del Valle Lantarón / PHOTO:
Pedro Juan Abreu
del Valle Lantarón, director of the Center for Contemporary
Art Wifredo Lam and of the Havana Biennial, considers the re-thinking
of the organizational and curatorial strategy with which the show
inserts itself within the contemporary context to be the main turning
point of this renown event.
Wifredo Lam Center organized the Ninth Havana Biennial this year.
The ce-lebration made it possible to extend the history and the
socio-cultural and artistic contributions of an event which, since
its birth in 1984, has opened a space for the alternative, for the
counter-discourse and for the promotion of various creative areas
that are generally excluded from the dominant artistic circuits.
Changes in the world’s political-economic system, financing
hardships and other phenomena belonging to the local context have
obstructed the permanence and development of the Cuban Biennial,
but the most recent edition set itself as a goal to demonstrate
the persistent resistance of the show as a relevant and respectable
event in the midst of polemics that question its future life. Rubén
del Valle Lantarón, who for the last five years has been
Vice-president of Cuba’s National Council of Fine Arts and
today is director of the Wifredo Lam Center and the Havana Biennial,
.answers to some of these debated matters.
What is your opinion on the recurrent questions about why an international
gathering of artists still is being held in Havana under the Venetian
concept of biennial when it no longer takes place every other year
and each time conforms less and less to the traditional Western ideas
that define an art biennial, and even here the concept has been questioned?
Historically, the following matters have been
discussed: the periodicity, or the very concept of biennial. Although
it is true that the last edition was almost a biennial with regard to
its time interval, in other occasions it has been a triennial. But this
is not the most important issue, neither is it it how to call it. You
can call it biennial, triennial, encounter of forum, the fundamental
is to distinguish its foundational principles as an alternative to the
mainstream. We are engaged in discussing the new role of the Havana
Biennial in the new international context, in a world that has changed
very much since the 1984 edition: the structures, the power relations,
the very artistic environment.
emergence of the Havana Biennial set a landmark on the international
visual context of the 80’s, becoming the only big scene for
the promotion of art from the Third World, and it ruptured with the
dominant, colonial, hegemonic discourse. One can even talk of a before
and after the Havana Biennial even today, when the concept of the
Third World has been blurred and a polarization between North and
South prevails. This new denomination of the global differences is
neither pure nor easy to define; many of the phenomena of the so-called
‘North’ affect the South and vice versa. Examples of this
are the situations gene-rated by the hurricane Katrina in many states
in the US, or what happened in France with the huge protests of the
immigrants: It no longer was a revolution inspired by existentialist
philosophers but the revolt of an excluded population, which the French
Minister of Interior called an action of the Parisian ‘mob’.
this new World landscape, and in a growing number of international
art encounters, biennials and triennials, we are forced to re-dimension,
deepen and revolutionize our discourse in order for the Havana Biennial
to succeed in keeping its identity as an event taking place inCuba
and in the South; to implement our ideology of resistance taking off
from two fundamental principles: continuing to be an alternative space
that doesn’t repeat the schemes of the big circuits and persevering
on our engagement in the spiritual development of both the Cuban people
and our visitors from abroad. Our strategy, I insist, can only be
viable if it preserves the ethical and aesthetic principles that set
the grounds for this gathering in Havana – however you want
to call it.
Even though the aspect of participation has been widely acknow-ledged,
other concerns have been recurrently expressed as to how and why guarantee,
in spite of the significant reduction of the budget that has caused
so many problems (such as the changes of the dates, problems with
the curatorial studies and the general production of the event), an
event of such a wide degree of convocation?
we called for this ninth edition, we practically had ten months time.
The term biennial implies that you have two years to carry out an
organizational process bestowing of various and complex phases; but
this time, due to the structural and financial difficulties, the public
announcement happened very late. The first incertitude concerned the
response of the artists to such a late call. After that, waiting for
the confirmation of those who had been chosen to participate once
the process of selection had concluded in the beginning of October.
However, within two months the vast majority
of those convoked gave an affirmative answer and sent all the complementary
information needed to have the catalog ready for printing by December
31st. Only three of the artists were not able to accept the invitation,
mainly due to economic problems. This res-ponse counterfeits any
previous comments condemning The Biennial as a dying event doomed
How can an event that shows this capacity
to convoke people be about to die? How can an event that neither
finances the production of works nor the transportation of the artists
maintain such a level of engagement and interest among the artists?
Our Biennial is grounded on a special kind of mysticism, not on
the millions that other events spend in production, but by persisting
as a place convergence and exchange for a vast number of creators
who in many cases are excluded from the big circuits of artistic
promotion. The installation and assembling, and the very program
of activities of the event become a vast workshop that propitiates
dynamics of exchange where many of the primordial concerns of today’s
visual universe meet or confront each other.
The level of participation achieved in its
main theoretical event, Forum Idea 2006, convoked even later, succeeded
in gathering prestigious and well-known international theoreticians
together with other, less known scholars, achieving significant
contributions in both cases. The dialog and the debate generated
in those discussions serve as a measure of the influence and authority
of the Cuban Biennial as a center for the emission of art and ideas,
even in spite of the financial and organizational difficulties we
organizers of the Biennial we must work on resource mobilization
in order to avoid, as much as possible, certain limitations that
were evident in this edition, and which run against its nature.
Afri-ca and Asia must be subjects of an in-depth field work; those
are vast continents, with a rich variety, and need to be explored
more deeply. Our curators must set themselves out to cover other
areas, like the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, which are
generating surprising artistic events practically unknown here,
but so close to the questions posed by the South. We must deepen
our links in respect to work relations with researchers, art critics
and curators who are probing those territories and to reconstruct
our “networks” so that the Biennial remains an exponent
of the margined artistic world from all latitudes. That will contribute
to its diversity, actuality and wealth.
There is another phenomenon constantly surfacing in the debates on
Cuban Biennial about its political-cultural significance – an
element that also is discussed at the time of making an evaluation
of the general quality of the event. Does the Havana Biennial as an
apolitical event go beyond its artistic dimension?
think that they go hand in hand. If the political prevailed, then the
respect and the diversity of expressions shown by the Biennial would
not be achieved. If the artistic were the determinant criterion of value
used, then we would have renounced to the alternative perspective of
risk-taking and challenge that has characterized us, and which in the
end we preserve among our central objectives. The idea is to bring about
the strategic convergence of both aspects. Our political stance emerges
precisely from the defense of the aesthetic stance of the least favored,
in an alternative to the market and to the hegemonic power’s trivializing
currents. On the other hand, it is a naive illusion to suppose that
any action of any kind in today’s world doesn’t have political
connotations. How apolitical are the events in Venice or Kassel?
In our case, this takes particular importance in the context of the
revolution, the meaning of this country and its position in a global
context. The Biennial has been able to transcend the realm of the political
from within the realm of the artistic, from the reflection and the analysis
on some of the most complex phenomena that the world has gone through
during the last years, such as the human relationships, the conflict
of identity, the communications and the migrations; not by issuing political
pamphlets, nor partial or total discourses, but by assuming such guidelines
in all their richness and plurality, always from the perspective of
art, which by the way itself represents a political phenomenon.
What are the organizers of the Havana Biennial satisfied and unsatisfied
able to make it possible, living and sharing the unique experience that
supposes a gathering of this kind and thus being able to test its vitality
and viability are probably the first satisfactions that come to our
the other hand, the coexistence of creators of acknowledged trajectory
such as Shirin Neshat, Spencer Tunick, Sue Williamson, Antoni Miralda,
Jean Nouvel or the movie maker Carlos Saura, together with emerging
artists who are the essence of the event, confirms to us the validity
of our founding principles, since it was thanks to the discourse of
the Biennial that some of the artists that participated in previous
editions today are i more or less mainstreamed. The Havana gathering
puts the focus on, and even validates, the social and trans-territorial
discourse sustaining the success of many artists today.
are very pleased with the high level of socialization achieved in
this edition of the event. In contrast with other editions, we could
notice a higher level of public attendance to the grounds of the Biennial.
Studies demonstrate that the visual arts are among the less assimilated
cultural manifestations in Cuba, and the Havana Biennial has started
to surmount those barriers, with the decisive support of the media
as intelligent mediators. It goes beyond being a matter of statistics
in respects to the amount of visitors, it is about our integration
with the medial, virtual world invading, shaping and permeating the
life of contemporary Man, specially his visual and artistic spectrum.
been able to demonstrate that The Biennial and the Cuban culture,
in spite of their shortcomings, still are a living space with a high
degree of convocation and a gathering place for good art of international
level has doubtlessly been another satisfaction. Another positive
detail was the work achieved on the visual and promotional aids of
the event (catalogs, spots, web, publicity and publications).
that the Biennial was able to stimulate and promote the restoration
of its principal center: The Wilfredo Lam Center.
things we are most evidently unsatisfied with are the lack of resources
and the organizational limitations that affected the results (the
problems with the production were determinant). Some works distanced
themselves too far away from the original project and the final outcome
was questionable, sometimes deplorable.
The curators should have treated the subject of the Dynamics of Urban
Cultures with more diversity, profundity and richness. We were superficial
and repetitive on some topics. We were neither able to achieve a good
coordination with the pertinent authorities to get permits for a good
number of projects conceived for public spaces, works which, by changing
of location, also changed their referents, their concepts and even
their very appearance.
museum and assemblage work resulted too obvious on some occasions,
and showed very little audacity; possibilities as well as exhibition
areas were thus wasted. The Fortaleza de la Cabaña has become
a space that we must put into question: on one hand it is special
and indispensable because of its location, its ambiance and history,
ideal to place big-size works, ambiances or works for semi-public
spaces. But it doesn’t seem viable for other formats. Taking
the higher quality of proposals with video or other electronic media
into account, those were sacrificed due to the space’s own limitations.
It is undeniable the deterioration of its arched roofs and pavilions,
the poor illumination, and the electrical and acoustic problems.
very critical spirit with which we face the event is the one that
has secured its survival, and there lays the root of my absolute faith
on the Havana Biennial. Our self-critical discourse, from the resistance,
the exploration, the willingness to take risks, the theoretical inquiry,
have preserved for us a privileged position in comparison to similar
events organized on both sides of the world. Our capa-city as revolutionaries,
of distancing ourselves from fades (even those generated by ourselves)
and at the same time daring to contaminate ourselves with new discourses
strengthen and preserve the strategies of the Biennial.