Art On Cuba - - Index -

IPart of the ob­ses­sion I will share here arose sev­eral years ago, to be ex­act on a 2005 morn­ing, while pre­par­ing my­self to paint doors in the air along the Ha­vana sea wall (Malecón), an ac­tion that brought about Fin­is­terre, an eleven–pic­ture se­quence work doc­u­ment­ing my ac­tions on the wall and that I later dig­i­tally “painted” on the com­puter. In that process I re­al­ized I was paint­ing “land­scapes”, an ex­pres­sion ap­proached at present from var­ied in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary lines, in mul­ti­ple spheres of sciences and hu­man­i­ties, while there is not yet an un­der­stand­ing in the arts sphere—ob­vi­ously more com­pre­hen­sive—be­yond its tra­di­tional use.

I re­mem­ber by De­cem­ber 2011, months be­fore the 11th Ha­vana Bi­en­nial, I had no idea about what to do. I was in my sec­ond year at the Higher In­sti­tute of Arts (ISA) and I had to sub­mit sev­eral projects for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Sculp­ture Work­shop taught by

Jose Án­gel Vincech, a con­text that gen­er­ated Paisaje itin­er­ante and Rec­on­cil­iación, then con­ceived for spa­ces in ISA and sub­se­quently ex­hib­ited in pub­lic spa­ces in the cap­i­tal.

By then, the Shi­tao’s (1642-1707) paint­ing treaty had made it into my hands, clar­i­fy­ing much of my in­ner tur­moil:

(…) Fifty years ago I did not rec­og­nize my­self as part of moun­tains and rivers (the land­scape), not be­cause they were less valu­able, but be­cause they ex­isted per se. Now, the land­scape (moun­tains and rivers) is ask­ing me to speak on its be­half, land­scape has been born in me and I born in it. I have re­lent­lessly looked for ex­traor­di­nary peaks, I have made a thou­sand draw­ings and sketches, un­til the land­scape has met my spirit and its trace has meta­mor­phosed in me such that, fi­nally, it is re­born in me.2

This brief writ­ing is first of all a man­ual, a set of rec­om­men­da­tions to bet­ter per­form as a painter, with un­ques­tion­able eth­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions, pro­vided with a meta­phys­i­cal po­si­tion. Al­though the treaty that rev­o­lu­tion­ized Chi­nese paint­ing can be seen ap­pli­ca­ble only to paint­ing, it sparked in me the will­ing­ness of an “en­counter” with a land­scape be­yond paint­ing. Mainly stem­ming from this for­tu­itous di­a­logue with “Bit­ter Gourd”

Monk Shi­tao, it emerged the idea of gen­er­at­ing artis­tic works like Paisaje Itin­er­ante (Trav­el­ing Land­scape), to be part of the Se­ries Es­truc­turas Sen­si­bles (Sen­si­tive Struc­tures). While this piece had an ex­hi­bi­tion pur­pose, my in­ten­tion was to take the space in the Bi­en­nial to ex­per­i­ment with two dif­fer­ent types of in­ter­ven­tions in land­scape.

Rec­on­cil­iación (Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion), on the other hand, was cre­ated to mix with the ur­ban land­scape. This was a stan­dard street­lamp that il­lu­mi­nates op­po­site di­rec­tions of a street, with the usu­ally straight, ex­tended arms of the two lamps in­ter­twined to form one. The two lights used were pub­lic lamps from Cuba and the United States.

Per­haps it was when the piece was placed in San Rafael Boule­vard, at the en­trance of the by then ex­ist­ing Col­lage Habana Gallery, that it took on real life and started to co–ex­ist with the rest of the over­head lines in the Boule­vard, and the eclec­tic pac­ing up and down of peo­ple. Later, the piece of art was placed in Tri­anón Theater, venue of the Teatro El Público com­pany that has main­tained ties with lo­cals and for­eingers on stage. It seemed to me a good place for the street­lamp to end its tour of the city. Cu­ri­ously, on De­cem­ber 17th, 2015, diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the United States and Cuba were reestab­lished. One year later, just be­fore the visit of Pres­i­dent Obama, the man­ager of the men­tioned theater, who I of­ten talk to about the sta­tus of the lamp, shared some com­ments from vis­i­tors and passerby when they see the piece. One phrase made me think about the cir­cum­stances:

“Hey bro, was this lamp placed here be­cause Obama is vis­it­ing?”


In the year 2015, I launched the call for col­lab­o­ra­tions for the Ár­bol de Luz (Tree of Light) that par­tially reads:

We in­vite you to cre­ate a sculp­ture. It is a street light com­bin­ing lamps from dif­fer­ent parts of the world, a utopic ges­ture for the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of all na­tions, eth­nic­i­ties, re­li­gions, po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, so­ci­eties and cul­tures. The Tree of Light starts with your con­tri­bu­tion; ev­ery lamp we re­ceive shall be a branch. The key is to send lights from dif­fer­ent spa­ces to be as­sem­bled in a unique lu­mi­nary. Your lamp shall join oth­ers in the cre­ation of a com­mon space, re­veal­ing the mul­ti­ple as­pects of our Cul­tural Un­con­scious.

When we think about the street lamp as an ob­ject, de­spite dif­fer­ent de­signs, we find some­thing—in my view—to­tally de­prived of sym­bolic mean­ing, pre­cisely as it is con­sid­ered everyday to the passerby. It is in­cred­i­ble how these el­e­ments that co­ex­ist along­side us in the city, cease to ex­ist as they be­come nor­mal and everyday. The pur­pose of the lu­mi­nary, its func­tion­al­ity, ev­ery­thing that makes it everyday, im­plies a strong and beau­ti­ful metaphor…. Why not? It is the ideal ob­ject to cre­ate a space of com­mu­nion and sense. The pieces in this se­ries are pen­e­tra­ble, their trans­for­ma­tion oc­curs at a scale of sen­sa­tions in the space lit by the lamps—where we in­clude the spec­ta­tor—and the hi­er­atic of the struc­ture, merged into the city. Be­cause you do not be­gin to ocupy the piece when you are un­der it, but when you per­ceive its light.

The idea of the Tree of Light ap­peared in the se­ries Es­truc­turas Sen­si­bles, even be­fore Rec­on­cil­iación. The logic in the year 2012 was that the sec­ond piece—ac­cord­ing to lo­gis­tics and costs to ob­tain the lights—would be much sim­pler to make. By then,

I was in doubt over the aes­thetic back­ground of the piece and for some, the worn–out rhi­zomatic mean­ing. Nonethe­less, we can­not play along with self–cen­sor­ship. I found that the process of the work, the call to put lights to­gether and all the re­la­tions be­tween col­lab­o­ra­tors and spec­ta­tors (some­times they are the same), went be­yond the purely visual ex­pe­ri­ence. This is, be­yond the shape, the ma­te­rial or the size of the Tree, a work of col­lab­o­ra­tion.

The Tree, to­gether with other ideas from the same se­ries, waited for a bud­get or for the op­por­tu­nity to be made. Then, in 2015, for the 12th Ha­vana Bi­en­nial, I saw the chance to dust it off, on be­ing in­vited to the sec­ond edi­tion of De­trás del Muro.

The site se­lected for its lo­ca­tion was La Punta, in the in­ter­sec­tion of Malecón and Paseo del Prado (Prado Prom­e­nade).

The call for col­lab­o­ra­tions was launched months be­fore, sent to email ad­dresses, and pub­lished on so­cial me­dia. Ini­tially, there was great un­cer­tainty for those work­ing on the project. Some lamps from dif­fer­ent na­tions were in Cuba, most sent by per­sons who wanted to co­op­er­ate from their home coun­tries. We gath­ered lamps from Ar­gentina, Bo­livia, Brazil, China, Colom­bia, Cuba, Ecuador, the United States, In­dia, Mex­ico, Poland, Rus­sia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Viet­nam. The piece was spon­sored mainly by the FCBC and AHS4, sup­ported by friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors.

The lo­ca­tion for the piece, added to the pub­lic in­flux caused by De­trás del Muro dur­ing the Bi­en­nial, turned it into a place for meet­ings and con­stant move­ment. The light ir­ra­di­at­ing from the fif­teen sources of light made the venue a “spot­light” on the Malecón. It was usual to see spec­ta­tors try to de­code the ori­gin of each light, ether sit­ting next to or walk­ing around the lamp, par­tic­i­pat­ing in a cy­cle that started with the ship­ment of the lights.

Once the Bi­en­nial had ended, we pleas­antly learnt that

Euse­bio Leal, his­to­rian of the city, had ap­pointed a place for the per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion of the Tree of Light. With the col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Of­fice of the City His­to­rian and the Cuban Cul­tural Goods Fund (FCBC), the art work was do­nated to the city and po­si­tioned on a mound es­pe­cially built for it in front of the Mu­seum of the Revo­lu­tion, di­ag­o­nal to the Fine Arts Mu­seum on the cor­ner of Mon­ser­rate and Agua­cate, in Old Ha­vana.

Pre­cisely dur­ing the Bi­en­nial, we started ne­go­ti­at­ing the pos­si­bil­ity to place a Tree of Light in Miami, upon the re­quest of phi­lan­thropist and col­lec­tor Jorge Pérez. A cou­ple of years later, at the be­gin­ning of 2017, the lay­outs and draw­ings of that Tree started. The lay­outs were sent to the United States to work on the struc­ture, and a new call was launched for those want­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the Miami Tree of Light. So far we have re­ceived some ship­ments, many are in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing and we hope we can put to­gether lamps from seven­teen coun­tries.

Be­fore long, the art­work shall be per­ma­nently in­stalled in Miami, in a pub­lic park on land do­nated to the city by The Re­lated Group.

I don’t be­lieve it is by chance that the Tree of Light is “planted” in the two sites where the lights used for Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion came from. Those places are still pre­texts to em­brace and unite wills, to gen­er­ate light in spa­ces where there is dark­ness. There, where the in­ti­mate scene be­tween the light cast by the piece and the spec­ta­tor is pro­duced, our no­tion of ter­ri­tory is trans­formed.

The land­scape changes, re­fract­ing all colors, as in a prism. ƒ

1. Rafael Villares, Es­truc­turas Sen­si­bles. So­bre como re­definir nuestra no­ción de paisaje. ISA Bachel­lor The­sis, 2015

2. Shi­tao: Frases so­bre la pin­tura del monje Cal­abaza Amarga. P Ry­ck­mans, re­pub­lished by Her­mann, 1977

3. The call for col­lab­o­ra­tions can be found at www.rafaelvil­lares.com 4. FCBC: Fondo Cubano de Bienes Cul­tur­ales. AHS: Aso­ciación Her­manos Saíz.

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