Echoes, resonances, of the XIII Havana Biennial

By: José Antonio Michelena

Bienal de La Habana

Making a mega-event of the main international events has become a custom in the cuban culture system, be it the International Book Fair, the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema or the Havana Biennial. The last Biennial has been no different: multiplicity of institutions were involved in the festival of images that toured the capital and other provinces with dissimilar proposals.
The largest place of the visual arts on the island was taken, for this edition, four years to offer to the public. Spread across several dozen galleries, between main and collateral displays, the quadrennial also included the exhibition of works located in public spaces, such as the boardwalk, Paseo del Prado and Calle Línea, in El Vedado.
Among other issues that trouble him, this editor wonders why wait so long if most exhibitions could only be seen between April and May. How can a viewer find time to visit so many spaces? Couldn’t they have performed them in a staggered manner throughout the year (or cycle)? And why do they keep calling him biennial?

Cuban art at the National Museum

If the XIII Biennial was a mega-event, the Cuban art building of the National Museum of Fine Arts provides a mega-exhibition – in line with the general program, designed on a large scale – that will remain open all year round. Under the thematic nomination The Infinite Possibility. Thinking about the nation, the MNBA built an anthology of anthologies, the assembly of five exhibitions that pursue the purpose of making a nation story, according to the director of the institution, Jorge Fernández Torres.
The infinite possibility… is made up of “Sugar Island”; “Beyond utopia. The rereadings of history”; “The mirror of riddles. Notes on Cubanity”; “Nothing personal”; and “Inner Museums.” The works that make up the samples, with exceptions, are part of the museum’s collections, but here they are based on the guiding ideas of the story: “Make a journey of ethnographic, anthropological and historical character by the different meanings that the object can have as symbolic value”, in the words of Fernández Torres.
The narrative that conducts the discourse of The Infinite Possibility… it is expressed in different forms, techniques and supports: painting, engraving, sculpture, photography, screen printing, installations, videos, music, literature, as well as multiple objects and documents. The result of this panorama – which explores the history of Cuban art – may be conceptually correct, but overwhelming for the viewer.
Usually, those who attend the Biennial seek something different, go with the desire to find the new. In this sense, “Interior Museums”, located on the ground floor of the building, is in tune with that search: in Partitura, by Carlos Garaicoa; Alacenas, from Los Carpinteros; The Subjects, by José Manuel Fors; Regatta, by Kcho; Repair shop, by René Francisco; and Arpegio, of José Villa, we find that ineffable artistic substance that surprises us, provokes us, seduces us, stimulates us, amuses us and makes us think.

Diverse experiences at the Lam Wifredo Center

The Wifredo Lam Center for Contemporary Art hosted several very attractive exhibitions in connection with the new and unknown mentioned above. First, there were the tapesthes of Abdoulaye Konaté of Mali.
The works of the African artist combine beauty, creativity, intelligence, depth of ideas. The work on textile support stands out for the use of various techniques, design and representation of the themes, and is of such complex laboriousness that requires a team of collaborators.
Then there were, the video project Of the sound of labor: work songs, by Tania Candiani (Mexico); the Transfer performance, by Clemens Krauss (Austria); the video with sculptures, Evidence, by Fernando Foglino (Uruguay); The video Stasis, by Maya Watanabe; Tamara Campo’s Blanco facility and David Beltran’s oilfields, both from Cuba.
Candiani’s work intersects various disciplines of art and cultural studies. The fusion of the word, sound and images of the investigated scenarios creates its own language, its own mode of expression.
Video, sculpture and oral discourse are also combined in the work of Fernando Foglino, but with greater visual prominence of the author. Under the budget of opposing the terms vandalism – used by the press – and manifestation – which he thinks is right – the Uruguayan addresses “the complex theme of the destruction of art from fiction and contemporary art”, in his words.
The representation of sculptural pieces – the evidence – that have been stolen from different works of art is accompanied by a video in which Foglino develops his thesis and weeds a story about the history of each piece, which he describes as war trophies.
The least solid part of Uruguayan’s work is that of the subtracted mirrors from John Lennon’s sculpture in Havana. Shown in an independent video, the filming only collects the words of the custodian of the statue, which are a naive version of the official discourse, which is still a paradox, because, foglino declares, “public monuments tell the official account of the countries”, and he set out to dismantle that story.
The works of Maya Watanabe, Tamara Campo and David Beltrán, from their respective expressions, immerse us in a space of reflection, meditation, gathering, well-being, contemplation, according to the experience and response of each one.
Finally, to see the results of Clemens Krauss’ psychoanalysis sessions we must wait for the realization of the mural that the artist-therapist will make in the courtyard of the Wifredo Lam Center: “a physical correlation of Krauss’ personal experience and a collective and unconscious emerging outsourcing”, according to the promotional text.

The charms of public space

The boardwalk and Paseo del Prado, two of Havana’s most popular and symbolic spaces, were articulated in the corpus of the Biennial with diverse techniques and narratives, designed for public space, in a rich assortment of performances.
The works scattered along the boardwalk, belonging to the sociocultural project Behind the Wall (dedelmu), were offered to the walker in permanent dialogue with the environment, forcing a double reading. When observing the gigantic metal sculpture, that kind of chair-lookout, the viewer must keep in mind the border enclave that underlines the meaning of the proposition.
The stretch between Maceo Park and the fortress of La Punta has this various architectural mix, very typical of Centro Habana, where recent or preserved buildings and ruined buildings coexist, a moles of local flavor that has been exploited in high doses by cinema, video clip and literature.
An attractive and representative piece (for its significant mark) is the iron structure that supports six inflatable wraps that look like petals, fish, birds? and is located in front of the rubble of a building; possessed of a strange beauty, this construction is a creature from the postmodern universe, as are numerous artifacts that “graze” on the sidewalks, between buildings, ruins and the sea.
Sculptures, sculpted objects, installations, photographs, performances, architectural design, artistic intervention, form a disturbing visual discourse loaded with provocations towards the receiver where the playful intention rarely stands out; a discourse to transcend the act of contemplation and mobilize readings from an intelligent gaze.
Behind the Wall, a project led by the Cuban artist Juan Delgado, he participated for the third time in the Bienal, this time with seventy creators between Cubans and foreigners, now with the purpose of sustaining a greater interaction with the social fabric, under the theme “Liquid scenario”. Dedelmu works will continue in public space until November as a celebration of the city’s 500th anniversary.
It would be interesting to conduct surveys filmed to discover the interpretations that different audiences make about these works, what they think about them, how they receive them.

In the shadow of the institution

Bienal de La Habana
Bienal de La Habana

Almost without straying from his walk, the walker attentive to the rhythm of the arts on the boardwalk, could enter the Palace of the Caryatides, the building that serves as the seat of the Spanish American Center of Culture (CHC), institution where he also ran the Biennial.
Among the works exhibited in the CHC it caught our attention, in a special way, the photographic exhibition of the Brazilian Lais Myrrha, for its theoretical-practical connection with the events that take place outside. Lais offers such valuable conceptual support for constructive devastation and its effects that it is worth knowing at least two of its statements:

“Physical dismantling: It is the product of a voluntary operation or a fortuitous event that causes the physical, complete or partial deterioration of a given construction. However, there is no physical dismantling other than, to some extent, also symbolic. That’s why saying ‘man’s house collapsed’ can mean more than a cumulative of beams and bricks scattered on the ground.
“Symbolic dismantling: In this type of dismantling the physical appearance of a building can undergo only small modifications or even remain intact. This kind of dismantling is so powerful that it would not be strange to see a passer-by in the middle of public roads stumble upon a monument.”
[Lais Myrrha: Brief Chronography Two Dismantles, 2012-2019].

Utopias in the Prado

As the entrance to an oasis, after his extensive walk along the boardwalk, came the traveler to paseo del Prado and what he found there: the landscape itself traveled, but projected in the bedroom of sleep, wrapped in the halo of the real-wonderful. These are Utopias in Prado, Gabriel Guerra Bianchini’s monumental open-air gallery. Sixteen photographs magnetized by the charms of light in that unique place of the city. Here live several generations who share the magic of the boardwalk, the space of greater democracy and socialization in the capital. Children who catch dreams; elders looking for another reality on their phones; lovers who become reflections of themselves; sunsets that restore faith.
The XIII Havana Biennial also ran/runs through other urban spaces by pressing the art-society dialogue. Ω

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