IN INIQUITATIBUS CONCEPTUS SUM
Luis Gómez’s artistic proposal is certainly intense, consistent. However, it would not have the same extent, taking into account its irreverence and harshness, if in his attitude as an artist Luis did not maintain his cynicism and commitment. He has not hesitated to reject sponsors, to never set foot on renowned exhibition spaces, to lash into those who play from their authority, to tell the truths face to face. Luis—everybody knows—is feared as much as his work. He is an artist consistent with his way of doing.
And like this, he got to the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. Of course, his access to this place is explained, in essence, because of the sensible vision of a new director who strangely combines sagacity with power. It is obvious that is less dangerous and therefore better for Cuban institutions and their specialists to dialogue with artists that are “politically correct”, but fortunately Jorge Fernández is willing to consider risk. The responsibility of creating a New Media Laboratory at the Higher Institute of Arts (ISA), the conception of the exhibit Ven y mea en mi puerta (Come and piss on my doorstep) at the Wifredo Lam Center for Contemporary Art and the participation at the 56th Venice Biennial are actions that evidence Jorge’s confidence in Luis Gómez and that have preceded his entrance into this Cuban museum enclosure, without having to obtain the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas (National Visual Arts Award) for this purpose.
Ji, Ji, Ji1 (Apostrophe) was the title of Luis’s exhibit at the
Edificio de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art Building) that took place from February to April, 2017. This exhibit was part of a sort of trilogy together with two other exhibitions: the aforementioned Ven y mea en mi puerta (February, 2014) and Polite and B_Side (December, 2014). And I say trilogy, since the three exhibitions maintained not only the same research line, but also similar operating forms, sharing even some of the pieces—which sometimes were a cover version. In a general sense, the artist insisted on presenting the functioning of the current art system in the island, the power relations and the conflicts of interests underlying the production and the legitimization of an artistic proposal. The censorious look of Luis Gómez’s (which he insists on substituting for “personal appreciation”) was aimed not at the market, as an abstract and impersonal entity, but at the actors within the circuit, whether they are collectors, critics, officials, specialists or even the creators themselves and their manipulation strategies.
However, in each of the exhibits a distinct approach, which was announced by the title, prevailed. In this way Ven y mea en mi puerta left no doubt as to its affront and provocation character on the part of the artist, which at the same time could become a complaint. Apparently, Luis offered himself as victim, helpless before the spectator, when at the end it turned out that the spectator—assumed as part of the work—became the victimizer. A very subtle way of saying: “Don’t try to show a top how to spin”. The piece that gave title to the exhibition and El arte social no es tan social y el político demasiado político (Social art is not that social and the political one is too political) were conceived with this purpose in mind. In the first one, a wall simulating being part of the exhibition salon, had been programed (with the Arduino system) to gradually expel the audience from the space. This gesture, so challenging as well as exclusive, in my opinion, was marked by the superiority that for the artist implies to have clearly and honorably defined his “own territory”.
With El arte social no es tan social… Luis extended this idea. Supposedly he was locked in a wooden crate that had an opening so that to comply with his request, some acknowledged critics or curators would introduce some food plates. The simulation—Luis was never locked up, he watched the scene through a camera— acquires here a greater connotation, inasmuch it is the artist’s sacrifice (declared) which is questioned. And the reason is that, for Luis Gómez, in Cuba a lot of art is made with the social or political label, which has not been able to accomplish a real repercussion in the society or in the government system of the island. Then, the objective of this pretended commitment does not look inside but rather outside. It tries to be exported in keeping with the idea of the Cuban art that foreign collecting is building. An idea that is reinforced to a great extent by the critical voices to which, in this occasion, the artist insistently “begs for food.”
However, the strength of El arte social no es tan social… is not quite understood—according to Luis, it is a work that defines his radical position concerning art2—if it is not known that since the late 1990s the artist decided to move away from the anthropological line inherited from Juan Francisco Elso—the anthropological approach had become “trendy”—and start researching on the tricks of art. Of course, this change in approach meant a thorough revision of anthropology and for Luis Gomez it unfolded as the science of domination, the discipline that prefers to study the other one obviating the individual self, the “I”: the look of the not guilty. A work like Miserere comes to complete the discourse of El arte social no es tan social… since starting from the psalm to invoke mercy and forgiveness, Luis articulates a concept of what art is, in which not by chance, the anthropological re-reading or the historical re-reading of a political event appear among its many meanings. Miserere amplifies the grievance that
El arte social… conceals; both are addressed to the recognition of guilt from which the creator subject cannot escape while looking “outside”, since feeling superior, he believes he is “outside”. It is like Democracia would state3: “All of you are guilty, except me”.
With Las ropas del rey (The King’s clothes) he preferred provocation, only that this time it was from another perspective, more in keeping perhaps with what Polite and B_Side was. Alluding directly to Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, also known as The Emperor’s New Suit, Luis Gómez donated some waste materials coming from Cuban artists’ works to the collection of the National Council of Visual Arts (which I think was rejected). Was it perhaps that the stupid king, intent on collecting “clothes” was not able to distinguish this time the worth of the new suit? The truth is that the king did not know how to stop if it was about collecting: “Whatever it happens—he said—I must remain like this until the end.”4 A moment that has recently arrived, and that Luis seemed to perceive.
And I established a parallel with Polite and B_Side because precisely this kind of “courtesy” was what prevailed in that exhibit. In Polite… he changes the focus of attention. As a polite gesture, the artist cedes his place—better artists never talk—: he is no longer exposed, instead he exposes art agents. Like this it can be understood how harsh it is to confront and mock critics, curators, institution directors, etc. by making a photographic capture of their attitudes in artistic events, and later sending them like Spam mails as advertising promotion—Side-B.(Courtesy), or through failed interviews turned into fake carpets (Toma el dinero y corre / Take the money and run) or by making public mails sent by mistake (Cuban fresco. After House of Cards R.S).
In this last piece, the way of showing the received e-mails was an important fact. These were lying on the B side of a wooden board that on the floor and on its other face had a pillow nearby. On the whole the structure suggested something used to have oral sex without knowing the identity of the other one, a frequent practice mainly in public spaces. Luis does not hesitate to be aberrant, actually as I understand it, his divergent attitude is because he is certain that hypocrisy and opportune servility in the media is as aberrant.
Ji, Ji, Ji (Apostrophe) was less hurtful, more cryptic, as many would comment. The exhibition at the Museum softened a little the sordid mockery of Polite… combining it with the protest contained in a piece like Miserere exhibited in Ven y mea en mi puerta. The reference to the apostrophe, as a rhetorical device that pursues mercy, interrupted pathetically the alleged joke. Once again it was about cynicism, a cynicism that did not overlook any detail. The conception of the catalogue, for example, obviated the reproduction of the pieces images in order to refer critical texts in foreign languages (German, Italian...) Possibly the effort that many people made trying to decode the text lines was greater than trying to understand the artistic gesture itself—lack of hints or clues that might explain the alleged cryptic character. Anyway, the author’s intention of discoursing on the spectators’ vice to prefer the theoretical sources, as they which prevail in the legitimation of a work, is evident.
However, the cynicism in Ji, Ji, Ji…was aimed mainly at institutions, and especially at the ones operating in our context, which was not surprising given the fact that the previous exhibitions had brought focus on artists and curator-critics.
The most affected ones—but not the only ones—were Galleria Continua, the Ludwig Foundation and the very Museum of Fine Arts where the exhibit was shown.
The documentation video Sparring Partner opened the exhibition. Outside the seat of Galleria Continua in La Habana, the artist had left a fake Louis Vuitton bag, bought from the Mantas (African emigrants in Europe). The text: “A luta continua, Vitoria e certa” (The struggle continues, victory is certain) accompanied the projection, in which the spectator followed closely the fate of the product. This narrative operated as a pretext to allude to another victory: that of Galleria Continua in Cuba. The key to understand the piece lies in the relation that was established during the last Havana Biennial between Louis Vuitton and the aforementioned gallery: “The French brand, when for the first time in the island becomes the ‘sponsor’ of several artists, applies a patronage strategy, known as “artketing”, through which it strengthens its image and identity, and is associated with limited and exclusive editions (…) This strategy facilitates establishing relations in the country waiting to have a free hand to develop its own business line.”5
Undoubtedly, this “Cuban luxury market” has been favored by the recent openings taking place in the island, a moment that Luis recognizes as extremely risky for art and the intelligentsia. That is why he creates an analogy between the fake bag and the relationship of Cuban artists with Continua. No matter how fake both are—he says—if they both will be useful. In this way, the Cuban artists become the Sparring Partner of Continua, those trained “fighters” to make it shine. In this sense the piece is linked to what Stefan Nowotny has classified as the second wave of institutional critique, a kind of work that approaches the influence of neoliberal economies on the museum dynamics and is concerned about the response of these or other artistic institutions to the typical transnational elements of a globalized world: “the extent of this disoriented attitude (…) to facing the irascible neoliberal reform is intentionally expressed by the defense of instruments and institutions which perhaps yesterday would have been submitted to a critical examination.”6 Just like it would have happened in Cuba some years ago, if it were about assessing the acceptance of the proposed model by the Galleria Continua.
The Ludwig Foundation was another focal point targeted by the artist that could not be missing if the “close” relationship between Luis and this institution is considered. In 1992 Luis obtained a grant by the German Foundation, which opened the art market in Cuba. Through works like Esta no es mi intención (This is not my intention) and Manual de la teoría de la conspiración del arte cubano (Handbook of the theory of Cuban art conspiracy), Luis insisted on “Ludwig’s American friends” referring to the collector’s past as a Nazi soldier and the close links of the current seat of Ludwig Foundation in Cuba with Americans of Jewish origin like Alex and Carol Rosenberg. Exactly what we have experienced with Continua: history is forgotten when it is convenient.
And the Museum gained prominence with pieces that continued the critique line opened by Sparring… In the video installation Y más pintura invisible (And more invisible painting), the pertinence, the usefulness of an art museum is questioned by means of the images of a surveillance camera which in the salon Wifredo Lam captures the inattentiveness of the public towards the work of the acknowledged painter. With ¿Qué puedo hacer ahora que todo es posible? (What can I do now that everything is possible?) he went further. He established a relationship between the vaults of the art museum in La Habana and what WAGE (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), a group of activist artists from Brooklyn, stands for. WAGE advocates for modifying institutional policies concerning payments and benefits (non) offered to artists and other professionals in the art circuit. Is also possible to find this complaint that Luis makes his own it in the aforementioned Manual de la teoría…, in which he denounces how Cuban artists are part of a “packet” sold to foreigners and the creators are deprived of any benefit. ¿Qué puedo hacer ahora que todo es posible? enhances this critique as it is made within the Museum. The filming of the vaults where the artistic heritage of the island is supposed to be protected leaves a bitter taste to those who are acquainted with some facts that have taken place in those spaces relatively recently.
Therefore, there is certainly in ji, Ji, Ji, (Apostrophe), the same as in Ven y mea en mi puerta and in Polite and B_side, a concern for the fate of art, for the conciliations that put the artistic and intellectual legacy at stake. These exhibits convey a plea, a prayer that Luis pronounces really from deep inside, with a sense of “guilt”, with pain: and there lies his being consequent. 1. Onomatopoeic sound made when you giggle. (Translator’s Note)
2. Seminar offered by the artist at the National Museum of Fine Arts concerning the exhibit Ji, Ji, Ji (Apostrophe) on Wednesday, April 5th,2017.
3. Artistic Spanish group that Luis Gómez acknowledges as referent. 4. See: The new Emperor’s suit. Hans Christian Andersen. In http:// www.curriculumenlineamineduc.cl
5. “Luis Vuitton already is thinking in the luxury Cuban market and sponsors the Havana Biennial”. In: http://cubaeconomica.com 6. Nowotny, Stefan. Anti-canonization. The differential knowledge of institutional critique. In: http//eipcp.net
Ji, Ji, Ji (Apostrophe), National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana: Once again it was about cynicism, a cynicism that did not overlook any detail.
PD: “In iniquitatibus conceptus sum” is a fragment taken from Psalm 51 known as Miserere. The verse appears referred in Latin respecting the original language in which it was written.
Site specific installation
Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, Havana
B-Side (Polite), 2014
Documentation of 8 art events in 6 months,
3281 files, selection of images sent by e-mail as Spam, as a promotion message.
Toma el dinero y corre, 2014 / Fake carpet. Recycled damask and felt fabric / Text with description of a negotiation process in the art world / Photo: Antonio Gómez Margolles (This work prematurely titled Toma el dinero y corre—Take the Money and Run—, projected as a video-interview to Luis Miret, Director of Galería Habana, in an attempt to expose its structures of promotion, manipulation and politics around the monopoly of Cuban art, was censored by Rubén del Valle Lantarón,
President of the National Council of Visual Arts, alleging "conflict of interest". He also refused to be filmed and invited, the artist, in a subsequent agreement, to make the fact explicit by some means. / This work is sponsored entirely by the National Council of Visual Arts.)
Sparring partner, 2017 / Documentation video
(Document: Fake Louis Vuitton purse bought from "Les mantas", African emigres in Madrid, with text “A luta continua, Vitória e certa” left at the entrance of Arte Continua, Havana. January 25th, 2017)