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Preview: Havana Bienal 2012


Jorge Fernández Torres on artists, themes, and getting out of the museum

Esterio Segura, Submarinos hechos en casa (Homemade Submarines)
In an eagerly anticipated presentation in New York City, the director of the 2009 and 2012 Bienal outlined the approach behind the upcoming event. Director of Havana’s Centro Wifredo Lam and deputy director of the Cuban Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, Jorge Fernández Torres was in town for the opening of Adjoining Islands: The Cuban Pavilion in Manhattan. On view at the 8th Floor gallery through December 21, the exhibition features works by the four Cuban artists who are currently participating in the first-ever Cuban Pavilion at Venice.

Amid works by Alexandre Arrechea, Yoan Capote, Duvier del Dago, and Eduardo Ponjuán, the conversation gradually turned to the upcoming Bienal, and Fernández Torres was pleased to offer a quick preview. In discussing the previously announced theme for the event, “Artistic Practice and the Social Imaginary,” he said that the Bienal would offer little in the way of painting or other traditional media. The focus, he said, would be on people.

“Every day, the relationship between artistic production and the spectator is being cut,” he explained. “Everyone talks about the death of the museum, but they are increasingly present. Our intention is to get out of the ‘cult’ places. That’s why it’s very important for us to go to the street, with all the attention that’s generated by being in a public space.”

The formal curatorial statement for the upcoming Bienal calls for it “to work with live art and to permanently involve the observer. …to transform the Cuban context and the public scenarios into a temporary laboratory of art experimentation.” In person, Fernández Torres defines it more succinctly: “What are our limits? We want to pull the cord and see what happens.”

Fernández Torres sees tremendous vitality in the current Cuban art scene, quoting critic Gerardo Mosquera’s line that “The artists in Cuba are growing like weeds.” As always, the focus remains on young and emerging artists. “I don’t want the Bienal to relinquish its primary misison of bringing new talent,” Fernández Torres says. “Historically, many people who came through the Bienal went on to become very well known.”

But this year’s event includes a group that Fernández Torres describes as “young artists who have already won their place in the Cuban arts panorama”—among them Yoan Capote and José Ángel Vincench, currently having his U.S. premiere exhibition in Miami. On the international list are well-known younger artists such as Yang Fudong (People’s Republic of China), Argentina-born Tomás Saraceno, and Mexico’s Damien Ortega.

Older, established artists—from Cuba and elsewhere—are also part of the lineup, including Cuban-born Jorge Pardo (“He’s very excited about having a Cuban passport”), Russian-Americans Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, and video artist Isaac Julien, representing Trinidad and Tobago. “I saw his current show at the the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston,” Fernández Torres added, “and it’s impressive.”

Perhaps the most interesting new development is the set of projects “in the street,” intended to engage spectators in participatory interactions. One such project is Detras del muro (Behind the Wall), a series of site-specific installations and interventions along the Malecón, Havana’s oceanside promenade. Organized by the Cuban Arts Project and curated by its director, Juan Delgado Calzadilla, and a team of invited curators, the project is slated to run from La Punta to the Torreón de San Lázaro, a distance of approximately six kilometers (nearly four miles). More than two dozen artists will participate, including Yoan Capote, Aimée García, Adonis Flores, Duvier del Dago, Eduardo Ponjuán, Rachel Valdés, Roberto Fabelo, and William Pérez.

“Almost everyone wants to see the Malecón bustling with life, with offerings and cultural attractions both at the shore and away from it,” reads a project statement for Behind the Wall. “The title is relative, depending on the point of view: if you’re in the sea, it will be the city that’s behind the wall, and if you’re in the city, the sea becomes the backdrop. In any case, the works will be public interventions that implicate both spaces, the city and the water. The majority of the individual projects will be contemplative and playful in character.” Proposed projects include Esterio Segura’s Submarinos hechos en casa (Homemade Submarines), which combines the styling of classic 1950s cars with submarines out of Jules Verne, and Marianela Orozco’s Camara de gritos (Shouting Room), a freestanding soundproof room specifically for the recording of yells, shouts, and exclamations.

Although he says the initial goal was a smaller, more manageable event, Fernández Torres concedes that the 2012 Bienal is “going to be a gigantic show. Every day I’m receiving 100, 200 emails. Well, that’s it,” he says in conclusion, “everyone wants to come to Havana.”

The 11th Havana Bienal takes place May 11-June 11, 2012.

(From Cuban Art News)


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