Art On Cuba - - Index - by José Miguel Costa

José Miguel Costa (Las Tu­nas, 1971) is an atyp­i­cal case among the con­tem­po­rary art made in Cuba dur­ing the last cen­tury.

He did not ar­rive in Ha­vana mad keen on en­ter­ing the Higher In­sti­tute of Arts. He did not dare to climb on a raft and cross that line called the hori­zon. Much less did he suc­cumb to the col­lec­tive en­thu­si­asm, the com­mon “state of mind” in vil­lages where “noth­ing ever hap­pens” be­yond schem­ing, com­mit­ting crimes or tempt­ing fate in pro­hib­ited games.

Costa was far from be­ing an ad­ven­turer who would aban­don his fam­ily in or­der to es­tab­lish him­self. Nor was it an ob­ses­sion to fol­low a strate­gic path to his pro­mo­tion. Costa de­clined to join the in­va­sion of the nineties, which took ad­van­tage of the stam­pede of the eight­ies avant–garde. They were young peo­ple hun­gry to be­come prom­i­nent in the artis­tic scene, open to in­sti­tu­tional flir­ta­tion fol­low­ing a cor­rected cul­tural pol­icy.

Al­though he is pas­sion­ate about base­ball and foot­ball, José Miguel Costa re­fused to as­sume his artis­tic vo­ca­tion in win or lose terms. For him, wait­ing did not mean giv­ing up on gain­ing early vis­i­bil­ity, a fre­quent and al­most gen­er­al­ized con­cern among emerg­ing cre­ators of Cuban art. Some­thing sim­i­lar to those chil­dren who aim to ri­val their, also artist, par­ents.

On free­ing him­self of the iden­tity neu­ro­sis, palm trees be­came jilted brides, while pa­tri­otic sym­bols (shields, flags, ma­chetes) were ap­pro­pri­ated by a gen­er­a­tion lost in the ho­mog­e­niza­tion of the in­su­lar cliché. A cau­tious trend­set­ter, it could be said that Costa stalled in flirt­ing with the cap­i­tal, that great pros­ti­tute that ev­ery man wants to con­quer, be­fore tak­ing her to travel the world.

Whether he was born on an is­land or on the con­ti­nent was ir­rel­e­vant to a man who doesn’t con­sider him­self to be a drafts­man, painter, sculp­tor, video or per­for­mance artist. Costa gives the im­pres­sion of en­joy­ing his free elec­tron sta­tus, in or­der to move be­tween the mar­gins of ac­tion that of­fer him lim­its pre­de­ter­mined be­fore his birth.

As a so­cial ac­tor be­yond the ide­o­log­i­cal or com­mer­cial game, the re­la­tion­ships be­tween visual medium and idea flow as the cre­ative process ad­vances. The con­sis­tent fea­ture of his work is the irony of a dra­matur­gi­cal per­cep­tion, ready to mod­ify the sense of the stag­ing as ini­tially con­ceived.

Sketch­ing the land­scape of the quest is the start­ing point that marks the se­ries Troy­anos I (Tro­jans I, 2012). While Joseph Fouché de­clared that in­for­ma­tion is power, Costa trans­lated the founder of mod­ern es­pi­onage into a net­work of mi­cro–pow­ers, suf­fi­cient to abol­ish the bound­aries be­tween mass and hege­mony, speed and slow­ness, the ar­ti­san and the tech­no­log­i­cal. There­fore, he de­voted him­self to ex­tract­ing web­sites and email ad­dresses, to con­fig­ure free­hand an un­cap­turable so­cial por­trait.

Troy­anos I did not ex­ploit the calamity of sub­sist­ing on the mar­gins of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances and in­for­ma­tion high­ways. Based on the great ar­chi­tec­ture that is the In­ter­net, the artist com­piled a num­ber of use­ful data and tracks that he him­self couldn’t take ad­van­tage of; while oth­ers would not even know what to do with.

Be­fore these pieces, one re­calls the un­cer­tainty of the for­mer cap­tive: “And now that I have my free­dom, what will I do with it?” Sin­gle tracks lead so­cial losers to make the er­ror of cling­ing to the im­pos­si­ble; whereas broad and for­eign paths dis­tract or mis­lead those who boast of choos­ing their fan­cies.

Mov­ing from the rel­a­tively high­brow to the sup­pos­edly pop­u­lar, Va­por es 23 (Va­por is 23) con­cen­trated on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween num­bers and their mean­ing. This se­ries be­came an­other psy­choso­cial kalei­do­scope; now the “lucky ticket” of La Charada (Cuban lot­tery sys­tem) awarded il­licit vice the rank of ma­jor­ity ob­ses­sion. Here there is no eth­i­cal/moral dis­tinc­tion be­tween the peo­ple in­volved. Luck is the hope of the dis­pos­sessed.

Va­por es 23 cap­tured the hu­man will to as­pire to move from the shad­ows into the light. Vade retro: It’s win or win! “Life is risk or ab­sti­nence,” wrote the sui­ci­dal Reinaldo Are­nas, be­fore suc­cumb­ing to bad luck on risk­ing it all. The con­so­la­tion of the Cuban writer was to go with­out hav­ing to en­dure the in­sult of old age.

The Va­por es 23 se­ries was not the prod­uct of the cold cal­cu­la­tion im­posed on choos­ing the right themes at the right time. It is a trib­ute to the artist’s fa­ther, who used to play this num­ber in La Charada and even came to win it. This man­u­script, as an in­for­ma­tive guide, sought to pro­vide a glimpse of the clan­des­tine na­ture of the il­le­gal bus­tle that reigns in the coun­try’s daily life.

Nei­ther as cal­cu­lat­ing or as in­ti­mate, Costa’s work prefers to avoid ster­ile du­al­i­ties. A healthy mea­sure that al­lows him to de­light in the “all mixed up” that the poet Ni­colás Guil­lén pro­posed, against the “any­thing goes” of post­mod­ern vac­il­la­tion.

Más de un mil­lón (More than a Mil­lion) was the ti­tle of the solo ex­hi­bi­tion that José Miguel Costa pre­sented in the Carmelo gallery (April–May, 2017). The ex­hi­bi­tion was formed of pieces mak­ing up Troy­anos II and Va­por es 23, for a late but sure de­but in the Ha­vana cir­cuit.

Why was a hint at a num­ber cho­sen to link the two se­ries of ap­par­ently un­re­lated con­tent? The an­swer may lie in the

su­per­sti­tions of those who trust in num­bers for magic re­demp­tion and the chimera of at­tempt­ing to trap con­tem­po­rary dy­nam­ics with ob­so­lete tech­nol­ogy.

Whether in the learned or pop­u­lar view, more than a mil­lion is an in­di­ca­tion of suc­cess, or a phe­nom­e­non of fail­ure. It is no secret that cun­ning or luck unite or sep­a­rate those who shed their skin, on leap­ing above an un­end­ing zero op­tion.

Just how many peo­ple surf the In­ter­net at the rate of a tired cast­away? How many en­ter sites con­trolled by hege­monic servers, as pro­duc­ers of servi­tude. How many have failed in La Charada, hav­ing in­vested their sav­ings in a mir­a­cle that would en­able them to ca­ress their fif­teen min­utes of fi­nan­cial glory.

Erasure, as his­toric rewrit­ing, or with a de­sire to cover some­thing up, con­sti­tuted a dis­cur­sive ploy turned into a for­mal and re­cur­ring wink in Troy­anos II and Va­por is 23. In this way, the con­crete was trans­formed into the ab­stract, by virtue of in­for­ma­tion that re­veals the tip of a blurred ice­berg on any world map.

The unique as­pect of this way of ex­per­i­ment­ing with draw­ing out­side its tra­di­tional frame­work was to break the aca­demic mold, as to the link be­tween fig­u­ra­tion and ab­strac­tion. This was proved by the con­ver­sion of a pri­mary re­source such as pen– writ­ing into an un­fin­ished di­a­gram; at the same time as ab­surdly in­ter­re­lat­ing some­thing as lo­cal as La Charada with some­thing as global as the In­ter­net.

An­other mis­un­der­stand­ing stemmed from the in­ter­re­la­tion be­tween form and con­tent. Thanks to the op­er­a­tion of “com­plicit op­po­sites,” Costa il­lus­trated this ruse where the form neu­tral­izes the minia­tur­ized con­tent. A Baroque cal­li­graphic style that would over­whelm those who avoid the sim­ple means, to sug­gest a com­plex and in­con­ve­nient end.

This con­cep­tual ad­ven­ture re­sulted in a sober­ing nod to sub­lim­i­nal ad­ver­tis­ing, as a long­stand­ing tac­tic of dom­i­na­tion, rather than be­com­ing a con­tem­po­rary at­tempt to in­ves­ti­gate the un­ex­plored uni­verse that vir­tual re­al­ity and its im­pact on third world sur­vival rep­re­sent in the Cuban art con­text.

Más de un mil­lón did not ma­nip­u­late the pain of oth­ers, nor did it show per­sonal com­plaints of those who would swal­low ev­ery­thing they wanted to dis­cover in life and in art. This ges­ture syn­the­sized a hand­ful of night­mares. Hope­fully some will dawn turned into dreams come true, when the most skep­ti­cal of sleep­ers would least ex­pect it.

Cer­tain main­stream ob­servers be­lieve the po­lar­i­ties be­tween cen­ter and pe­riph­ery, lo­cal and uni­ver­sal, arts and life, to have been sur­passed. Más de un mil­lón con­firmed the ve­rac­ity of this sus­pi­cion, in­ter­ven­ing on the walls of a min­i­mum white cube, lo­cated in the for­mer Ha­vana Lyceum. There where José Lezama Lima and Vir­gilio Piñera ex­changed blows, in what is re­mem­bered as the “pa­tio fight.” ƒ

Cen­tinelas, from the se­ries Troy­anos II, 2017 Ink on heavy pa­per

59 x 79 in

Un­ti­tled, from the se­ries Va­por es 23, 2017 / Ink on heavy pa­per / 59 x 79 in Un­ti­tled, from the se­ries Troy­anos II, 2017 /Ink on heavy pa­per / 27 x 39 in

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