Heterogénesis - Magazine of Visual Arts- 2006 nr 55-56


Margarita Sánchez Prieto
Edgar Hechevarría (Cuba): Energi, installation / PHOTO: Ximena Narea

Several weeks after its culmination, the 9th Biennial in Havana is still the subject of conversation in the art circles, at least in Cuba. I will undertake its analysis without having an overall evaluation from the curators’ collective, which presupposes a partial judgment. However, I assume that my reflections will be shared by some of my colleagues.

The texts of the curators Herrera Ysla and Noceda Fernández – published as essays in the General Catalog and reproduced in this issue of Heterogénesis – explain why the subject “Dynamics of the Urban Culture” had been chosen. Thus, my evaluation will focus on the events “before and after”, summarizing the curatorial, discursive and other coordinates finally put the event together, informing about the changes and adaptations experimented by the original platform and determining to what extent the thesis put forward by the Biennial was fulfilled.

If the subject of “the Urban Culture” at first met resistance from some members of the Curatorial Team, since it already had been dealt with by other similar events in other parts of the world, it was later approved, among other reasons, because it allowed for a continuity on the thematic and linguistic interests, as well as to the attempts to give some dynamism to the structure of the events carried out during the 7th and 8th Biennials. These three aspects, and their accomplishment to the originally projected degree and aesthetic level – a point which wasn’t achieved as it was intended and would be the cause of criticisms of the Biennial – gravitated on the materialization of the general concept conceived for this edition, as well as the possibility of perpetuating the specific profile of the Havana Biennial: the validation of the contemporary art of the so-called “South” on a plane of equality with today’s production in the so-called international circuits.

I don’t think it is necessary to describe once more the phenomena and transformations that led us to situate the urban cultures on the focus of our attention, since the above mentioned curators already have taken on the task. It is a subject with some contours already anticipated in the two previous editions in respect to the interest shown of the public projection as well as of the participation of the citizenship in some kinds of art, and other kinds we considered should be more widely considered from a “glocal” perspective – e.g. the focusing on situations and particularities of urban cultures in regions of unfinished modernization in the context of globalization – in the light of varied tools and practices including the new media, effective conveyors of the vertigo and fleetingness of urban life and tempo.

Maggy Navarro & Angela Bonadies (Venezuela): Mobile Space - Caracas-Habana
PHOTO: Centro Wilfredo Lam Publications Staff

The various approaches to the urban universe and their public nature, as well as the difficulty to frame the polysemy of some physical and spatial concretions of traditional works, actions and projects in situ, led us to decide on an open curatorship – not fractioned by thematic nuclei, where the problems of the urban cultures of the so-called “South” would play a fundamental role. This openness also took into account the increase of the diversity of the participants with the aim of making a dialog between the urban realities of the “South” and the other areas of the planet possible. It was on these premises that we set ourselves out to put forward our points of view and a peripheral attempt to deal with “a subject of universal nature and participation”, as well as to confront conflicts, reflections, practices, imaginaries and gazes from various latitudes.

Let us see how our ideas were implemented, their achievements and shortcomings.

Besides the motives exposed in my article “Frag-mentos de arte y vida en la Octava Bienal”(1) with res-pect to the changes in the group of participants, the actual conditions of interdependency among the various regions and countries stemming from the planetarization of a political, economical and informational model conspired against the geographic delimitation of such a universal and interconnected subject as the dynamics of the urban culture. The cosmopolitan nature of the city – with no regard to the level of development of the country involved – and the phenomenon of migrations with all its charge of Besides the motives exposed in my article “Frag-mentos de arte y vida en la Octava Bienal”1 with res-pect to the changes in the group of participants, the actual conditions of interdependency among the various regions and countries stemming from the planetarization of a political, economical and informational model conspired against the geographic delimitation of such a universal and interconnected subject as the dynamics of the urban culture. The cosmopolitan nature of the city – with no regard to the level of development of the country involved – and the phenomenon of migrations with all its charge of contamination of cultural behaviors, demanded a more comprehensive and international perspective of its approach. Considering the actual state of the planet, constraining ourselves to the peripheral orb would mean to leave aside the cause, explanation and (place of) origin of the problems now surfacing in the capital cities of our countries having their corresponding expression in cities in other parts of the world and vice-versa, leaving the treatment of other problems unfinished in their own territories and outside their borders. Economic crisis, situations of survival, migratory flows, multiculturalism, migration from the countryside to the cities or towards urban centers where there are more jobs, constitute a chain of events that coexists with and influence the demographic implosion, the re-sketching of the urban-environmental cartographies and the endless expansion of the borders of the cities which, in the developing countries, teem with favelas, cerros, shantytowns and other peripheries.

As a reflection of the world, art has been portraying some of the manifestations I have referred to, and it has even brought the development of some pheno-mena beyond the geographic boundaries it was intended to confine itself in to public light. In this respect, the Biennial showed the curious version of migration within the “South” in the projects of Sue Williamson from South Africa and of Rosalía Maguid from Argentina: The former consisting of off-voice narrations of interviews with African immigrants from neighboring countries who reside in Cape Town (Africa within Afri-ca) while television screens reproduce the interviewed listening to their own recordings, and the latter on the ingenious advertisement strategies practiced by Asian communities to promote their shops and restaurants in order to achieve integration (or to get acceptance?) in Buenos Aires’ and São Paulo’s societies. The compulsive demographic growth, the crowding of buildings and the territorial expansion of the orbs could not have been depicted better than in the big format bi-dimensional work of Dimitri Tsoublekas from Greece, and of Michel Najjar from Germany. The photographic ensemble of Carlos Germán Rojas, though charged with a loving gaze towards the relatives and friends from his natal barrio on the side hills of Caracas, touches on the subject of the saturation of their narrow streets and spaces twenty years later. The proliferation of precarious forms of settlement in Africa, their nomadic character, their chaotic and improvised development until its networkings and vehicular traffic reach the appearance of a micro-city, was the subject of the video of the SenegalesDouts_Mohamadou N’Doye – an animation made out of the simple material of paper cuttings.

Eduardo Srur - Brazil - Atentado, 2004
PHOTO: Centro Wilfredo Lam Publications Staff

In previous editions, we became aware of certain works that used to coincide in the focus of their objective as well as in the means used to achieve it – a coincidence that should not always be interpreted as copies of the art produced by the so-called centers. Jaime Castro (from Venezuela) and Rodney Glick (from Australia) exemplify the use of technological means and similar objectives. The urban landscape is sketched by them from the point of view of its fragmentation, achieved by the simultaneous recording of the environment with multiple video cameras allowing them to cover as many spaces as those covered by the control panels of surveillance systems created for other purposes in a kind of open air panopticum.

Albeit we have grouped the proposals according to the similarities in their discourses in this evaluation, in the real event they were not shown in that order. As with the 8th, this Biennial paid no heed to a discursive structure based on thematic nuclei or sub-themes like in previous editions, as in the 5th and the 6th, had facilitated the reading of the main lines of the central message. The difficulty of reconciling the characteristics of the works with the peculiarities of the spaces, to a high degree concentrated at the Fortaleza de la Cabaña, had a strong influence on the decision made, even with regard to the reasons that led us to opt for an open curatory. However, the opinions expressed by the public and the local critics imply that the encompassing sense of a discourse structured around the reunion of a considerable number of international works dealing with foreign realities, local works and projects scattered all over the city as parts of a whole was not perceived. It is evident that the compartmentalization of the spaces and the lack of the textual supports – a resource not absent from the first biennials, especially at sites such as the National Museum – also conspired against the comprehension of the curatorial concept.

Had the traditional disposition of the works by sub-themes – a task performed by the curatorial board – been followed, then the redundancies of certain to-pics and formats would have surfaced, and perhaps the result would have been different, in spite of the last time replacements of works made by some of the artists. The urban landscape was the most repeated topic, and it put a perhaps excessive accent on the orb’s physical space, which was not among our priorities (specially, to the extent it was actually shown). Besides Glick and Castro, I will add the names of Amal Saade (Lebanon), Dionne Simpson (Jamaica), John Kotzé (Zimbabwe), Oscar Bonilla (Uruguay), among many others with varying aesthetic and connotative results. To this group I should add Raquel Schwartz (Bolivia), Akimbode Akibinyi (Nigeria) and Pedro Abascal (Cuba) for their photographies of popular markets and street show windows, fragments of the landscape of the city joined together by the visual aspect of consumption in peripheral countries.

Other proposals surpassed their representations as mere settings, territories or sceneries, and focused on the – social, ecological, environmental, cohabitational – conflicts of the contemporary orb, the microcosms and cultural imaginaries and transformations of some cities. The Brazilians Cinthia Marcelle and Eduardo Srur exposed facets of the urban reality through questioning comments: The former, through a video showing the acrobatics unemployed youths in the streetlights of the city are forced to do in order to make a living; the latter, through another video conveying a refusal of the fictitious ideal of the ad walls by detonating explosives on the faces of their mo-dels. Housing problems and social exclusion were dealt with by Yenniffert Becerra from Chile with the hand-made lightness of installations made with cord. The popular latino taste reverberates in the allegories of the ambient of the techno-cumbia in the photographies of Ecuadorian Miguel Alvear; the lyrics of the boleros and the kitsch style of the “streetwalkers” reflect the male preferences in certain circles. The alternation of highly over-dimensioned faces in close-up – highlighting the ethnic traits of the Haitian population – with big color landscape photographies of street corners in Port au Prince of emblematic third world characteristics strengthens the recursiveness of this kind of homologation, used under an aura of exoticism by some books and magazines of ethno-geographical character. A peculiar use of perspective to reinforce an opposite reading is seen in the pairs of photo-graphies of the American born Chinese Sze Tsung Leong – a framing that makes the drastic changes taking place in the transformation of the suburbs of the Asian country into organized residential areas more conspicuous. The environmental problems were well-represented by Eder Santos from Brazil and by the BGL Group from Canada. The former, with a video-installation about the environmental damage caused by the extermination of plant life, showing birds forced to stand on the wires of public lighting because of the lack of trees, and the Canadians, on the lethal effects of pollution staged through the death of a man that transforms himself into a car: a pool of oil on the floor as if it were a pool of blood, pouring from a black car in whose interior a flame in the motor points at the hydrocarbon as its cause. Although to a lesser extent, other relevant topics were dealt with in the Biennial: The non-identity, the radical transformation of the territories and the internalization of cultures brought about by the tourism-related housing investments in the Canary Islands gave life to Javier Camarasa’s proposal, a video installation in two bodies, one of which consisted on enjoyable songs of prodigal irony.

Michele Magerma (Democratic Republic of Congo): Good by Rosa, 2006
PHOTO: Centro Wilfredo Lam Publications Staff

The Cuban representation was heterogeneous with respect to the importance and symbolic potential of the works, and in my opinion the works that stood out were those taking up subjects that were new or seldom dealt with, some of them with explicit reference to concrete social problems, and others with a more elliptical treatment of reflections of almost worldwide span. Alejandro González’s black and white photographies belong to the first group: they draw the attention to the conduct of those marginal beings – alcoholics, freaks, travesties, etc – meeting at dusk in Havana’s malecón. The most original works were those contributed by Eduardo Ponjuan and Edgard Hechevarria. The fragility of commercial relations and China’s outstanding position within the world market constitutes the essence of Ponjuan’s proposal, materialized in the relationship established between the title of each work and the full-size display of huge wrappers of Yutong locomotives from that country arriving to Cuba. Hechevarria on his part brought up a topical issue: the obstacles to the extraction of energy, a source of progress, through the interplay of a row of turnstiles to control the circulation of the public across the hall and the large scale projection of a video on a wall reproducing electric windmills in crescendo, always spinning in the same direction.

Except for Ponjuan’s proposal, which was shown at the Casona, the selection of the commented works, even those from Cuba, were exhibited at the Fortaleza de la Cabaña, whose spaces sheltered about 70 % of a total of 152 works presented. However, there were some pavilions in this colonial-style location where regrettable mistakes of museological character, of disposition and quality of the proposals, and even of their suitability to the space were noticeable. Such was the case of Cuba-Brazil, a project of public and communitarian character representing a form of action with a socially inserted orientation – emasculated by inconvenient interventions – having as a main tool of expression the art of spraying, whose traits of graffiti, expressionistic configurations, kitsch and media elements for open spaces and street walls resulted grotesque and completely inapropiated for that space. Another case is Arquivo Brasilia, a collection of photographies whose testimonial value was eroded by the precarious treatment and presentation by the Berlin curators who provided the proposal. Other shortcomings were produced due to production problems, the repetition of bi-dimensional formats due to the abundance of photographies and videos in a narrow space such as the aisles at La Cabaña, and to substitutions of works, as in the case of Pablo River from Chile, an artist who has achieved international prestige thanks to his ambiguous objects and minimalistic sculptures – some of architectonic format – for public spaces, being this the reason why he was invited, but he couldn’t take the works with him because of the lack of resources. For the same reason we couldn’t show the excellent work of the Africans Gonzalo Mabunda from Mozambique and Samuel Fosso, from the Central African Republic, who were selected because of their ironic transculturation of cultural respectively constructive archetypes: Mabunda (2) by his versions of the Eiffel Tower, park benches and other sculptures made with weapons, in a direct reference to colonialism’s robbery and plunder, and Fosso with his self-portraits in which he, through the camouflage of his own image, recreates genres, prestige positions and professions by the imitation of Western attitudes and poses.


Shirin Neshat (Iran-USA): Zerin, 2005. Video

The concentration and preeminence of videos – digital installations, photographies and prints – at La Cabaña wasn’t sufficiently balanced with other visual manifestations and grammars: sculptures, objects, installations and outdoor works that could have brought a necessary variety of ideas and attraction to this market-like space. On one hand, this result evidenced the importance given by the artists and their mastering of video- and technological tools while dealing with works of critical-conceptual character, a discursive approach which has given this event fame for being self-reflecting(3). On the other hand, it went against our original purpose of making more room for the artistic typologies that promote citizens’ participation as a way of activating the bridges between art and life: workshops, process-oriented and transdisciplinary projects with character of spectacles – aims that acted as our conceptual compass and at the same time, the tactical devices intended to carry out our ideas. But, let’s look at the reasons why the Ninth Biennial could not be implemented as it was intended.

From the beginning it was conceived as based on workshops and process-oriented works, or at least this kind of works playing a fundamental role in it – an idea which was born out of the success of the Isaroko Workshop at the lot of La California, as well as the intervention project Mover las Cosas in 14 apartments in a building at Alamar during the Eighth Biennial – the Ninth was very soon forced to desist from that (original) platform almost at the organizational stage. On one side, during the curators’ study trips in order to preselect the list of participants to the Biennial, it was detected that the works conceived for gallery spaces still prevailed in many countries. On the other, carrying out workshops, projects on the spot and the so-called “actions” - a typo-logy in which the contextual aspects play a fundamental role – demanded a longer stay of the artists or artists’ collectives in Havana, or at least more than one visit to the country. They argued in favor of the need of more knowledge about the Cuban reality in order to work on adequate meanings for their actions and, in the case of the works on the spot, for the (knowledge about) the particularities of the space to intervene in order to get inspiration from or to adapt their proposals to it, but our budget wasn’t big enough for that.

This last factor, together with obstacles deriving from existing urban regulations, and the reticence (or refusal) from the authorities with decision power upon the use of public buildings and spaces in the capital’s municipalities to accept artistic proposals destined to the streets due to their difficulties to assimilate the codes and languages of contemporary art, forced us to abandon the idea of conceiving the Biennial as parting from a structure based on public actions and workshops.

Shirin Neshat (Iran-USA): Zerin, 2005. Video

Also, because of budgetary – or sponsor-related – reasons, we were forced to do without the participation of interdisciplinary proposals closely connected with the principles of the spectacle, which would have diversified the linguistic models and would have illustrated the dynamics of urban cultures, giving color and a profile of renewal to the event as it was first intended. Those were NORTEC from Tijuana (at the border between Mexico and the US) and Caja Lúdica from Guatemala. To this two I would add the Parade of Instituto de Moda Bivril from Caracas, based on fashion designs of street wardrobe and urban prototypes created by the designers of that institute, a show that was intended to have a rap music background and the participation of “real” street counterparts to the professional models wearing the clothes: the street vendor, the student, the waiter, the construction worker, in order to propitiate an unusual confrontation between creation and reality.

In spite of such absences that affected the thematic conception of the event, 49 countries participated in the Ninth Biennial (a somewhat larger number than in previous editions). Apart from the openings, the program of the first week was composed by the Workshop on Alternative Wardrobe, the theoretical symposium organized under the title Forum Idea 2006 and the cycle Ciudad Video. Other sites of the Biennial were also the Cuba Pavilion – a space where some of the activities of the Workshop on Alternative Wardrobe were held – and several institutions at Old Havana where the works of the special guests were exhibited: the Wilfredo Lam Center, the Casa de México, the Villena Gallery, the Fototeca de Cuba, the Hispanic-American Cultural Center, and the Salón Blanco at the San Francisco cloister.

The process-oriented and/or on-the-spot projects concentrated around Old Havana, although few, they fulfilled our expectations and arose the attention of the public. The Salón Blanco [White Hall] showed the work of the French artists Anne and Patrick Poirier, and of the Catalonian artist Antoni Miralda. The Poirier’s project, A new white project for a white planet at the White Hall is a classic example of a work on the spot made for an indoors space, exclusively made for the Havana Biennial. Paradigmatic in the production of large scale models since the beginnings of the art of installation – a genre in which their pioneering role in the 70s is acknowledged – the Poiriers confess the inspiring force of memory as a founding detonator for their works as well as their historical roots in the memories of their devastated home town after the World War II, an always renewed experience depending on the context and place undergoing the intervention. According to the artists, the proposal emerged from the creative integration of natural local referents to the futuristic fiction of the white city of a planet discovered on the year 3235. The oval silhouette of the leaf of a tree in the Cloister served as a plane for the futuristic city while the white and dusty nature of sugar – a product that represents our main national industry – covered and formed the topography of the planet. Satellite-like structures and other buildings based on spheres and flattened domes resembling flying saucers in polyethylene and transparent plastic functioned as by then already vanished buildings, houses and skyscrapers. Facing this macro-installation, a wide tower made with plastic bottles similar to the Coliseum, established a confrontation between past and present architectonic archetypes.

Javier Camarasa (España). Sun and buiding/ 2003. Video

Another macro-installation, the itinerant, process-oriented and collective project Sabores y Lenguas of Antoni Miralda(4), occupied the other part of the hall. Through the provoking visual characteristics of the “Eat-Art”, and aware of the traditional and identity-oriented character of cuisine culture and of the extent to which its invocation can counter the homogenizing action of globalization, Miralda succeeds in achieving the spectators’ active participation, who besides are stimulated by the presence of everyday elements of their gastronomic culture among the exhibited items. The sections composing the installation were: combo mix, urban cuisine topography, linguistic wall paint, city tongues, and the Latin American imaginary dinner service are reformulated according to the realities of each of the thirteen Spanish-speaking cities where the project is exhibited. In Havana, the displayed cases exhibited separately small size paintings of “tongues stabbed through by a dagger” (a local symbol referring to calumniation), household objects of everyday used in the Cuban kitchens, from simple hand-made imitations to those industrially produced, plus the basic set of consumption goods guaranteed to the population through the ration book – all these being very familiar objects to a public who enjoyed seeing them exhibited as museum objects. Two huge tongues, one from Latin America and the other one from Havana, composed of photographies of typical dishes from each city, revealed the gastronomic preferences and taste buds of the various places, complemented by photos of coffee shops, peasant markets and restaurants. Meanwhile, the blackboard on which the public wrote sayings and phrases associated with food and its symbols, and the dishes placed on the ground to form a giant tongue – of which a part were dishes used in exhibitions in other cities, and the rest had been gradually intervened by the artists and the public – gave the project the participatory and “in-progress work” character we were interested in.

In a small annex space to the Salón, the Berlin-resident Norse Sissel Tolaas showed Havana mi amore, an interactive project that is part of her studies on the smells of each city. The impossibility of making a reconnaissance trip in order to know the smells the people of Havana identified as belonging to their city forced her to re-adapt the project. She brought with her jars with the smells with which Berliners “imagine” Havana: sea, tobacco, coffee and sweat (the latter impregnating a wall that was activated by touch). Meanwhile, the “real” smells were brought by the audience from Havana, who wrote them down on sheets of paper placed on a table for that purpose.

Ibrahim Miranda: Catharsis / Installation - PHOTO: Ximena Narea

One block away, in an ambient constructed as a movie theater, at the Fototeca de Cuba, the work Zarín was presented, one of the last videos of the renowned artist Shirin Neshat. Inspired by the novel by Sharhnush Parisupur “Women without men”, the film confirms the re-orientation of her films towards a more emphatic, agile and powerful work with the narrative sequence in substitution of her previous accent on visual symbolism insisting once again upon her subject of interest: the conflicts of women in Arab cultures and societies. The shame, horror and psychic suffering of a young woman who has been forced to make a living as a prostitute, the alienation caused by submission to a situation without escape are masterly directed, from the beginning of the short film, intensifying the dimension of the conflict in the protagonist’s behavior in various situations. An approach to a dilemma and a cultural reality that do not seem to even have been “touched” by the worldwide spread of Western culture.

Among the projects of urban intervention I would like to highlight Havana Gold by the Fa+ duo from Sweden, composed by Ingrid Falk and Gustavo Aguirre. It consisted of covering the lids of manholes, sidewalks, drains and trashcans in a block of the San Ignacio street with golden paper, as a way of magnifying and calling the attention upon the functional elements of the public streets not sufficiently noticed compared to the care dispensed to those of decorative character in Colonial Havana. Relatively near, on an abandoned lot between two buildings, the Cuban Rigoberto Mena presented his project Convivencia, a term that sums up his intention of making art live together with reality by placing his proposal right in the middle of reality: the walls of the city. Impeccable photographies reproduced the ruinous appearance of the walls they hung on. In front of them, big metal plates were the support of his pictorial abstractions about the passing of time on those walls, while those on the background superimposed to their condition of “abstract walls” several electricity meters – the real object.

Havana Gold suffered a fate similar to Espacio Móvil: Caracas-Havana, an intervention on buss stops with giant digital photographies reproducing images from Caracas: their exhibition lasted a very short time. Other proposals for the urban space were carried out under the established terms. Museo Peatonal, an itinerant institution created by a duo composed by a Mexican and a Dominican artist and successively presented in various zones of the city, the action El Arte Purifica, of the Cuban Carlos Montes de Oca with the collaboration of the street cleansing enterprise Aurora, and the art interventions of a bus and two “camels” - appellative given in Cuba to a means of public transportation whose structure imitates the back of the famous animal – the first one as part of the project Espacio Móvil: Caracas-Havana, and the other two carried out by the artists Guillermo Ramíez Malberti from Cuba and Guarací Gabriel from Brazil, respectively. The intervened vehicles still circulate the streets of Havana in that condition.

Old Havana gathered the exhibitions with the largest number of visitors: those at the Salón Blanco, Cartele at the Villena Galery and Spencer Tunick, at the Wilfredo Lam Center. The affluence of visitors to the exhibition of street signs selected by the three Argentinean designers members of the Cartele art collective showed the importance of humor and the absurdity of communicational enterprises. For us, however, the invitation of Cartele fulfilled other objectives: to give importance to the popular street culture in relation to the standardized advertisement. The photographies of Spencer Tunick from USA, recording naked multitudes in public spaces of various cities shocked the public and illustrated the performatic and massive character of the citizens’ participation in the process of his work. It must be made clear that his invitation to Havana never contemplated the realization of photographies of that kind in Cuba; however, many of the attendants expressed their disposition to take part in those (human) landscapes unified by nudity, a condition that reduces them to their natural condition: that of human beings.

Mariano Molina (Argentina): Cut, 2006. Wall painting
PHOTO: Centro Wilfredo Lam Publications Staff

Works of sophisticated manufactures as Tunick’s photographies living side by side with a collection of improvised street signs representing the popular culture, explain the curatorial principles of this Biennial giving the same importance to both expressions, without regard to their visual universe. In their character of collective projects we invited Omni Zona Franca and Jaimanitas, “living” expressions of our own urban culture, of peripheral and alternative character, and which would be pointless to exhibit in a place different from where the work emerges and exists. The underground nature and the popular character of an ambient work usually taking place at the level of the barrio were not arguments against their inclusion, since the first biennials gave space and acknow-ledged to popular culture as a part of the contemporary culture of the now extinct Third World, an edition now dedicated to the urban cultures should not fail to notice phenomena such as Omni and Jaimanitas.

Omni is a kind of cultural product emerging in a peripheral barrio, Alamar, from the pulsations of its eve-ryday life and from a life philosophy expressed through the precariousness of the recyclable object, the irreverence of rap music and the mural paintings, but also through the use of video and digital tools. Jaimanitas on their part are an example of artistic work in the benefit of a community after 10 years of existence under which the facades, roofs and walls of their buildings have been invaded by fantasies of José Fuster’s naive style of Gaudian trademark in collaboration with his neighbors. This “guajiro [Cuban pea-sant] from the coast” as he calls himself, has given ceramics, particularly the mosaic, an unprecedented constructive-decorative quality by endowing his rural and maritime allegories built with those materials with functional ends. During the Biennial he inaugurated a pu-blic mural painting based on mosaics intervened by a group of Cuban artists invited by him.

Anne & Patrick Poirier (France): A new white project for a new white planet in the White Room. 2006. Installation
PHOTO: Ximena Narea

At the antipodes of these universes of local culture and their constructive enclaves, we find the work of Jean Nouvel, the internationally renowned architect winner of important awards (5) and considered as one of the most important in the world. The four walls of the Hispanic-American Cultural Center were covered up to the roof with a huge retrospective collage – a photographic overview of his monumental architectonic work up to the present, including never executed projects. The public visiting at the opening day could enjoy a dissertation of Nouvel, who in front of his works explained why “contemporary architecture should value context,” “the architecture of light” and the impact of this element through the finely tuned complementation of material, technical innovations and constructive locations, together with other criteria underlying his Louisiana Manifesto, reproduced in large scale on the floor as a part of the exhibition. In an interview with the critic Andrés Abreu, Nouvel defines architecture as “the most visible face of art, because we can find it in the streets...” That is why we considered appropriate the participation of an architect whose legacy has enriched and transformed the physiognomy of several cities: consider Barcelona and its Agbar Tower, Copen-hagen and its building of the Philharmonic Orchestra, and Nantes and its Court of Law...

The gathering of an ample representation of international works on various subject-related topics, local works, some projects on the spot, “living” experiences of our urban culture and the ultra-modern achievements of an architect of world-wide recognition as Jean Nouvel, is the best way of attaining an unbiased encompassing of the diversity of urban cultures, their interconnections, their common aspects and their contrasts. Once again the Biennial established its stance through the curatorial selection, in spite of the precariousness of some projects, the excess of bi-dimensional works and the disproportionate, respectively inappropriate, space given to some topics conspiring against the artistic level of the event and blurring its general reading. Although the above explained difficulties made it impossible to develop a curatorial work that would be more invasive of the urban space, it is nevertheless true that this Biennial increased its public thanks to an unprecedented work of diffusion in the media. As well as the laudable effort of design and edition of the Catalog in charge of a team at the institution – a task not being carried out in Cuba since the Third Biennial.

Anne & Patrick Poirier (France): A new white project for a new white planet in the White Room. 2006. Installation
PHOTO: Ximena Narea

The same can be said about the theoretical symposium Forum Idea 2006: Attended by key figures of international thought, and (lesser- or non-internationally renowned) lecturers, who from their respective fields and perspectives contributed with substantial reflections to the analysis of contemporary transna-tional, regional and local experiences on the subject. There is much to be said about the various lectures of the program, but I would like to at least highlight those dealing with instructive proposals of discourses contrary to the hegemonic narratives, both on known artistic typologies and on art works of recent production.

The operation of situating on a plane of equality the axis of “north and south”, and with it their respective problems and utopias or, which is the same, the equal recognition of works from our regions with those originated in the First World on the subject, would be the strategy that would sustain the thesis of this Biennial. In this sense, we have achieved our goal.

CARTELE (Gastón Siberman, Machi Mendieta & Esteban Seimandi, Argentina) Installation 2006
PHOTO: Ximena Narea


1 Sánchez Prieto, Margarita: “Fragmentos de Arte y Vida en la Octava Bienal”. Atlántica, Islas Canarias, Nr. 34, winter 2004, pp. 20-30
2 Mabunda’s work arrived almost at the end of the event, a few days before its closure.
3 This is not an isolated case. We know of some noticeable examples of recent production in some countries of Latin America. Also in the last edition of the Show of Contemporary Art in Havana we could notice a tendency towards greater and more efficient use of video in works of neo-conceptual character.
4 Antoni Miralda has a vast trajectory in which his experiences in commercial photography, fashion, object art, actions and performances intertwine towards the production of large scale works of public and international transcendence. Remember his tour of the streets of Paris with a copy of the Victory of Samotracy covered with little white soldiers as a protest against the Vietnam War, and the symbolic celebrations of Christopher Columbus marriage with the Statue of Liberty in various nations through the union of various objects in the same huge scale of those figures.
5 Among others, the Grand Prix d¨Architecture from 1987, the Special Mentions of the Aga Khan and the Equerre d¨Argent prices.



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