In last November's preview of the Havana Bienal, we talked about Detrás del muro (Behind the Wall), a series of site-specific installations along the Malecón, Havana's oceanside promenade. Now, with the Bienal little more than two months away, Detrás del muro is taking shape in greater detail. In a two-part series, Cuban Art News takes a fresh look at what Bienal visitors can expect to see as they stroll the Malecón.
Organized by the Cuban Arts Project and curated by its director, Juan Delgado Calzadilla, and a team of invited curators, Behind the Wall is an ambitious project. At this point, more than 30 artists-only a handful of them not from the island-are slated to participate, with artworks running from La Punta to the Torreón de San Lázaro, a distance of approximately six kilometers (nearly four miles).
Although the selection process was to some extent predetermined, with many artists being invited to participate, others submitted proposals that were then accepted. "It was a rich, interactive process," says Delgado. "The indispensable criteria for selection was the project's degree of audacity-to the level of poetry-and how expressive it was in its visuality." The selected proposals were then reviewed by a technical team from the Office of the Havana Historian. "Some works had to be changed," says Delgado, "and many were improved. Others, such as Ernesto Fernández's, regrettably could no longer be part of the project." Nevertheless, Delgado is pleased with the final projects. "They have un aliento muy utópico-a very utopian breath," he says. "Their poetics pick up the imposible lezamiano," the sensibility of the great Cuban writer Lezama Lima.
Many of the works have a playful character. Among them are Roberto Fabelo's Garras en la piedra (Claws on the rocks), an installation that has one or more roaring lions emerging from unpredictable places, and Horencio Gelabert's Islas (Islands), which anchors several small, colorful islands offshore, where their silhouettes interrupt the horizon line-"provisionally transforming the eternal image," as the artist puts it. In Aire fresco (Fresh Air), Roberto Fabelo Hung takes a different approach to the ocean vista, placing a billboard-sized image of the view directly in front of the view itself-but studding it with small glaciers and ice floes.
Billboards are a central element in Jorge Wellesley's Efugios (Evasions), which uses them to pose philosophical questions (¿Qué nos inspira? What inspires us?) and bilingual wordplay (Exit and Éxito, Success). Wordplay assumes gigantic proportions in Adonis Floris's Fe, a meditation on the chemical symbol for iron and the Spanish word for faith: the two letters, several stories high, will be fitted to the construction scaffolding in front of a nearby building. In their project La mayor esperanza, una moral sin esquemas (The greatest hope, a morality without plans), Reinier Leyva Novo and Juan Carlos Alóm use t-shirts as the medium for a wide variety of ideological statements, "making dressing a democratic and participatory arena."
Marianela Orozco's Playtime installs a crop of gigantic pinwheels-in Spanish, molinetes de juguete, or toy mills-along the promenade and around town. But there's a more sober dimension to the project. "These molinos, unlike those that transform the wind into usable energy, are destined only to turn uselessly," Orozco writes. "Although constantly in motion, this is a piece that speaks of immobility, of remaining always in the same place, each rotating on its own axle, following the rules of a game that never ends." On a more practical note, Inti Hernández's Banco Todos (de la serie Lugares de Encuentro) (Bench All, from the Encounter Places series) responds to the way most Habaneros use the Malecón-as a place for strolling, sitting, and chatting-with two large circular benches presented under the motto "Con todos, y para el bien de todos" ("With all, and for the good of all"), and a fragment of text from a talk given by José Martí in 1891.
Havana Bienal Preview: "Behind the Wall," Part TwoIn Part One of this two-part series, Cuban Art News spoke with the organizer and chief curator of Detrás del muro (Behind the Wall), the director of the Cuban Arts Project, Juan Delgado Calzadilla, and previewed several of the works in this ambitious public art project, which will take place along Havana's oceanside promenade during the Bienal in May. Here, we continue our advance look at works in Behind the Wall.
A number of artists explore the theme of reaching out beyond the island. In Fly Away, Arlés del Río inscribes the silhouette of a jet plane-either departing or returning-into a length of chain-link fence to explore the relationship of "limitations, distance, what's prohibited" and "the thought of a trip with a return." A small three-dimensional plane is a key element in Iván Arturo Torrez Mariño's Procesos de ausencia (Processes of absence) as well. Esterio Segura's Submarinos hecho en casa (Homemade submarines) has advanced beyond the drawing stage to a fanciful, three-dimensional version that resembles a Batmobile sprouting amphibian fins. In Conexion (Connection), Carlos Montes de Oca envisions a bridge, unattached to any land, floating just beyond the shoreline. And in Sueño de una noche de verano (Dream of a summer night), Alejandro González gives voice to the frustration that many Cubans feel about the island's limited internet service. Projecting images of wi-fi antennas over nearby buildings, he says is an attempt "to represent an icon of the collective Cuban imagination: "eso salió en internet" (that went out on the internet).
Several participants in Behind the Wall are well-known figures on the international art fair and biennial circuits, including Duvier del Dago, Alexandre Arrechea, and Yoan Capote, three of the artists who represented Cuba in last year's Venice Biennale (the first to feature a Cuban pavilion). Arrechea is presenting Nadie escucha (No one listens), a sculpture that debuted last year at the Dublin Contemporary event. Capote's Stress is a monumental column of concrete blocks, each one resting on a thin layer of bronze depicting human teeth. Although it had its origins in the artist's own experiences with bruxism-involuntary teeth-grinding-Capote calls the piece a "metaphor for the human capacity to resist the pressures of contemporary urban life." For his contribution, del Dago takes a more historical approach, replicating one of the ancient cannons sitting atop Moro Castle out of papier-maché. María Magdalena Campos-Pons is scheduled to present a performance piece as well.
Perhaps the most existential work in Behind the Wall is Rachel Valdés's Realidad (Happy Ever After), which will install an immense mirror across from the water's edge-in effect putting the viewer "between two oceans" for a different way of experiencing the Malecón. "Suddenly, the city is lost and transformed into the sea," she writes, "as we are trapped in our own lives, with no other exit than to simply keep going." At night, the experience changes completely-"The sea disappears in darkness, and you can encounter your own reflection in the middle of nothingness. It is an interpretation of a conscious physical state: that of a human being in the universe, and the conflict that exists between the objective and the subjective."
Detras del muro is not the first art project to be sited along the Malecón. In 2004, for instance, Cafeterías del Malecón, a series of five ephemeral restaurant structures designed by Cuban artists, were presented as part of that year's Architecture Biennial. (One of them, Ángel Ramírez's gothic-cathedral fantasia, is still standing and, despite the occasional ocean pounding, still functions as a café.) And of course, the city's famed carnival, with its colorful costumes, floats, and music, takes place there every July. But Detras del muro may be the most ambitious public art project yet to appear along the Malecón. It opens on May 11, along with the Bienal itself. And although there may be a public concert to celebrate it, for now, says Delgado, "we are focused on the project first."