Marianela Orozco, from the video Hipnosis (Hypnosis), 2006
Courtesy Factoría Habana

In El ardid de los inocentes (The Cunning of the Innocents), eight artists–Grethell Rasúa, Renier Quer, Marianela Orozco, Ricardo Miguel Hernández, Néstor Siré, Luis Gárciga, and Celia González and Yunior Aguiar–share their own experiences and reflections as observer-participants in the changing urban landscape of Havana. In Part 2 of our interviews with the artists, Grethell Rasúa, Marianela Orozco, and curatorial associate Yainet Rodríguez join the conversation.

As photographers, videographers, and artists, the artists in El ardid share a vocation for research, anthropology, and sociology. Grethell Rasúa, for example, is interested in searching methodologies and “taking art as a model of cultural understanding.” The vision she reflects in El ardid is a response to her own experience, “to what happens to Cubans in everyday life.”

Grethell Rasúa
Courtesy Grethell Rasúa and Factoría Habana

Rasúa has two works in the exhibition: Cubiertas de deseos (Covered with wishes) and De la permanencia y otras necesidades (Of permanence and other necessities). The first is part of what she calls direct recording: “fragments of some phenomena of reality that have no need to be caused, since they are, by their own contradictory nature, metaphoric. So I bring them into art, respecting their origins and their freshness.”

In an email interview, Rasúa commented on her intention to illustrate a practice that has become commonplace out of economic necessity: the makeshift repair. She presents the improvised improvements that people make to their housefronts: attempts to improve and beautify the building facades by “applying colors over the holes, the filth, the unreclaimable deterioration.”

According to Rasúa, one of the “possible and effective ways to access reality—precisely—is through two aesthetic categories: beauty and its opposite. Both are tools to delve into the broader context and to locate, after anthropological exploration in cultural practices, the most interesting areas, the phenomena where both notions converge. I use aesthetic lenses to select the topic, and its platform to represent, or better to present, reality through metaphor.”

“Relational aesthetics is one of my favorite tools: the gaze of others, their tastes, stories, and perceptions are fundamental for me. When you have multiple approaches to the same context, the topic becomes richer.”

Rasúa’s intention is to archive the history of which she is a part, no matter how silly or normal, right or wrong, contradictory or not it may be. “It´s what happens, and it’s important because it identifies us and links us to a specific era in our cultural history.”

Marianela Orozco
Courtesy Marianela Orozco and Factoría Habana

Marianela Orozco also works with the power of observation. In her eyes, certain people and situations “are presented not as an expression of a context, but for their own value, as fragments of a reality that could be found anywhere in the world.” The Cuban reality, she explains, “then becomes something circumstantial, temporary, marked by the fact of my living and working in Cuba, using what I find at hand.”

The works in the exhibition demonstrate the modification of objects, of urban spaces, and of actions. They show changes with a significant psychological dimension. Why have you decided to work with those suppositions?

Marianela Orozco: The video Hypnosis arose by chance, by watching this person spending long hours at her window looking nowhere. I tried to be part of that gaze, to fuse with it, to experience the same feeling. To find out what I wanted to know, I needed that emotional connection.

Grethell Rasúa: Although the piece De la permanencia y otras necesidades refers to a social attitude, its visual design is accomplished through a performance. Thinking about this piece gives me strength to not give up and move on; it’s turned out to be good advice. To face things unafraid, give love at all costs—these are possible strategies for living live with all those external aggressions that cause us so much pain, saturation, and listlessness. It’s necessary to keep on, to try to not let it defeat us or become what we don’t want to be.

Nestor Siré: I had planned to take my work to the big screen, in the Young Filmmakers Event. Now I try to define how to best place video in a gallery, and to use the space optimally. The dynamics between the work and the spectator change. Totem was featured at the Chaplin movie theater, and underwent transformations when it was presented at Factoría. It is neither better nor worse, just different.

The curator of El ardid takes the honors, because she decided to place Totem vertically rather than horizontally, and we had to re-edit the whole video. It was different. The vertical video is more claustrophobic, which has more to do with the idea of the work. We also worked with the background of the image. The idea to project it, and to present the same image on both sides, also speaks of the intention of documenting events that are not always seen in this duality. People usually know a screen, not what’s behind it.

Luis Gárciga: For me, much of the power of art lies in its capacity to index minuscule stories, the history of subjectivities, the micro-story. And for this, psychology is essential.

What are the characteristics that distinguish you as artists? And how are you linked to previous Cuban art and artists? 

Detail of wall drawing in Renier Quer,  La siesta de la tilapias, 2013
Courtesy Factoría Habana

Renier Quer: This is a question that requires a historical consciousness, or perhaps an analysis of the referents that I’m questioning now—or perhaps am not questioning so much. For previous art and artists, Tonel comes to mind–an excellent draftsman. His solo show was the Factoría exhibition before ours. A huge and spectacular drawing was erased from the wall he was working on, and then came another. Somehow we were linked. Also because we use mediums in which manufactured tools become more apparent, such as drawing and installation art.

Marianela Orozco: I find it very hard to put myself in a perspective from which I can make that kind of comparison.

Grethell Rasúa: Current Cuban art indisputably feeds on previous artistic tradition. I find similarities with the art of the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s—the decade I come from. I also see some differences.

Detail from Grethell Rasúa, Cubiertas de deseos (Covered with Wishes), 2008-2013
Courtesy Factoría Habana

A characteristic of 1980s art that is somehow related to my work is that at that time, art was taken to the street. It was understood that it should reach the masses and become a popular thing. I’ve also touched on topics that gathered momentum during that time, such as society, popular culture, sexuality, institutions, and the art itself. But I’m not interested in changing society through art. I just record, point out, and gather what happens. I relate to people and involve them in the work, in their own voices. The pieces are evidence of the present, poeticized through a combined ethical and aesthetic filter, translated into what is formally and conceptually understood as beautiful, or not. They are collections of data, information, and tastes that can be used by an anthropologist or a sociologist, for an investigation of these times..

Incorporating the idea of immediacy and finding effective methods to achieve it is a creative strategy that I use. What I do is also related to something that prevailed in the 1990s: a taste for the finished, industrially manufactured, aesthetically pleasing object.

Why do you prefer to use technology in your art?

Grethell Rasúa: To collect information, prepare the idea behind a work, to give it a sense of narrative, make it work, share it with the public, and put it into circulation, for me it´s essential to use technological media.

Ricardo Miguel Hernández, from the series Developer, 2012
Courtesy Factoría Habana

Ricardo Miguel Hernández: We use whatever is at hand. I had my darkroom, but every day it became more difficult to get photographic film and paper. There was a moment when I had to switch to digital, which is more accessible and affordable. Sometimes we cannot materially express our ideas, or we have to put our ideas aside until we can get the resources we need. Or we just work with what we have.

Nestor Siré: For a long time I needed to work with the camera on my cell phone, and I still do–in fact, I’m going to keep on doing that. At times it can trigger a work.

Marianela Orozco: I have no preference for any specific media. For me the first and most important thing is what I have to say. Then I choose the best way to express it.

Luis Gárciga: Video helps, in my case, to not “disremember,” and perhaps helps others to remember sociopolitical and socioeconomic cyclical phenomena. At Factoría Habana I’m showing another formal and narrative procedure that starts, in a broader sense, from video conceived as moving image—capable not only of being placed on a flat surface but in a space that can be moved through or touched.

What are your thoughts about the relationship between art and society, or society and art?

Luis Gárciga: The artwork articulates, indicates, comments on, and demonstrates “zones” or ideas that are on the point of being more broadly evident. Then the artwork intellectualizes social events and turns them into a form of essay that simultaneously fictionalizes and documents them.

Yainet Rodríguez (curatorial associate on El ardid): The artist is an interpreter, and many times viewers appreciate experiencing in the artwork a reality, fictional or physical, that makes them feel acknowledged, identified, or interpreted. This evokes feelings and ideas about the urban environment, personal living spaces, individual perspectives, interventions, democracy. We cannot view the artist as a passive entity. Art is completely subjective. More than a reflection of its time, it is another way to create a society.

Grethell Rasúa: For me it is an inseparable duality. I am a social being, trained through art to observe my surroundings, to experience a reality as paradoxical as ours. Art is a filter, a savior:  it has taught me to understand, to support, to grow and be happy with what surrounds me.

El ardid de los inocentes runs through August 24 at Factoría Habana in Havana. Below, Grethell Rasúa’s video Cubiertas de deseos (Covered with Wishes), 2008-2013.