The Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project promotes contemporary Cuban visual arts through the granting of scholarships; the creation of a corporate art collection; and the establishment of a database of emerging Cuban artists. This blog seeks to introduce the Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project and its latest development, thus providing a glimpse into the vibrancy of the Cuban contemporary art scene. We hope you'll enjoy the show.

Guillaume Désanges, invited curator for sessions 3 and 4

" (...) The discussion I held with the other invited curator, Javier Hontoria, and the artists mainly concerned the economic aspect of the work. Basically, we asked ourselves what a young artist primarily needs to work. I bet that is precisely the question that you [Havana Cultura] ask yourselves when conceiving a program to support the visual arts. Is it time, space, money, visibility, skills, knowledge, or contacts? I would say all of the latter without any predominance of one element. And I will add: the avoidance of conventions.

As I wrote in a text published in 2010*, the two factors that exemplify the concept of convention in analytical philosophy are language and money, two modes of arbitrary transactions that require a currency (words, money), which have no value other than its function of equivalency. Convention is always weak; it is the smallest common denominator of exchange and it is worth infinitely less than what it represents. Let us suppose that it is the same in art. What do I mean? That the danger is to make a type of art that is seemingly representative of an international artistic style just because one has the same means of production and the same kind of codified language as everywhere else. The danger is to invent some sort of “economy of the work” to address the means that one has.

That’s why in the discussion with the artists, we focused on what is not valuable and remains immaterial: energy, desire, curiosity, necessity. I often take the example of Jiri Kovanda, a Czech artist who in the end of the 1970's began to produce his own art with nothing, in the public spaces of Prague, without even the expectation of being shown. He worked with what was immediately there, and has continued to do the same until now, albeit with international recognition. He is, for me one, of the greatest artists alive, and did not change his economy of work because of new opportunities. He represents what I call the “nuclear force” of art: tiny frictions that create tremendous explosions of the senses and emotions. It is about the creation of energy out of nearly nothing whose effects are felt for a very long time. Every time I have doubt about the way to become involved in the support of young artists as a curator, a writer, and a professor, I think of him and of this sentence by Harald Szeeman on the subject of the artist Miroslav Tichy: "Intensity will always find its medium". It makes me serene and more confident."

Guillaume Désanges, October 2012.

 * “Tractatus logico-artisticus”, in Before Everything (catalogue), CA2M (Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo), Madrid, 2010.


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"Simplemente bellas", Mabel Poblet

During a visit to a female prison in Cuba, Poblet met Betsy Torres, an inmate who was taking part in a workshop to learn how to create plastic flowers.  The artist realized that the latter provided a real means for the prisoners to release their creativity and imagination. Based on this experience, she uses hundreds of these flowers to outline a portrait of a woman, which could represent Torres, or anyone in similar circumstances. The flowers were placed within bicycle wheels powered by an engine to make them gyrate, thus causing the image to come back and forth from abstraction. 

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The idea sprang from what I experienced when visiting a female prison in Holguín, where I met the inmate Betsy Torres, who—along with a group of women—participate in a workshop to learn how to make plastic flowers. The flowers, made from recycled material, are absolutely kitsch. However, the process of designing and making them satisfies a need for emancipation and creativity. This experience not only moved me, but also made me question the relationship established among concepts like kitsch, folklore, and art.

These women are not creating objects that imitate nature; their flowers draw their inspiration from industrial kitsch. They are the kitsch’s kitsch. But they genuinely believe in the beauty of those pseudo decorative elements and, above all, in the beauty of their action.

Formally speaking, the portrait will be made from wheels attached to acrylic panels powered by four electric motors that will allow for the constant formation and deformation of the image. The movement will represent the relativity of kitsch depending on personal aesthetic taste and of taste with regards to culture or lack thereof.

The figured achieved will cancel out, in a way, the flowers’ connotation, which will stop being decorative elements in themselves. When the image is fragmented, it will be the detail’s nature that counts. To sum it up, the piece will be, in a way, a journey from kitsch to art and from art to kitsch. I thought those flowers deserved a context outside of prison to be shown the way Betsy and her friends would have wanted it.


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"Universo paralelo", Michel Pérez (alias 'Pollo')

Universos paralelos is a series of diptychs composed of randomly assembled paintings, which are themselves based on sketches of objects collected or found by the artists. A unifying element of the paintings is the line that marks the horizon. The names given to the diptychs are based on the emotion provoked by the association of the two paintings. 

"The search of haphazard relationships between dissimilar elements that make up a poetic image or association is one of the ideas that I have been exploring through my work over the last ten years, whether it be by experimenting with objects or through the pictorial process. I am interested in a primitive way of conceiving the world reminiscent of the minimalist simplicity of the caverns.

My working process consists of two main phases: the first one involves sketching—that is, elaborating scale models with different objects like stones, play dough, wood…—, and the second is basically the pictorial process which results in a painting.

Even though the construction of these objects almost never responds to a logical order or predetermined idea, the different materials do suggest or refer to mental and corporal states as well as associations of the two. To me, the picture begins with the selection of the objects.  

The idea comes from certain surrealist and Dadaist ideas like the famous ‘exquisite corpse’ game, based on the random gathering of elements and where the accidental, the arbitrary and the intuitive play an important role. “The fortuitous encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella in an operating table” is a well-known example of a phenomenon evidenced by the surrealists: the coming together of two or more apparently unrelated elements in a strange background leads to more intense poetic outbursts.


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"Frágil"- Lisandra Isabel García López

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Lisandra wants to continue with her previous work that explores identity and individuality through the displaying of personal, everyday objects. She built a room missing one of its walls so as to make it accessible to the spectator. The three wallsare covered with paintings representing the artist’s personal belongings. On the floors, we find several figures lying down. Four large glasses display human faces painted with a sandblaster, and a light pointed at them results in the images being reflected on the walls. Below is an extract from her project statement that resumes this piece's themes: 

"My intention with this piece is to work on the subject of intimate introspection which I have been developing for some time now, essentially through self-referential pieces. I want to create a personal world from my own experiences, experimenting with various materials and supports in order to take drawing to a different dimension.

I intend to continue exploring what’s ordinary, intimate, and feminine, representing in my work objects from my own domestic environment to highlight my taste, motivation, and sensibilities, and reflect on the permeability towards the environment that surrounds us. 

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The notion of transparency is a very important element that is always present in my work. Transparency, to me, means, above all, sensibility towards common and simple things. It also means fragility, vulnerability, and permeability to outside influences and to the things that are part of our lives and we interact with on a daily basis.


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"Loza", Adislén Reyes

Loza is based on a widespread tradition among the late 19th-century Cuban elite of displaying fine crockery imprinted with the family monogram as decoration. The artist reproduces a collection of French Limoges tableware previously owned by the family of Cuban poet Lorenzo Luaces using dispensable cups and plates. She has altered the monograms and substituted the original family’s initials for those of various anonymous, working-class Cuban families. The final display arrangement follows the trends of the late XIX and early XX centuries. The piece introduces, in a very sui generis way, social and political commentary on today’s Cuba and its relationship with the past. It makes us reflect on concepts authenticity and reproduction as well as on highbrow and popular culture. It also rescues aspects of decorative arts which had been considered a bourgeois practice and thus abandoned. 

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The tableware that I have chosen is one of the most complete collections in the city and it is exhibited at the Museo de los Capitanes Generales. It belonged to the family of poet Lorenzo Luaces.

The design conveys its value through decorative motives and its seal. It also includes the family monogram, which increases its value beyond that of the piece itself.

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Each one of these elements is fundamental to the elaboration of the work that I propose, which seeks to subvert them in a certain way. I will start with porcelain and the relationship established between the finest porcelain and disposable products, as well as with the family to which it is closely related.

This is why I intend to manipulate these monograms and transform them into different ones removed from the original history and origins. The only modification would be changing the initials L-L de Lorenzo Luaces for others coming from various anonymous Cuban families from humble origins.


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Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project Exhibition

Museo del Ron Havana Club (Havana), May 14th - September 15th 2012

Coinciding with the 11th edition of the Havana Art Biennial, Havana Club International presents A Smell that Comes through my Window: Havana Cultura, the first exhibition showcasing the works resulting from the Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project’s residency program.

The exhibition’s title is rooted in Cuban popular culture and refers to what the neighbors are cooking. Since Cuban houses are not hermetically closed, kitchen smells frequently penetrate surrounding homes. Metaphorically, the expression “A Smell that Comes through my Window”speaks of what is coming up next. In the context of emerging art, it translates into forecasting new aesthetic and thematic trends among younger artists; what is being “cooked” in terms of art in Cuba.

 


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Selected projects sessions 3 & 4

Selected projects sessions 3 & 4

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Loza, 2012 
Installation
Paper plates and cups, acrylic paint
Variable dimensions

Loza is based on a widespread tradition among the late 19th-century Cuban elite of displaying fine crockery imprinted with the family monogram as decoration. The artist reproduces a collection of French Limoges tableware previously owned by the family of Cuban poet Lorenzo Luaces using dispensable cups and plates. She has altered the monograms and substituted the original family’s initials for those of various anonymous, working-class Cuban families. The final display arrangement follows the trends of the late XIX and early XX centuries. The piece introduces, in a very sui generis way, social and political commentary on today’s Cuba and its relationship with the past. It makes us reflect on concepts authenticity and reproduction as well as on highbrow and popular culture. It also rescues aspects of decorative arts which had been considered a bourgeois practice and thus abandoned. 

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Universos paralelos, 2012 
Paintings
Acrylic on canvas 

Universos paralelos is a series of diptychs composed of randomly assembled paintings, which are themselves based on sketches of objects collected or found by the artists. A unifying element of the paintings is the line that marks the horizon. The names given to the diptychs are based on the emotion provoked by the association of the two paintings. 

%7B%22model%22%3A%22Photo%22%2C%22src%22%3A%22http%3A%2F%2Fwww.havana-club.com%2F2011%2Fmedia%2F2012%2F06%2F2012-06-04_15h47_01-4.png%22%2C%22alt%22%3A%222012-06-04_15h47_01-4%22%2C%22width%22%3A%2240%25%22%2C%22height%22%3A%22%22%2C%22float%22%3A%22left%22%2C%22classNames%22%3A%22shic-cms-item%20model-Photo%20float-left%22%2C%22item%22%3A%7B%22model%22%3A%22Photo%22%2C%22data%22%3A%7B%22id%22%3A%224508%22%2C%22file%22%3A%225772%22%2C%22width%22%3A%22309%22%2C%22height%22%3A%22195%22%2C%22title%22%3A%22%22%2C%22trads%22%3A%22%22%2C%22src%22%3A%22media%2F2012%2F06%2F2012-06-04_15h47_01-4.png%22%7D%2C%22keys%22%3A%7B%22id%22%3A%224508%22%7D%7D%7DLisandra Isabel García
Frágil, 2012    
Installation
Canvas, acrylic paint, ceramic, wood, enamel, glass, cement
Variable dimensions

As in previous works by García, Frágil addresses the themes of feminine identity and individuality. Personal, everyday objects which she considers to be an expression of her taste, motivations, feelings, and habits have been represented in canvases that cover the walls of an open room. The floors bear her silhouette, as do the glass panels, which limit the space but at the same time allow for the view. The hybrid quality of this environment-installation evokes both sturdiness and vulnerability; fragility and resistance.


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The 2012 Havana Art Biennial's first days

A video summary of the Havana Biennial's opening week


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Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project exhibition parallel to the Havana Biennial

Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project exhibition parallel to the Havana Biennial
From May 14th until September 15th

Coinciding with the 11th edition of the Havana Art Biennial, Havana Club International presents A Smell that Comes through my Window: Havana Cultura, the first exhibition showcasing the works resulting from the Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project’s residency program.

The exhibition’s title is rooted in Cuban popular culture and refers to what the neighbors are cooking. Since Cuban houses are not hermetically closed, kitchen smells frequently penetrate surrounding homes. Metaphorically, the expression “A Smell that Comes through my Window” speaks of what is coming up next. In the context of emerging art, it translates into forecasting new aesthetic and thematic trends among younger artists; what is being “cooked” in terms of art in Cuba.

The show opens to the public on May 14th and runs through September 15th at the Museo del Ron Havana Club’s gallery. 

On the Havana Art Biennial


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Download exhibition catalog (4Mo)

Invited curator Mary Cork

Invited curator Mary Cork
Picture: Mary Cork with Cuban artist and member of the selection jury René Francisco Rodríguez

Mary Cork, the first of the foreign curator invited to participate in the first session of the Havana Cultura Visual Arts Project, reflects on the experience of spending two weeks in Havana discovering the Cuban contemporary art scene.

"For two weeks in the beginning of May 2011, the creative arts organisation Havana Cultura invited me to be the resident curator of the first stage of their new visual arts residency programme in Havana, Cuba.

Having no first-hand experience of Cuban life, culture or art meant that I arrived in Cuba with an almost impeccably blank slate and with hardly any preconceived idea of what my visit might be like. Hence, I saw my role as a London-based curator in Cuba for the first time as mainly investigatory. Not only was I there as a witness of the resultant projects made on the residency, but also to try and locate their place within the context of Cuban art and contemporary art as a whole.

The work proposed and completed in the first part of the residency show the many sides of Cuban contemporary art practice. The most recurrent theme I identified was a tendency towards making work that encompassed the notion of society’s increasingly present globalisation and the position of the ‘isolated’ Cuban artist in relation to it. In a world where many of us are beginning to think of ourselves as global citizens, the question of what it means to be Cuban starts to take on new meaning. 

Alejandro González, the first artist I visited, explores this with a richly saturated series of photographic portraits called Cuba, año cero (“Cuba, Year Zero”). Many photos, particularly the ones shot in Havana, depict the teenagers as tribal creatures, outsiders moving in social groups like the frikis, emos, repas, and mikis. His images ask us to consider what is unique about the teen angst that his subjects embody, whilst simultaneously making us aware of the shared experience of all teenagers of the world.

In Anatomía del tiempo (“Anatomy of Time”), Reinier Nande has recreated a journey that literally drives through social boundaries. Nande has created a visual analogy for the dream of social mobility, an aspiration not easily accessed in Cuba today.  Nande is guarded about this work: he doesn’t over-explain it conceptually, taking instead the figurative ‘back seat’ by letting the viewer experience the journey as though they were a passenger in the car with him. The only text in the piece appears as a caption that reads ‘objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear’, the standard message imprinted on a car’s rearview mirrors, but in this case loaded with alternative meaning.

The final participants of this stage of the residency are a collective made up of the artists Yunior Aguiar, Javier Castro, Luis Gárciga, Celia González, Renier Quer, and Grethell Rasúa. For Un olor que entra por mi ventana (“A Smell that Comes Through my Window)” these six artists staged a several-months-long performance centred around the popular Cuban working class lottery game, the Bolita. While it seems wound up specifically in Cuban culture, themes like communal eating and handed down traditions are universal. The communality of the work isn’t merely reflected through the working relationship of the artists, but also through their engagement with a self-organised and self-endorsed practice that has originated in spite of societal rules, joining together many members of society through their participation. 


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