Art works as a Moebius ring, in a de-territorialized manner, virtual, with fluctuations between public and private spaces, proper and common ones, subjective and objective, as spiral band that boosts the hypertext dialectical operation.
In Glauber Ballestero’s work this process of splitting into two occurs. The image stops being useful in its context and acquires rhizomatous effects which permits it to be an invention having a critical voice in reality. In his most recent personal exhibit,
Conceptium Saliara, held at the Galería Villa Manuela, Glauber
(La Habana, 1977) builds a fictitious history but with distinctive parallels and hidden references to the current political and social narration. At some time I attempted the final reading of each work, but later I realized that its attraction lies precisely in the game discovering and concealing, in creating a problem that afterwards will be the opening to a void, in questioning what was thought. That is why I talked with Glauber, with the intention of creating more problems than solutions, more reflections than axioms, more inventions than realities.
Why CONCEPTIUM SALIARA?
Experience is talking on the advent of a new animal species called Saliara and the myth surrounding it. This being is apparently perfect. The exhibition covered three moments and showed an evolutionary trip, since the formation of the first cell up to the peak of this entity in its environment. It also comprised a book with its stories, concepts, images related to them, color patterns with special pigments, emblems, banners, eggs, the altered molecular composition of oxygen, organisms in larva state, DNA structures, etc. It is not by chance that the first piece you found in the salon was the cell and the last one a video representing Saliara settling in that sort of limbo to be inhabited. CONCEPTIUM SALIARA is the interpretation I give to this fact.
To what extent is it relevant to make the created story correspond to the visual result that is displayed? Do you consider that the uncertainty generated by this possible dichotomy is a sensitive experience coherent with the work itself?
Absolutely, the public that consumes my work needs more information to be able to relate the plots to the works. I do not consider it as a constraint, it is another way to make art. I also strive to make the pieces have autonomy. I am interested in both the spectator that only enjoys the visual part as in that who seek out the stories that gradually unfold, trying to go deeper into the conceptual. There is room for both. I am not obsessed with the way the public reads my statement, whether it is rigid or if they create other ideas, it is fantastic. My motto is: no matter whatever it is, you will know what it is. Uncertainty or ambiguity is something that is always implicit, I do not like to make everything evident.
Would you tell us a little about your relation to photography and how the technical scaffolding is also a manifest part of the concept?
In my case the media are fundamental when I am turning an idea into something concrete. Sometimes I try to reach a point that is halfway between one and the other. The selection is not at random, the media are used to dimension the plot of the project. In CONCEPTIUM SALIARA I visualized the experience with works that could be either paintings or photographs, difficult to classify in this sense. But it was obvious that the images to be used should be representative of those concepts expressed in the book, and for this purpose photography was essential.
I am interested in the image itself for its iconography, for what it shows, and besides for the extent of artificiality that the medium offers. When I refer to representation, I mean that when I start conceiving them, it is like filling up a film or TV studio set, from outside they are perfect oils-on-canvas, from inside, they are impressions of those paintings. This does not mean that I conceive my exhibitions as on-stage scenes, rather that besides, I transform that artificiality into something sublime, unique.
In the history of art the great social conflicts have been mostly approached from the experience of minorities and not from the superiority of their opposite. In your work a strong concern for the subject of race can be perceived, but it has been worked from a high spectrum that quotes disturbing negative, ambiguous contexts. What are you seeking in these representations in which white no longer alludes directly to its historical connotation?
In the evolution of man and its history, the white race has been the repository of a significant bulk of what we associate with imposition, dominion, etc. owing to what we know, and this has caused that throughout the centuries it has held a deviated reputation. I would like my work to have a bearing on expanding these limits. Since the first moment that I assumed to make art with these terms, I was aware that it was not going to be an easy task, but I set out not to tiptoe. I think it is necessary to approach this theme at this point in time. I handle codes that seem pompous, elegant, refined, I do not think they are negative as such. I believe a race is above everything, whichever it may be, and cannot be reduced by a concrete phenomenon, that is why I am interested in assessing it and create from it; it is a teeming platform as rich as any other.
José Martí says in his article Mi raza (My race): “Everything that divides men, everything that specifies, separates or corners them, is a sin against mankind…”, and I think that your work is not exempt from the current circumstances, from the revival of the extreme right wing, for example, with Trump as president, which has consequences for the whole world and specifically for Cubans because of his divisive and extremely violent policies. How do you consume this experience and assume it in your work?
It is significant the volatility that the extreme right wing has nowadays and it is steadily gaining ground. Trump is self-centered and takes pleasure in having the focuses on him, he is the transmitter of that feeling, he knows very well how to sell it, but at the end he is just an individual. What is really alarming is the fact that so many people voted for him, but I realize it is like this. Once again the mantle of fear covers us, they want the majority to keep motionless, to keep doing the same, consuming excessively and not question anything; the idea of placing all of us against it, is more attractive. The resources are limited, the systems collapse, and chaos is imposed by transitivity.
Martí was absolutely right, it could not be better expressed. Although racism and xenophobia have turned into tools for hating, in my opinion, being pessimistic is not worthwhile. The artist must know how to balance and function like an equalizer, counteract wrong-doings, but above all possesses an autonomy that has nothing to do with flags, rulers, religions, beliefs, ideologies; many elements conspire to make you move away from that reality; that is why being an artist gives you total freedom, it equals you to God. My art is political, though it is, above all, a servant, a mediating vehicle of beauty.
As part of your working process you assert invention as a document or real fact, but later this discourse becomes ambiguous and what is “created” or “fabulated” finally turns into “recreation” of the existing circumstances. Could you please explain the reasons that lead you to opt for what is undiscovered, empty and apparently irreal and assume it in its symbolic condition?
During the creative process I start by organizing the stories as a programmer who can cover a broad range of possibilities and options, creating things or even using others that already exist. I mix elements from the past, taking advantage of the way they have been read but projecting them in a new one. The limits, barriers, contexts, space coordinates and time are lost, but always according to the plot of the project. That general idea is the guideline, the one that marks the pace. My purpose is not to alter or invert processes that come by-default in the software, rather I prefer to analyze phenomena from other edges. That is why, at times, it is like skipping traffic or even driving on the wrong way. Apparently it has an off-center logic, but it is quite the opposite, there is an order that grants it stability.
“A lie that is properly repeated a thousand times turns into something true”, said Joseph Goebbels. In your case what means
“I mix elements from the past, taking advantage of the way they have been read but projecting them in a new one. The limits, barriers, contexts, space coordinates and time are lost, but always according to the plot of the project.”
would you use to achieve the effect? To what extent the excess and detail of information, its complexity, its designation using neologisms and its esthetic materialization contribute to the formation of an image? That is, not only at the personal level of the artist, his/her work or exhibit, rather as a representation of knowledge automatized by the institution of art, the course of history and its theoretical conception. Is it that the credibility of current art is questioned?
Today everything is part of, and takes part in the creation of an image, even the artists’ personal life is constantly affecting their work, whether he/she is aware of the fact, everything that is projected gives meaning to their work, sometimes for good and some other times not so much like that. That is why we must be careful, not only while we are creating or exhibiting the result.
When I make art, I am interested in questioning many things, but I think it is conceited to think that any artist could question the credibility of art. I am not that fatalistic as to assert that it is in decline, as some others think; art is and will always be in perfect conditions, maybe the ability to pursue and analyze what surrounds us is what is fading away. An artist should not pursue the where and how to reach art as a formula, the coming together is an unknown path, and it is a matter of faith. Those who are able to achieve that state are privileged.
I agree with Goebbels in part; it is real what he says, but it also keeps being a repeated lie. I am quite aware of the difference between fake and fiction, and I move away from the first. When an artist creates a history, even though it is fictitious, it does not mean it is a fake, or working like a liar, the consumer makes the choice of believing or not. Then everything that happens in the Republic1 is a reality within it, a truth, that is how I assume it, and I am consequent until the end.
Let us suppose that the reality disappears and just this fable or illusion is left…Wouldn’t it become a new reality? I would call it VITAE BEATUM… Would that be my invention?
The Republic is a reality like many others, within it everything happens. I like to think that nothing disappears, in some way, we are the ones who enter, go out, are connected, interact; we are the ones who perceive changes. Each experience is a new dimension that is added. In the Dermis Cromopilato the limits between creators and spectators are diluted; it could be me or not, it is not relevant. My intention is to mediate, like a key holder who opens the doors of something that already exists to show it and share it. By the way, at the Republic it would be VITAE VEATUM, but I understand, you have just arrived.
From the series Conceptium Saliara, 2016 / Oil and pigment on canvas / 21½ x 21½ inches
Sea of Tranquility - Ampulla (Detail). From the series Conceptium Saliara, 2016 / Metal, velvet, vinyl, plastic, concrete, wood, white silicone and wax / Variable dimensions Installation view, Galería Villa Manuela, Havana