Artists Art Issues Exhibitions About Us Search

Art & Theory
Art of behavior: Pedagogical project from the arts. Part 2
by Magaly Espinosa

Bookmark and Share

Like the rest of his peers, Javier Castro centers his poetics on a set of works involving social content. However, the anthropological approach and the ethnological art that characterizes much of the creative inclinations of his colleagues takes on a different slant in his work. He takes the context of Old Havana, where he lives, and records the behavior, attitudes or actions of its inhabitants and the ways they grapple with their lives. His art process consists of showing us that semi-marginal world by distorting its natural state, to show us through a short narration that subsistence is not that simple.

In Yo no le tengo miedo a la eternidad [I'm not afraid of eternity] (2006), he gets different characters who live in that semi marginal context to pose for the camera. Despite the static poses, since the camera continues videotaping, imperceptible movements provide the viewer with unexpected results: it is understood that one is not watching a finished photograph but a simulation, since the portrait wavers between the customary traditional pose and its presence before the camera. The most striking photo is one of a child sitting in a shabby easy chair next to whom is presumably his grandmother. They barely move as they air current from an electric fan washes over them, as if it was the only thing alive in the room.

In Jesus Fernández's Informe de los hechos vividos [Report on the events experienced] (2007), his approach to social art lies, as he says, "in events that I draw upon that have already been distorted by everyday life, by the way gossip spreads, which is the event I really capture, reshaping the information it provides by giving it a reporter's feel".

In this video clip Jesus becomes a reporter who, following the aesthetic format of the National News on TV and basing the content on rumors, reports on events that supposedly took place and were enriched by popular imagination. This is one of the most common aspects of oral culture in Cuba, since it plays a highly significant role in supplementing information that is not furnished by the media, and which on being transmitted orally becomes laden with metaphors that broaden the content of the event itself. The official news and that provided by the artist are delivered following the same aesthetics which help to convince viewers of the truth of what is being broadcast: news items such as a criminal who attacks his victims by slashing their faces, or a new means of public transport with a higher price than the established fare. As Jesus states, "I've created an information reality of an official nature by taking another news item that is by no means official, but is nevertheless a reality".

As I have stated in part one of this essay, the Course's creative process generally revolves around ethnological premises in the form of happenings, performances, installations or social actions of different kinds, ranging from the work of artists who base their work on social references, to those who hide behind a social activity, taking art discourse into account as well as the analytical complexities that sustain the intertextual constructive procedures of some pieces.

Social demands and requests, demands that give rise to other demands, pseudo realities, alternative realities, circumstances that show reality without altering its meanings, evidence of given forms of behavior and social values, neoconceptual strategies, are just some of the options available through intertextual, appropriative or social-simulation approaches. All this has highlighted the wealth of concerns and quests that have characterized the Course during the past four years.

The Course has given rise to a cultural atmosphere that is similar to the critical awareness of the eighties, but renews that tradition from a private standpoint. Issues involving social, ideological and political reflection are approached from their less understandable facets: everyday life blended with neo-conceptual approaches that metaphorize it with great caution.

Nevertheless, this type of art has its drawbacks: in some cases the local content of the subject-matter in most work means that viewers need a basic familiarity with such content in order to appreciate their cultural richness. In other cases, works that are marked by a process that are ephemeral or uninterested in aesthetic values do not fall in line with the consumer mechanisms of today's art world. In the end, each of the students taking the Course will have to weigh both factors and decide on their approach.

At present, the creative concepts that sustain the project free them of such concerns. Due to their experimental nature the "pinchas" are given a lot of license, which gives room for the conceptual assumptions and creative lines on which they are based. These are factors that learning must emphasize in regard to the artistic aims of students. Similarly, such a delicate field of endeavor touches very closely on ethical values, to which Kant would reply: "there is no thing and no concept, whatever it may be, whose consideration would enable us to recognize and infer what must be done if what is assumed is not an end and the act is a medium. And it should not be thus, since it would not then be a formula for compulsoriness, but of a form of problematic skill".

Since the pieces touch upon the social fabric, they inevitably carry ethical implications and it is important to link the conceptual suppositions to the lines of creation developed by the artists, in addition to the results and consequences of working with that fabric.

Dr. Magaly Espinosa


(1) Luis or Miguel. Introductory words to Reporte de Ilusiones, 2003-2004.
(2) Melis, Adrián. Introductory words to Vigilia, 2005.
(3) Jesus Hernández, Introductory words to Reporte de hechos vividos.
(4) Ibid.
(5) It has become a custom in the Course to call artworks "pinchas", a slang word meaning employment or doing a job.
(6) Kant, Emmanuel. "Ensayo sobre la claridad de los principios de la teologí­a natural y de la moral. Quoted by E. Cassirer in "Kant. Vida y doctrina". Ed. F.C.E. Mexico-Buenos Aires, 1948. p. 276.

3 of 3 pages     previous page

back to issues