Airplanes and Elephants
During the day, the strings stretching from wall-to-wall in this former military shooting range appear to take the shape of a plane. At night, however, the installation entitled La Caja Negra (The Black Box) by Cuban artist Duvier del Dago comes to life. The strings, lit by ultraviolet light, are transformed into a life-size fighter jet, an F-22 Raptor suspended in mid-flight, bobbing gently in the tropical breeze. A sound system broadcasts bird sounds backed by an ominous bass hum. On a video screen behind the "plane," babies are born, weddings are celebrated and other moments from a pilot’s life pass by in an endless loop — a "black box" of memories. Duvier del Dago is equal parts artist and magician, his work as intellectually compelling as it is technically masterful. What gives this latest installation, running for the duration of the Havana Biennial, even more impact is the artist’s choice of place. The "26 de Julio" shooting range was where Cuba’s Milicias de Tropas Territoriales (MTT) forces trained in the 1970s and ’80s to ward off a possible United States invasion.
The herd of metal elephants moving through Havana is the most popular exhibition at the Biennial, in the truest sense of popular. Cars slow down and drivers gawk at them. Parents bring their children to see them. People want a picture of themselves standing next to them. The 12 pachyderms began their migration at the Plaza Vieja, and they since have been spotted in the shade of the Capitolio gardens; surrounded by black flags at the Anti-Imperialist Tribune; on the sidewalk in front of the University of Havana; at the busy intersection of 31st and 60th in the Playa neighborhood; at the Plaza de la Revolution; and at the Miramar Trade Center. The artist behind the elephants is José Emilio Fuentes Fonseca, more commonly known by his initials, JEFF. Like much of JEFF’s work, the elephants are childlike but also slightly menacing. They resemble inflatable toys, complete with air valves, but their sheet metal hides are the color of rusty knife blades. JEFF and his crew have been sneaking around town, moving the elephants from place to place under cover of darkness. JEFF’s name for this undertaking is Memoria & Memory, which sounds just right: Havana will remember his elephants long after they have vanished from the streets.