Nelson Herrera Ysla

Art On Cuba - - Arts -

Rachel Valdés be­longs to a new lin­eage of artists com­mit­ted with the aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence with­out tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion a spe­cific way to as­sume it, a sin­gle modus operandi. For them, all paths of cre­ation may lead us to re­flec­tion, to emo­tions and feel­ings, just as if we con­tem­plate an art­work in two or three di­men­sions, or if it wraps us in a labyrinth of im­ages, even un­fin­ished, as­sumed from what is ephemeral and cir­cum­stan­tial. It is, es­sen­tially, to ac­ti­vate senses, to pro­pi­ti­ate the ap­pear­ance of new mean­ings in the midst of a grow­ing uni­verse of im­ages strug­gling to be in­creas­ingly ap­peal­ing and ready to hin­der our ca­pac­ity for com­pre­hen­sion and un­der­stand­ing.

Rachel re­sorts to ev­ery­thing that bet­ter an­swers her in­tel­lec­tual, af­fec­tive, cul­tural in­ter­ests: one of her main in­stru­ments is the search for spe­cific, spe­cial­ized in­for­ma­tion on new artis­tic pro­cesses, as well as the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of­fered by the ad­vances of sci­ence and ev­ery­thing that takes place in the art world. Her train­ing in the Fine Arts Academy of Ha­vana al­lowed her, among other things, not to feel com­mit­ted to de­velop in just one genre, although paint­ing was what she pre­ferred at the time.

When only 25 years old, work­ing and liv­ing be­tween Ha­vana and Barcelona, Rachel set out to cover sev­eral ter­ri­to­ries of paint­ing with pre­dom­i­nance, at the be­gin­ning, of fig­u­ra­tion (enor­mous paint­ings of women, flow­ers, del­i­cately erotic scenes). Later she felt en­cour­aged to ex­plore the view­points of a new ab­strac­tion which opens its way in Cuba and abroad, and also feel­ing pho­tog­ra­phy as her own based on her daz­zle be­fore un­usual vis­ited places. In this order, she is able to in­ter­pret the mean­ing of her pho­to­graphic im­ages to in­ter­vene them with rel­e­vant imag­i­na­tion and pic­to­rial trade: by in­stants we dis­cover in them an in­dis­tinct and plu­ral dis­course, sub­mit­ted to the tri­als and er­rors of trans­parency, on one side, and the doughy con­sis­tency of the oil on the other.

She has made equal in­cur­sions in the ex­e­cu­tion of draw­ings with an ar­chi­tec­tonic an­ces­try, del­i­cate be­cause of their so­bri­ety, ca­pa­ble of trans­mit­ting ex­treme sub­tleties to us and with an ut­most care when choos­ing the con­tents. And with equal strength and pas­sion she de­votes her time to sculp­ture, to ob­jects and in­stal­la­tions in open spa­ces al­low­ing her a con­sis­tent in­ter­ac­tion with the viewer, which has been one of her main pur­poses in re­cent years. Rachel pur­sues the dic­tates of her mind and her heart to trans­late them as ex­pres­sion “of the ex­is­ten­tial phe­nom­ena of the hu­man be­ing, their phys­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal mat­ter…” as she main­tained on a given oc­ca­sion.

Since very early, once grad­u­ated, she re­searched the pos­si­bil­i­ties of vi­su­al­iza­tion with­out grant­ing a priv­i­lege to an ex­pres­sion or gen­der over an­other, al­ways mind­ful to loans and ex­changes in any field. Fig­u­ra­tion with an ex­pres­sion­ist style and debtor of pop art made her en­thu­si­as­tic at the be­gin­ning of her ca­reer, just as the con­quests of the Ital­ian Trans-van­guard, although she im­me­di­ately knew how to ap­pre­ci­ate the va­lid­ity and im­pli­ca­tions of other trends. She then opted to en­rich the read­ings of every work and cre­ate them with a larger dose of com­plex­ity based on the sub­tle com­plic­i­ties emerg­ing be­tween her and the spec­ta­tors. She took part in sev­eral group ex­hi­bi­tions in gal­leries ev­ery­where in the world and had her first solo show in Ha­vana when she was barely 20 years old: a group of large-scaled paint­ings, cen­tered on fig­u­ra­tion.

In 2012 she took part in the project Detrás del muro (Be­hind the Wall), in the Eleventh Ha­vana Bi­en­nial, with a wide in­stal­la­tion (15 me­ters long and 3 me­ters high and com­posed by mir­ror sheets placed on a steel struc­ture) lo­cated in a sec­tion of the sea­wall and en­ti­tled Felices para siempre (Hap­pily Ever After). It rapidly be­came one of the most at­trac­tive and mem­o­rable works for the pub­lic when claim­ing for their par­tic­i­pa­tion: the phys­i­cal pres­ence of peo­ple ad­mir­ing the work (whether sit­ting on the wall with their back to the sea or look­ing at it) was re­flected on the long mir­ror to­gether with sky and water, whether dur­ing the day or at night (here the city lights added an­other at­trac­tion). Thus she es­tab­lished a game of psy­cho­log­i­cal, cul­tural and so­cial com­plic­i­ties which re­ferred us to the his­tory of Ha­vana and its build­ings, to the im­mense ocean, to nos­tal­gias and melan­cholies suit­able for day­break and dusk and, at last, to the pop­u­lar rit­u­als of an African ori­gin daily car­ried out on the Cuban coasts (as the fre­quent of­fers to Ye­mayá, for ex­am­ple).

In 2015, in­vited by the project Detrás del Muro 2. En medio de la nada (Be­hind the Wall 2. In the Mid­dle of Nowhere) to­gether with other 50 artists, as part of the col­lat­eral ex­hi­bi­tions of the Twelfth Ha­vana Bi­en­nial, she de­voted her at­ten­tion to an­other as­pect of the per­cep­tion of the in­di­vid­ual on the phys­i­cal and men­tal space: this time in­volved with the states of mind and the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of what is real and what is imag­i­nary, what is ephemeral and what is eter­nal. With the ti­tle Cubo azul (Blue Cube), she built a vol­u­met­ric struc­ture 3 me­ters on each side (also placed in the wide side­walk of the Ha­vana sea­wall) which could be en­tered to see an un­usual im­age of the city and the sea from the re­flec­tions shaped on the walls and their merger with trans­paren­cies em­anated from the lam­i­nated glass form­ing the walls and the ceil­ing of the cube.

Rachel’s con­cep­tual, struc­tural and for­mal com­mit­ment is with Art, since she dis­cerns a hu­man im­prove­ment on the ba­sis of aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence, know­ing that through it hu­man be­ings may find roads and paths to­wards a fuller and more har­mo­nious life…

It was a pen­e­tra­ble in­stal­la­tion con­vok­ing to other lay­ers of think­ing and per­cep­tion em­anated from the sun­light and the high­lights on the sea and the city: a phys­i­cal and emo­tional coun­ter­point with in­fi­nite edges of re­search, ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and en­joy­ment, not usual in Cuban art. This work chal­lenged Cuban na­ture in one of its strong­est places. Un­wit­tingly, Rachel has become a cre­ator of land­scapes, a “land­scape painter”, this time with a new and al­most deliri­ous di­men­sion of the term, con­cep­tu­ally and for­mally dif­fer­ent from the strong tra­di­tion the work by Este­ban Char­trand, Va­len­tín Sanz Carta, Leopoldo Ro­mañach, Domingo Ramos, Ru­perto Jay Mata­moros, Ben­ito Or­tiz, Ernesto González Puig, Tomás Sánchez, Flora Fong and Lester Campa, with their im­por­tant ex­am­ples, has.

Her con­cep­tual, struc­tural and for­mal com­mit­ment is with Art, since she dis­cerns a hu­man im­prove­ment on the ba­sis of aes­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence, be­set by ob­jec­tiv­i­ties and sub­jec­tiv­i­ties, know­ing that, through it, hu­man be­ings may find roads and paths to­wards a fuller and more har­mo­nious life in all its senses.

An­other work by her, in­stalled in the Cabaña Fortress among the set of solo and group ex­hi­bi­tions of that Bi­en­nial, en­ti­tled Com­posi­ción in­finita (In­fi­nite Com­po­si­tion), sub­jected to test the ca­pac­ity of the viewer to face the com­po­si­tion and de­com­po­si­tion of light in its 7 spec­tral col­ors, while sug­gest­ing a sort of spec­ta­tor­work and spec­ta­tor-spec­ta­tor com­plic­ity, since the vis­i­tor should en­ter in a dark­ened en­vi­ron­ment of mir­rors and pro­jec­tions, provoca­tive of un­usual sen­sa­tions to the ut­most. Rachel did not re­sort to a di­dac­tic way of trans­mit­ting ideas, but com­pelled us to an in­tel­lec­tual, ra­tio­nal and emo­tive ex­er­cise when we faced on the 4 me­ter wide and 3 me­ter high screen our im­age re­peated one or mul­ti­ple times, and the in­ter­min­gled, blurred col­ors flee­ing to the mar­gins and con­tin­u­ously ap­pear­ing re­flected on the rest of the walls and the floor as if at­tempt­ing to stray aside and build other lu­mi­nous struc­tures… to the in­fin­ity. This en­vi­ron­ment, a sim­ple and re­mark­able stag­ing, a sort of mul­ti­ple cre­ative and par­tic­i­pa­tive set­ting, al­lowed plea­sure to­gether with re­flec­tion.

Rachel thus con­firms a con­scious will of con­fer­ring to the spec­ta­tor the pos­si­bil­ity of liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences sim­i­lar to hers, whether trained or not in the uni­verse of art. She does not act as a ma­gi­cian or a demi­urge, a ge­nius ca­pa­ble of hoard­ing pos­si­ble at­ten­tions, but just the op­po­site. She prefers to keep her­self hid­den, in­vis­i­ble, shar­ing ex­pe­ri­ences and in­te­grat­ing her­self bet­ter to the cre­ation-ex­hi­bi­tion-re­cep­tion art sys­tem.

She is only an in­stru­ment (not “the hand of God” as was for­merly be­lieved), in­tan­gi­ble, pro­pi­ti­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to share de­ci­sive in­stants with oth­ers when mov­ing brushes, met­als, glasses, oils, wood, mir­rors, fab­rics, acrylics, cam­eras and video pro­jec­tors, lights… Emo­tions and feel­ings come to the sur­face in each work, high­light­ing her con­vok­ing and im­me­di­ate re­sponse power. Her pieces at­tract from the very mo­ment in which she in­stalls them: she does not share the idea of hand­ing some­thing al­ready done to the viewer, a con­crete, con­trolled re­sult. She prefers the risks of par­tic­i­pa­tion, of com­plic­ity.

Her aes­thetic in­ter­ests, her affini­ties, are many. I have heard her feel­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, on one side, and have seen her pas­sion in front of a draw­ing by Pi­casso or Dalí, as with a wa­ter­color by W. Turner. The cen­turies gone by be­tween some au­thors and oth­ers, the pe­riod, the mo­tives and tech­niques do not mat­ter. And I have been able, on my own, to asses a dis­tant fa­mil­iar­ity with the mon­u­men­tal and spec­tac­u­lar as­pects an­i­mat­ing the works by Richard Serra in­stalled in the cen­ter of some cities or in­side the enor­mous mu­se­ums of con­tem­po­rary art. Also with the idea of the pen­e­tra­ble by Jesús Soto, de­fend­ing the phys­i­cal con­tact of the ma­te­ri­als, the col­ors and the au­di­ence in mul­ti­ple ur­ban fields and build­ings: two sculp­tors, two in­stall­ers, claim­ing a closer place for art in the life or peo­ple, a sort of sub­tle com­pany to feed the en­tire so­cial and in­di­vid­ual imag­i­na­tive­ness.

In Cuban art of the last decades I find an at­ti­tude sim­i­lar to hers in Sandú Darié, Um­berto Peña, Raúl Martínez in the six­ties; in Ar­turo Cuenca and Gus­tavo Pérez Monzón in the eight­ies; in Raúl Cordero, Luis Gómez, Carlos Garaicoa, Ed­uardo Pon­juán,

Los Carpin­teros, Glenda León, José A. Toirac, Yoan Capote in the nineties and early twenty-first cen­tury.

Other very young Cuban artists, equally non­con­formist with unique, en­light­en­ing, sta­ble, model speeches, seem to march down same path, es­pe­cially those barely over 30 years old.

Rachel, even younger yet, has given signs of early ma­tu­rity, sotto voce, of lu­cid­ity and de­vo­tion, of per­sis­tence and ded­i­ca­tion in the midst of a hec­tic, con­vul­sive panorama, cor­nered by the mar­ket but ready to in­tel­li­gently get rid of its ties.

New projects wan­der around her head to­gether with Brazil­ian songs or great Cuban boleros from the fifties, to­gether with mu­si­cal rev­e­la­tions of the six­ties as those of Los Zafiros quar­tet. Ev­ery­thing blended, as Ni­colás Guil­lén wrote in his ea­ger­ness to de­fine Cuban cul­ture, with­out set­backs or com­part­men­tal­iza­tion. From Sindo Garay and The Bea­tles, Sil­vio Ro­dríguez and Bob Dy­lan, Edith Piaf and Benny Moré, Ri­cardo Porro and Rem Kool­has, Andy Warhol and Wifredo Lam, Pina Bauch and Ali­cia Alonso, Ing­mar Bergman and Tomás Gu­tiér­rez Alea, Lars von

Trier and Fer­nando Pérez. Ev­ery­thing blended: in sum­mer or win­ter, in poverty or abun­dance, in acad­e­mies or pop­u­lar neigh­bor­hoods.

Rachel Valdés, rara avis in Cuban art of the twenty-first cen­tury, does not in­tend to ad­e­quate her­self to a model of artist, a typ­i­cal pat­tern of be­hav­ior bring­ing with it ap­plauses and prizes. Her prece­dents come to us from very far and from right here, from emerg­ing cul­tures that to­day con­sol­i­date their hopes in one of the best stages in the world. Ev­ery­thing blended, with in­tel­li­gence and de­vo­tion, and alien to what is ex­plo­sive, be­cause noth­ing is far­ther from her be­hav­ior and the way she is.

The die is cast for her, whether in Cuba or in Spain, in the Antarc­tic or the Pyre­nees, or in the most hum­ble cor­ner of the planet. ƒ

Pyra­mid, 2015 / In­stal­la­tion / Stain­less steel / Pyre­nees, Spain V1- Cuadrado azul, 2013 / In­stal­la­tion / Ver­mont, USA Cour­tesy the artist

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