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