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Carlos Estevez

Fotografía del artista en su taller by Carlos       Estevez

interview transcript

Date of Interview: Nov 16, 2000
Location: Cuba
Topic: Interview with Carlos Estévez in his Havana studio.
Interviewer: Bill Kelley Jr.

LatinArt:  How have you been in these days of the Havana Biennial? Busy?

Carlos Estevez:  Yes, I have been very busy. There have been lots of visitors. For interviews, curators, directors of museums, and such.

LatinArt:  What are the main ideas or themes behind your work?

Carlos Estevez:  My work is a kind of reflection concerning the state of humanity and humanity's relation to its universe. When I try to theorize what I do, I find it to be somewhat like poetry or philosophy, in the realm of images. Therefore my principle influences are literature, cinema, and life. And I am very interested in all the materials, which in one way or another speak to the human condition. My work often makes associations and visual references with religion and with the culture that has to deal with magic as well. For me the dialogue around materials is also very important, and I perceive my drawings as three-dimensional works.

LatinArt:  Speaking of materials, its obvious that it has a lot of significance in your work, both economical and social as well as formal. How has the formal study of art and the practice of traditional production; the study of materials, composition, line texture, influenced your work?

Carlos Estevez:  I was trained as a painter at the primary, secondary and university level and during these years I studied and worked as a painter. When I finished my studies I was bored of painting so I refocused my efforts to that discourse, which I mentioned to you earlier, that is established by the use of materials. I understood that painting contains a dialogue through the canvas and through its materials. Subsequently, I started working with sculpture and installations. Perhaps that's inherited a bit from the methodology of certain magical practices where the materials hold a precise hold over the world. What I mean is that a sculptural figure in wood is not the same as a figure in iron. It has a different symbolic character. It has a different suggestiveness, but at the same time it pertains to a diverse cultural inheritance. I am, therefore, interested in the application of these characteristics in my work.

LatinArt:  How does this affect your drawings any differently?

Carlos Estevez:  With respect to my drawings, I feel there is a great deal of influence from the production methods of the alchemists. A great part of that work is anonymous. I am very intrigued by the metaphoric suggestiveness that is contained in the work and philosophy of alchemy; a grand and elaborate process to obtain something that was never obtained. Its inheritance is the process itself. On the other hand, all the drawings, all the copious notes are a testimony to acquired knowledge. A little of what I want to do in my graphic work is similar to this...kind of like what I mentioned before, that each work is like a reflection. I am constantly drawing and the three dimensional works I make because they require more time and other conditions. Maybe drawings help me through the thought process of advancing from one sculpture to another, from one installation to another.

LatinArt:  As an American, I am always interested in how the international art scene affects artists in Latin America and as well as in other regions of the world. As a young artist living and working in Cuba, what thoughts, if any, do you have concerning this, and how do you see your success in this same international scene affecting your work?

Carlos Estevez:  With respect to the phenomenon of my work or Cuban art in general and the international art scene, I think that Cuba, as a sovereign Latin American country is in the process of a very interesting phenomenon with respect to so called "first world" countries. In Cuba, there are many economic and social difficulties of all kinds; nevertheless these same difficulties have become very efficient schools of learning, not only for artists, but also for Cubans in general. Sometimes barriers inspire people to confront them and in that sense, the shortage of materials, the shortage of its use, the shortage of information, yet this has made artists take for granted their sense of selectivity, their conscience, at the moment of creating. What are they making? Why are they making it? How are they going to make it? I have heard it said that Cuban artist mature very quickly. A twenty-year-old artist has already found a path for his or her work, and even though this is a very young age, they have already found a path to work within and follow through. I feel this is due, in part, because there are so many stimuli, so much information, and so much to choose from that there is often a kind of dispersion. In one way it is an advantage. Well, I dont want to say advantage because it is a very complex issue, but it is a very interesting trait that in our poorer countries, there is so much in our history to choose from...everything in life has a protagonist.

LatinArt:  Expand on this a bit more, would you?

Carlos Estevez:  Often in our countries things dont work, as they should. When you mail a letter in Europe 99.9% of the time it gets there. Here it's the other way around. So the interesting parts of the story are the questions. What happened with this letter? Who has it? Who opened it? Where did it get lost? Its Alejo Carpentier's concept that the real is marvelous and that anything can happen, and that realizes a very imaginative, very creative spirit. For example, the buildings here are old and peeling, but when you enter a home you will find objects of all kinds and all ages coexisting. And that's a spiritual identity on an everyday level. For example, the United States seems to me to be a place that lacks identity. You go someplace and you have large chains of stores that all look the same. The United States is one of those places that "sets the pace" for the rest of the world and within which the idea of progress is closely associated, but that progress also has a paradox that signifies a moving away from humanity. It's as if you cant find the human spirit anywhere. Everyone has a house, a car, and people live in great isolation.

LatinArt:  That concept in regards to the United States has a very long history. Im thinking of the great Uruguayan writer Rodó, near the turn of the century, with his spirit of Ariel confronting the barbarity of Caliban.

Carlos Estevez:  I had an exhibition of Cuban art organized by Arizona State University entitled Mundo Viviente. (Living World). It dealt with the idea that the world that lives around us has its own life...a world of objects. It deals with the idea that each family conserves its objects, less for celebratory reasons than for practical ones. In poor countries, one cant replace things with ease. In the United States, if your car breaks down you can replace it. If the refrigerator breaks you buy a new one. But here one passes objects from generation to generation. You fix them, you paint them, and you invest your time, and forge a relationship with these objects.

LatinArt:  Of course, an entire family will touch the same object and the history covers these objects like a patina.

Carlos Estevez:  Yes, and I think that the human spirit reveals itself when man touches and puts his time and energies into these objects, and I think that people can feel that. For example, see these little houses on the shelf? These are offerings for a sculpture that lies in the cemetery here in Havana. The story goes that this woman dies during childbirth, and so they bury her, but as it turns out she was still alive. When they went to dig her out, La Milagrosa called to her. People go there now to ask for blessings of all kinds, especially in regards to housing and these little homes are a form of thanks. In life all homes have their four walls and a roof, but each home has its individual personality...with these pieces Im going to produce an installation. If you walk through Old Havana, youll see that each home is a very particular world. Poverty has functioned, in this case, so that the human distances are not so abysmal.

LatinArt:  I'm very interested in you pictorial language: nature, the human body, machinery and technology. Can you discuss these elements in particular?

Carlos Estevez:  As I was explaining, one of the most fundamental elements in my work is the human body that functions as a map that houses the human spirit. I am very interested in the idea of maps because they represent something that cannot be seen. In some way, it is showing you a space that you have to construct in your mind. The map, its representation and the actual place is another thing entirely. Therefore I like the idea of representing the body as a map. The body as a document. Well, the word document is not very precise...

LatinArt:  The body as text?

Carlos Estevez:  Yes, exactly, the body as text. Texts of spirituality; texts of history and of philosophy. I am also interested in the archeology that man has created of himself...the archeology of man. I have found, metaphors amongst the rhetoric that point to an ontological description of humanity. Therefore many of my drawings are analogies between objects and human bodies, or objects and animals. And this communion gives a different metaphorical dimension to this issue.

LatinArt:  As a student of the baroque, I am very interested in your references to religion and the pictorial language of baroque art. Can you tell me more about this?

Carlos Estevez:  I am very interested in the baroque as a concept. In some way I think that the baroque is a philosophy as well. In this respect, baroquism, the concept of agglomeration, of confluence, is useful, above all in the contemporary world where many worlds coexist and cohabitate simultaneously. It strikes me as a very interesting idea with many possibilities.

LatinArt:  How do you see the art scene in Cuba changing in the next five years?

Carlos Estevez:  This is a very complex question...a very compromising question. It seems to me that in the last few years there has been a very interesting opening, as it were. The history of fine arts has passed through different stages here in Cuba, some very critical. With respect to art, because that is what I am trained to talk about, I think that we are in a very rich and interesting time because art is being debated under new requirements, for example in the art market...and it is a very complex phenomenon...very complex.

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