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

PHOTO: Centro Wilfredo Lam Publications Staff


Dannys Montes de Oca Moreda

As in each one of its previous editions since 1984, the Havana Biennial has, trough a gradual process of research, oriented itself to dignify, on the face of the modern and Western institution of Modern Art, the often “non-artistic” character of a fair share of the third World’s production on that field. However, or perhaps thanks to it, the apparently antagonistic paths of the Western and of the non-Western have been converging during the last years, harmonizing models resulting from a late modernity with the plurality and sense of strangeness produced by actions that are increasingly harder to contextualize whitin the traditional framework of the arts. It is about signs emerging as well from dynamics that are internal to the arts as from processes of confrontation in the spheres of the social and of the cultural, in which irrupt modalities of representation aiming at a reemergence of utopias of citizen’s participation. The city, then, imposed itself in the subject of Dynamics of Urban Culture.

But, if other biennials have dealt with the subject of the city, its architecture, its urban-environmental dimension, its role as a background for art actions, as a setting, or as a site evoked in representations, in Havana it becomes a topography to be traveled, detec-ting nodes, penetrating crevices and discovering dynamics of interaction transcending the privileged re-ferent of the artistic object without excluding it. Those horizons aim at emphasizing mobility and the element of the public in art in its everyday interactions. It is not about an affected urban typicality, found and sublimated by art. Neither is it the energy emanating from the nexus art-city-life praxis. It isn’t even the pretense to find an ideal – albeit in perennial movement – model of the city. It is above all about an exploration in terms of contributions to and of confrontation with the lived cultural space. Dynamics of Urban Cultures as the central subject of this Havana Biennial 2006, showed expressions of life and culture related to urban contexts, their processes of confluence, hybri-dization, multiculturalism and transformation, and it was accompanied as every year by a theoretical forum, the Idea 2006 Forum, which took place March, 30th , 31th and April 1st 2006 at the theater of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, with morning and afternoon sessions. With the participation of a prestigious group of thinkers, artists, curators and experts of the world of contemporary art, and their interventions were published in the volume Forum Idea 2006, 9na Bienal de la Habana.

If the Biennial, its body of exhibitions and workshops, focused on the aspect and construction of the visual in its urban dynamics, Forum Idea 2006 inserted itself into the historical, sociological, critical and productive mechanisms, as well as the new ideological models generated by them – a number of interconnected subjects pertaining to the relationship between today’s art with phenomenon such as cultural anthropology, the construction and de-construction of the urbanism and the environmen, its relationship with the institution of artistic culture, the new technologies and the new media, etcetera.

If on one side, the (post-colonial and postmodern) cities have left their original processes of configuration exposed linked to historical processes of internalization of culture and to internal demographic flows as well as their conflicts, contradictions, derangements and unsolved utopias within a conventional urban and architectonic structure with little possibility of change, new needs and emergencies; on the other, art has been increasingly preoccupying itself for them, as if reclai-ming not only a necessary gaze, but emphasizing its links of belonging. A city (or cities) in historical and political decline; other, reinvented cities of the future conformed from within experience.

With reference to the city, the Ecuadorian Rodolfo Kronfle, in his analysis of the art of Guayaquil commented processes of urban regeneration in the face of which art assumed various critical perspectives, outstanding his critical focus on a deficient infrastructure incapable of offering any answers to the questioning propositions of art, as well as its paradoxical isolation from a social mesh inserted in the spatial participation of the city. Carlos Ossa, in his vision of Santiago de Chile questioned both modernization as a process of extermination of memory or elimination of barbary, characteristic as well as the dictatorial processes of the democratic administrations in Chile. Also with reference to the Latin American space, Joaquín Barriendos makes reference to the existence of a new public, post-citizen space emerging from extreme conditions, limit sceneries of habitability and political emergence. Barrendos exposition used the installation Paracaidista. Av. Revolución No. 1608 bis, as a referent to the Mexican artist Héctor Zamora (also invited to the Biennial) in his parody of the parasitic processes of construction of the poorest urban imaginary of Mexico City, whose parasitic spirit becomes even more extreme by its incorporation to the service structures of the city’s own Carrillo Gil Museum. The criticism of the institutions becomes thus twice as incisive. At the same time, the situation in Dominica was presented by Amparo Chantada through the reaction of Dominican intellectuals towards an urban project for an artificial island in front of the city’s embankment destined to cruiser tourism, which affected the socio-ecological sustainability of the city and turning the local population into victims of a privatizing and exclusionary real-state project. The project of the artificial island Novo Mundo XXI was aborted thanks to the efforts and legal struggles sustained by a civic movement composed of activist city dwellers, intellectuals and artists.

The city as a space of representation was selected by Teresa de Arruda who talked about a group of artists from Brasilia, a city that, however well-planned and meticulously built, has to breach its own norms under the influence of human needs, and where art has reflected the organic quality of those streams. She puts forward a similar point of view when, in reference to Havana, she says that the city gives a first impression of staying still in time, when the city and its inhabi-tants in the last years actually have developed an unmatched agility in their way of life and their solutions to their problems. Or, when she talks about a city such as Berlin, in which art’s behavioral codes, although stemming from the dynamics of everyday life, develop in a random fashion without detailed foreseeing. The author’s hypothesis seems to be grounded on the idea that cities, once projected, acquire a life of their own, derived from their own internal movements; hence that beyond the analogies of a simultaneous and globalized existence, it is their fluxes, emanations and contingencies what qualify and differen-tiate contemporary orbs, and that is why studies of this kind owe more to a registry of their becoming than of that of their original condition. Likewise, the Uruguayan artist guest of the Biennial, Jacqueline Lacasa, offered her work-conference-performance Para una ciudad sin nombre where she, after a de-construction of the contemporary city, offered the perspectives, horizons and dreams of various social sectors in their transformation. Hard facts, surveys and graphics were the representational instruments of this new and – why not? - future city.

In the same direction, although more oriented towards global problems than those of representation, works such as those by Raúl Frerrera Balanquet (Cuba-Mexico), and Mary Jane Carrol (Canada) were presented which penetrated into the charting of habitational flows. For Raúl Ferrera, it had to do with the analysis of the new kinds of physical and virtual movements, and the spatial transformations of orbs such as Mérida and Los Angeles, and of showing the trans-local connexions between those two cities. Besides common colonial origins, trans-migratory metropolis such as Mérida-MX and Los Angeles-Aztlán have developed psychosocial and functional resources that make them once again to subsist as reciprocal mirages of each other. Mary Jane Carrol’s lecture considered the processes of migration and population density between the cities of the first world and those in the periphery, and the way in which they interfere and diversify the sphere of the artistic. In her analysis, the author compared the origins of certain migratory states in function of their economies and the symbolic exchange with later levels of development of those local productions ( in the case of Cuba and Argentina ) putting the ambiguity of an exchange in the spotlight situation that, if giving positive results in terms of cultural survival, or of that international exchange between the cultures, places in a disadvantageous position certain practices which – still today – appear as debtors to the developed First World. When and how could we see a history of art appear from this other side? When and how would the art of developing countries be acknowledged as a pioneering place in the development of some aesthetic tendencies promoted by the West? Those were some of the questions raised by the author.

The dissertation of the French curator Nicolás Bourriaud showed, however, a possible answer to the question of migrations and displacements by posi-ting that “the time has come to re-compose the mo-dern in the present, of re-configuring it in the specific context we live in, without by it experimenting a feeling of going backwards.” In that direction, he introduced the idea of the radiant artist – an artist who traverses a new modernity which means, passion for the present, risk-taking to seize the occasion, relativism of concepts, and fluidity of action. The modern parting from globalization and its economic, political and cultural aspects says the author, allows us to acknowledge that, the more contemporary art integrates the heterogeneous plastic vocabularies from various non-western visual traditions, the more visible result the distinctive traits of a globalized culture.

Likewise, other three dissertations were made at the Forum on symbolic productions associated with the subject by the U.K. based Argentinean Gabriela Salgado, the Cuban Magali Espinoza and the Spa-niard Santiago Olmo. The first one was focused on the results of today’s artistic practices and their relationship with contemporary migrations that produce elements of convergence, divergence or friction between cultures, and the socio-cultural circuits where they are produced, and the “non-original” condition of the “radicant” artist (to use Bourriaud’s term). In the case of the Mad for Real duo composed since the 80’s U.K. resident Chinese Artists Cai Yuan and JJ Xi. The author tells us that “the strategies of insertion of the content into the public sphere of such a paradoxically conservative society as the U.K., with its irreverently humoristic content and its dry criticism of all systems, provides expectations that critical thinking will continue to tend bridges for the communication between cultures”. For Magali Espinoza, who analyzes a group of young contemporary Cuban artists, we are facing a dynamic that problematizes the interstices of the relationships between the global and the local as a dialog between totality and fragmentation which, with the predominance of the electronic communication media, migratory movements and the existence of new social forces without a defined geographical location, a new social mesh emerges full of hybrid cosmo-visions and varied articulations. The project shown by the artist and critic Santiago Olmo about photographic workshops carried out in several African cities dealing, among others, with the issue of globalization, and particularly with the differences in the access to technologies at the root of many inequalities and communicational and expressive handicaps. This dissertation did also call the attention upon the physiognomies of the urban spaces as profiles from which the symbolic imaginaries of each region are constructed.

The recuperation of the ritual and performatic cha-racter the quotidian, are analyzed and re-formulated by Gui Sioui Durand and Richard Martell, when they put forward a “relational”, “situationist” and “contextual” art, be it in the analysis of its historical aspects, or in the particular situation of artistic projects in Quebec. Both authors propose a de-mystifying view of the artistic world, closer to the urban liturgy, more occupied with its own inner movements than with an effort in order to be regarded as museum- or official works. Art still wants to continue being a self-ma-naged space and at the same time to pay tribute to its sources, talking not only in terms of languages, but also amidst social praxis. This perspective is crossed with a differential and comparative study of the communitarian art of the past and the present collaboration art in the voice of the Panamanian artist Humberto Vélez – also living in the U.K. - and with the philosophical and sociological links that the study of subaltern identities makes of art and politics a common territory, as it was formulated in the dissertation of the Brazilian Vera Palamín. Or with originally marginal – or margined – expressions such as graffiti, underground music, tattoo art, and the social dynamic of groups such as juvenile gangs, also dealt with in the dissertations of Celia Maria Antonacci (Brazil) and Zuleiva Vivas (Venezuela).

In this same sense of urban aesthetic radicalism, we sense a militant stream in a network of actions engaged in a renewal of the very Institution of Art, be it from its questioning, subversion and transformation, from its use in its traditional model and conception, or from the new Information Technologies, the new networks for production and consumption, or the new perspectives of social insertion. There were various examples of this new orientation. Zuleiva Vivas herself presented the project Como en la Tele which, organized by two Venezuelan artists, was shown at the Caracas Museum of Fine Arts – a form of transgression of the limits imposed by the traditional art circuits, particularly museums. It is an attempt to act amidst the reorganization of global society and the symbolic markets, inserting varying and non-traditional forms of articulation of the aesthetic and the artistic. The Argentinean artist Fernando Farina, director of the Primera Semana de Arte de Rosario,points in the same direction at a space for confronting the widest audiences in the most unusual places, since the show is about the city museum’s own art collection. Likewise, Jorge Albán from Costa Rica and Lucrecia Cippitelli from Italy, talked about projects of technological character, the one dealing with video- and electronic games, and the other audiovisual media, also known as live media and v-jing, a sort of synesthetics produced between performance, public, ambient and machine, a practice of combinations and symbiosis that creates a meta-narrative of the contemporary world and involves the city, the pop culture, the new media and the visual culture. These projects triggered debates about the functionalities of the practices offered by those media, and their real possibilities to become proposals of an aesthetic dimension. Sussan Lord and Jeanine Marchesault talked about a kind of “cultural flux” in which artistic collectives function as global civic practices in order to generate projects, exchange resources and create a universal mobility.

This level of connectivity uses as its base a technological information network through which it is intended to reactivate the meaning of certain collective utopias that appropriate the cities and make them transcend beyond their limits.

Last but not least, it is important to mention the master dissertations of Hervé Fischer and José Luis Brea. Fischer’s excellent text analyzes, on the one hand, the big cities as super-centers generating electronic media for communication and information transmission; and on the other hand, the web as a virtual urban metaphor, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the processes and dynamics determining those two similar mega-developments. José Luis Brea on his part introduces us to an advanced phase of the cultural exchange – the present – having as a base the e-image, tending not to stay identical to itself and generating, not only an electronic imaginary, but also new ideas about the economy, distribution and exchange of knowledge, as well as the image’s social and communitarian sense.



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