CUBA AT VENICE BIENNALE

A TRUE EX­PLO­SION OF ARTISTS

Art On Cuba - - INDEX - DUNA VIEZZOLI

2017 is an im­por­tant year for Cuban Art at the Venice Biennale. Sixty-five years have elapsed since Cuba first took part in this pres­ti­gious In­ter­na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion, which rep­re­sents an open win­dow on con­tem­po­rary art since 1895, gath­er­ing to­gether artists from dif­fer­ent na­tions and gen­er­a­tions. It is a great chance to ex­hibit and share in an at­mos­phere of hu­man­ity and uni­ver­sal broth­er­hood de­void of prej­u­dices, bound­aries or ide­o­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers. This ex­hi­bi­tion, among the old­est in the world, set the first stone—be­fore there used to be the Sa­lons in dif­fer­ent cities of Europe—, high­lighted the way to­wards a new model of pro­mo­tion and in­ter­na­tional cir­cu­la­tion of art, and others fol­lowed it. Many events tried to over­turn it, or cre­ate an al­ter­na­tive to the model es­tab­lished in Venice, like the Ha­vana Bi­en­nial, which has taken place since 1984.

The ti­tle of the 57th edi­tion is Viva Arte Viva, there are 86 na­tional par­tic­i­pa­tions and 120 in­di­vid­ual artists. This year Cuba presents Time of In­tu­ition and a large del­e­ga­tion, 14 artists are present, cel­e­brat­ing the an­niver­sary of the first par­tic­i­pa­tion: it was in 1952 when Cuba pre­sented 14 artists, the very avant-garde at that time com­posed of great ex­po­nents of var­i­ous ori­en­ta­tions and lines.

The se­lec­tion of this year, co­or­di­nated by the cu­ra­tor José Manuel No­ceda and led by Jorge Fernán­dez Tor­res, com­mis­sioner of the ex­hi­bi­tion and di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Mu­seum of Fine

Arts of Cuba, is com­posed largely of young artists, who al­ready en­joy a con­sid­er­able recog­ni­tion world­wide. “It has been very im­por­tant for Cuban art to have this pav­il­ion and gather artists so very dif­fer­ent one from the other, con­sid­er­ing their artis­tic pur­suit, their po­etic and the na­ture of their cre­ative process.

It is also nec­es­sary to rec­og­nize the ef­fort made by the Cuban

State to sup­port such a wide rang­ing project.” Ex­plained the com­mis­sioner on the open­ing day, on May 12th 2017.

Cer­tainly Cuba was able to speak of it­self in Venice this year, by show­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion that only in few weeks set a record as re­gards visi­tors. The Cuban pav­il­ion is set in the an­cient and pres­ti­gious Loredan Palace, head­quar­ters of the Veneto In­sti­tute of Sciences, Arts and Lit­er­a­ture since 1838, lo­cated in the very cen­tral area of the Ital­ian city, just a few steps away from the San Marco Square. Cov­er­ing both of the two floors of the build­ing, the ex­hi­bi­tion is con­ceived to start at the out­door square with Es­te­rio Se­gura’s work, dis­played in­side rooms and lounges with spec­tac­u­lar wooden pave­ments, fur­ni­ture and ceil­ing, in typ­i­cal Vene­tian style.

The im­pact of Cuban art in Venice is un­doubt­edly pos­i­tive, as Fér­nan­dez added. “You can re­ally per­ceive the re­ac­tion of the public in the pav­il­ion, peo­ple are very sat­is­fied and happy. I think the most im­por­tant thing is that is it pos­si­ble to re­al­ize a three times big­ger pav­il­ion. It is clear that Cuban art is still very vi­tal, that artists put a lot of in­ten­sity into their works.” The artists were vis­i­bly en­thu­si­as­tic about tak­ing part in this pres­ti­gious event, which they have dreamed about through­out their ca­reer, as one of the big­gest goals to ac­com­plish and proud to rep­re­sent their coun­try. “For them this is gor­geous: it is vis­i­bil­ity and pro­mo­tion; a recog­ni­tion of the work they have done. It is also a dis­tinc­tion for the artis­tic train­ing in Cuba, the schools of art and the teach­ing, which is fun­da­men­tal. So ev­i­dently Cuban in­sti­tu­tions do their best ef­fort to in­cor­po­rate artists and to no­tice them when they are very young”, con­cluded the com­mis­sioner.

Surely it is a very dif­fi­cult task hav­ing to choose, among so many great artists, which ones to in­clude in the ex­hi­bi­tion, as the cu­ra­tor José Manuel No­ceda de­clared. “It is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, it is a very pleas­ant headache, hav­ing to do a se­lec­tion of this del­i­cacy in a coun­try like ours. We have an in­cred­i­ble pro­mo­tion, var­i­ous gen­er­a­tions of artists work­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously on and off the is­land: very valu­able cre­ators go­ing, com­ing back and shar­ing stays, ter­ri­to­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences with au­thors from all over the world.”

The artists selected for the 57th edi­tion are Abel Barroso,

Iván Capote, J. Roberto Diago, Roberto Fabelo, José Manuel

Fors, Aimée García, Reynier Leyva Novo, René Peña, Wil­fredo Pri­eto, Ma­bel Poblet, Car­los Martiel, Meira Mar­rero & José Án­gel Toirac, José E. Yaque and Es­te­rio Se­gura. Be­hind the in­di­vid­ual in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the ti­tle, Tiempo de la in­tu­ición (Time of In­tu­ition), you can have a glimpse of the ex­cel­lent cu­ra­to­rial work in the con­nec­tion be­tween them all, con­sid­er­ing that they are very dif­fer­ent, since each cre­ator has its own lan­guage and a way of liv­ing re­al­ity. In fact the works in the pav­il­ion ab­sorb the spec­ta­tor in a tour of per­cep­tions, com­posed of each artist’s own read­ing of time in ev­ery­day life.

Cu­ra­tor José Manuel No­ceda found in­spi­ra­tion in the con­cept of time as ex­pressed by the Cuban writer Alejo Car­pen­tier. He said that in the Caribbean and in Cuba three time re­al­i­ties co­ex­ist si­mul­ta­ne­ously: the past, or time of mem­ory, the present, time of in­tu­ition or vi­sion, and the fu­ture, or time of wait­ing. Present is the cho­sen one, the Time of In­tu­ition...

No­ceda ex­plained how his straight­for­ward work took into ac­count some of the ideas of the gen­eral cu­ra­tor of the Biennale, Chris­tine Ma­cel. “In her the­o­ret­i­cal doc­u­ment she refers to the cir­cum­stances that our world is un­der­go­ing, all the episodes of cri­sis and con­flict af­fect­ing our ev­ery­day life. She speaks about the need to re­cover the role of art and of the artist within so­ci­ety, about the ur­gency to res­cue hu­man­ism, which has been lost through­out all these decades.” Con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing the project on Cuban re­al­ity and keep­ing in mind Ma­cel’s cu­ra­to­rial ideas, No­ceda found in­spi­ra­tion in the con­cept of time as ex­pressed by the Cuban writer Alejo Car­pen­tier (1904-1980), ini­tia­tor of the Latin Amer­i­can con­cept of mag­i­cal re­al­ism. Car­pen­tier said that in the Caribbean and in Cuba three time re­al­i­ties co­ex­ist si­mul­ta­ne­ously: the past, or time of mem­ory, the present, time of in­tu­ition or vi­sion, and the fu­ture, or time of wait­ing. Present is the cho­sen one, the Time of In­tu­ition, where the artists can con­trib­ute with their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the con­tem­po­rary world. “Con­sid­er­ing that the Bi­en­nal speaks about the present and tak­ing into ac­count the state of art in Cuba, I think I could not find a bet­ter metaphor to try a mod­est ap­proach to some of the de­vel­op­ment lines of Cuban art nowa­days”, No­ceda added. The 14 in­ter­preters of the Caribbean is­land daily life, through in­ti­mate or satir­i­cal routes, with per­for­mances, pho­tos or in­stal­la­tions, deal with top­ics rang­ing from the de-con­struc­tion of the past and his­tory, to chron­i­cle to­day; rang­ing from so­cial, racial and gen­der is­sues, to themes of faith and spir­i­tu­al­ity. They are pe­cu­liar and in­de­pen­dent au­thors, who pro­pose dif­fer­ent vi­sions of the is­sues of their world in which the con­text, and the com­mit­ment to it, are the keys to re­con­sider re­al­ity.

The en­ergy of this pav­il­ion lies in the di­ver­sity of me­dia, structure and po­etic: there are pho­to­graphs, ob­jects, in­stal­la­tions, videos. In ad­di­tion, the pres­ence of Car­los Martiel at the in­au­gu­ra­tion, per­form­ing the ex­traor­di­nar­ily in­tense Mediter­rá­neo, has been fab­u­lous…

In Dys­lexia, by Ivan Capote, there are both in­evitabil­ity in think­ing back about the past and in­abil­ity to act in syn­chrony with the world; Cuban style cy­ber lounge, by Abel Barroso, is about prob­lems con­cern­ing con­nec­tion which Cubans have to face ev­ery day. In Ave María, by José Án­gel Toirac & Meira Mar­rero, is pre­sented the need of per­ceiv­ing a di­vine who might re­spond to the strug­gles of a coun­try, com­posed of mi­grants and im­mi­grants, con­sti­tu­tion­ally mul­ti­eth­nic and yet where racist ideas still sur­vive, as it is con­veyed in the won­der­ful pho­tos White House and My White Hands of Shame, by René Peña. In Scale of Val­ues Ma­bel Poblet an­a­lyzes Cuban news­pa­pers, all sim­i­lar and on grayscale, as she ex­plained. “In Cuba, all the me­dia have a sin­gle ed­i­to­rial cri­te­rion and all the news­pa­pers pub­lish the same news, but at the same time they share hu­man thoughts and, es­pe­cially, es­sen­tial Cuban val­ues.” Val­ues which, for ex­am­ple, we can find in the theme, ever sound­ing both in mem­ory and Latin veins, of La Bayamesa, per­formed by Reynier Leyva Novo in The In­vis­i­ble Pa­triot. In Rewind Aimée García al­ludes to the eter­nal do and undo cy­cle, which new gen­er­a­tions nec­es­sar­ily have to un­dergo, learn­ing from their own his­tory and some­times re­fer­ring to the fu­ture. In this man­ner, the young artist Ma­bel Poblet ex­plained what time means for her: “Time in Cuba has al­ways had an­other pace, dif­fer­ent from that of the rest of the world, in some fields it is a lit­tle slower, in some others a lit­tle faster. Re­flect­ing on art, Cuba has al­ways been far ahead, in our way of per­ceiv­ing the world through art, which is dif­fer­ent from the per­cep­tion of art in Europe or in the rest of Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean. We have lived iso­lated from glob­al­iza­tion, but at the same time it has helped us to be bet­ter, to rein­vent our­selves ev­ery day. Time plays in neg­a­tive and pos­i­tive, it is very ran­dom, de­pend­ing on where you look at it and how you fo­cus on it.”

The en­ergy of this pav­il­ion lies in the di­ver­sity of me­dia, structure and po­etic: there are pho­to­graphs, ob­jects, in­stal­la­tions, videos. In ad­di­tion, the pres­ence of Car­los Martiel at the in­au­gu­ra­tion, per­form­ing the ex­traor­di­nar­ily in­tense Mediter­rá­neo, has been fab­u­lous: he stands on his knees blocked in a glass and metal case which lit­tle by lit­tle is filled with cold wa­ter as an hour­glass. He sends a fierce and lac­er­at­ing crit­i­cism to Europe and its in­abil­ity to pro­vide the nec­es­sary as­sis­tance to African mi­grants who die in the sea ev­ery day. “Sym­bol­i­cally it is like the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the spec­ta­tors at­tend­ing the per­for­mance; they could have done some­thing some­how, re­move the case, but no­body did any­thing. Peo­ple stood there look­ing and do­ing noth­ing, noth­ing hap­pened”, Car­los com­mented.

There­fore, in this Time of In­tu­ition, the sense of present is fun­da­men­tal to un­der­stand what has hap­pened in the past and per­haps to re­fer to the fu­ture, to Car­pen­tier’s “time of wait­ing”. The way to ex­press it nec­es­sar­ily comes from those who can best plumb con­tem­po­rary world prob­lems, grasp them in­nerly and bring them back to light in a new shape: the artists. And Cuba has a tra­di­tion of vis­ual arts, which con­stantly guar­an­tees the en­trance, in the field of pro­duc­tion and cir­cu­la­tion of works, of a rel­e­vant num­ber of young artists: it is like a great reser­voir, main­tained through aca­demic spa­ces and teach­ing, that fa­vors this true ex­plo­sion of artists. ƒ

Pho­tos: Francesco Al­le­gretto

CAR­LOS MARTIEL

Mediter­rá­neo, 2017 Structure / 98 x 36 inches Per­for­mance

IVÁN CAPOTE

No rearview mir­ror, 2008-2016 Ob­ject

Pho­tos: Oak Tay­lor Smith Cour­tesy Gal­le­ria Con­tinua, San Gimignano / Bei­jing / Les Moulins / Ha­bana

REINIER LEYVA NOVO El de­seo de morir por otros, 2012 Ob­ject / In­stal­la­tion

JOSÉ EDUARDO YAQUE

Tumba abierta, 2009-2017

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