political party. They know that Kronos will eventually do his work. They know the world belongs to them and it is only a matter of time…
FRANK MUJICA − Untitled, 2016 / Dyptich / Graphite on canvas / 78 x 71 inches each MABEL POBLET − Madeja, 2015 / Silicone rope, metal, PVC / Performance / 9.8 x 16.4 x 13 ft Courtesy the artists
ALEX HERNÁNDEZ − Selección natural, 2016 / Glass, Epoxy paint, wood / 78¾ x 118 inches / Courtesy the artist GUSTAVO DEL VALLE − El origen del mundo, 2014 / Molten aluminum / 33½ x 130 x 22½ inches / Photo: Jorge Lavoy
1. Bárbara in Auguste: Osage County (John Wells and Tracy Letts, 2013). 2. Following the press, apparently it is necessary to highlight that AMA is the museum of the Organization of American States (OAS). 3. Recently Gabriela García Azcuy confirmed me...