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11th Havana Biennial

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Con todo el gusto del mundo by Grethell        Rasúa

La Marea by Tamara Campo

Protocolo by Rigoberto Díaz

Protocolo by Rigoberto Díaz
Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center ,
May 11, 2012 - Jun 11, 2012
La Habana Vieja, Cuba

11th Havana Biennial
by Magaly Espinosa

I believe the Biennial has gradually lost that aim in its recent editions and has become just one more event in these kinds of gatherings that are already being conducted innon-hegemonic cultures. Investigating the truth behind this statement paves the way for a more in-depth analysis on the policies biennials should follow in the current geopolitical bent on globalization.(4)

A context such as Cuba’s is highly attractive in that endeavor. We should expect a leftist discourse to clearly articulate that aim and although the temptations of the art market are unavoidable, and in many ways beneficial, it behooves art criticism and the progressive institutions that support it, to act as another alternative for art thought that does not bow down to commercial dictates. In the words of a frequent visitor to our Biennials: "art is a market, but it’s not just that, there are dynamics within art that must be defended, and art criticism and theory are more necessary than ever in that sense".(5) On this occasion however, the emphasis on art’s commercial destination was disproportionate, and the consequences of such a policy, particularly for young artists, are not good. In 2001, the curator and critic Marilyn Zeitlin stated that the international market had brought with it as many opportunities as risks for Cuban artists (6). Taking the pulse of Cuban art on the basis of its main client, the U.S. collector, is a very complex task. From the time Zeitlin made that statement in 2001 to the present, communication between national scene and the international market has been more asynchronous and erratic than systematic. Searching for the thread of a canon laid down by the market itself is not possible, although some voices are already established in international art spaces.

The artist, curator and art critic Antonio Eligio (Tonel) wrote the following to me: "…the Biennial was always a platform (I wrote sometime ago as to how Cuban artists, via that platform, realized their public was also "outside"), but from there it jumped in all directions: towards the Creole "inside" (the Galería Habana, the National Museum, contracts with the Fund for Cultural Goods) as much as towards the "outsides"(Kassel, Paris, Dusseldorf, Boston). The current platform, which only launches artists towards the "outside" (it seems no one wants to bounce back into the Cerro or Marianao), is part of an event that is a shadow of its former self: the substance, the "chicken in the chicken and rice") is already, and will be defined, by those coming from abroad who are prepared to take the triennial stroll through the subtropics"(7).

The Biennial has historically followed a line of thought that placed emphasis onart’s connections with its cultural and social possibilities, and that provided an important opening in Latin American cultural discourse. The presence of major artists is not enough to lend glamour to an event, nor is its sheer size enough to convince one of its worth: the main criterion lies in the consistency of its exhibitions, in the profiles that they can shape. The overriding majority of the exhibitions in this Biennial were flawed, and since the aim of getting the work of the artists invited to fall in line with the chosen topic was not accomplished, it is difficult to believe that the socially-oriented theme selected for this Biennial, Prácticas artísticas e imaginarios sociales (Art Practices and Social Imaginaries) really fulfilled its purpose.

The objective of hinging relations with the West around a representational politics based on acknowledging "difference" cannot be accomplished through palliatives that evade the social circumstances that surround us. f there is one exhibition that I am interested in reflecting on, it is Descanso visual para espectador de bienal (A Visual Rest for a Biennial Viewer), by the Cuban artist Lázaro Saavedra, which wasshown at the Fortaleza de la Cabaña. Seven blank frames were accompanied by maxims that completed the title of the exhibition. The pictures and the title itself advocated a lack of visual and mental effort by the viewer in interpreting the work, while the maxims insinuated a truly genuine conceptual practice. Some were as follows: When you make art with something you don’t know, all that’s left is a vacuum… The art is no longer in art… He who fears nothing owes nothing… If you don’t know, stay out of it… They were written in black and partly covered in pink, some were a mixture of popular phrases and sayings, while others subjectedthe circumstances of art to categorical truths, thereby announcing the hazards of an event aimed at "ingenuous" viewers. But this gesture was part of the irreverence of the artwork and was directed more at the event itself than at a humorous dialogue with the public.

The brevity of this essay prevents me from commenting on some of the pieces, exhibitions and projects, but nevertheless I will mention those I consider most praiseworthy, hopefully to encourage readers to see them – they deal with topics of a social, political and anthropological nature that are part of our context and of the Cuban reality as a whole. I will start with projects involving works in progress focusing on different ways of incorporating art into the social context, such as the MAC SANMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo de San Agustín project, and Ecuador’s Tranvía Cero collective. As regards the international exhibits, I would like to refer to Cifo: una mirada multiple, a selection of the Ella Fontanels-Cisneros Collection, USA, and CINEMA REMIXD &RELOADED 2.0 Artistas negros y el movimiento de la imagen desde 1970, curated by Andrea Barnwell and Valerie Oliver, USA.(9) Of those organized by Cuban artists: Cine Águila de Oro, curated by Duniesky Martín and Raichel Carrión, Escapando del paisaje by the curator E. R. Castro, Museo de Arte Maníaco by Sandra Ceballos, Puentesby Sandra Ramos, Cuando caen las fronteras by Abel Barroso, the public action Carretillas en la ciudad, organized by the artist Samuel Riera y Óvulo, and the painting exhibitions Combatientes by Eduardo Rubén and Una escena doméstica by Osvaldo González. In terms of video art, there were two showings by national and international artists: one presented within the framework of the FLYERS project, curated by Andrés Abreu, and the exhibition You and eye, Cartografías existenciales e itinerarios urbanos, by the curators Ada Azor and Wendy Navarro, along with the different works concerning digital art by the curator and artist Frency Fernández. In terms of artworks: A Room to Pray by the artist T. V. Santhosh (India), Babel by Gabriel Valansi (Argentina), and Vista en Planta by Miler Lagos, and El sonido del viento by Emmanuel Sevigni, (Canada). Those by Cuban artists included the public installation Fe by Adonis Flores, El deseo de morir por otrosby Reinier Leyva Novo, No hay otra salida by Carlos Montes de Oca, Nothing inside, by Humberto Díaz, La marea by Tamara Campo, Carrera de Relevos by Sandra Ramos, País deseado by Antonio Eligio (Tonel), Solve et Coagula by Meira Marrero and J. A. Tirac, Perspectiva by J. L. Santana, Exile J. A. Vincench, Apuntes en el hielo by Celia García and Junior Aguiar, A donde mis pies no lleguen by Carlos Martiel (20), Con todo el gusto del mundo by Grethell Rasúa, Protocolo by Rigoberto Díaz, Surco by Nadal Antelmo, La sangre de Agüero en el pañuelo de Ignacio by J. M. Mesías, and bancontodos by Inti Hernández.

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