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.

Proposal illustration for Inti Hernández, Banco Todos (from the series Lugares de Encuentro). Courtesy of Cuban Arts Project

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.

Next week: The survey of Detrás del muro continues.