Documents in Sala Discontinua, the exhibition by Celia and Yunior and Ricardo Miguel Hernández
Photo: Miguel Hernández courtesy Celia and Yunior

Created by art duo Celia and Yunior and artist Ricardo Miguel Hernández, Sala Discontinua (Discontinuous Room) explores an alternate history of Cuba in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through overlooked documents of those times. In a quick email interview, Celia and Yunior talk about the exhibition, which opens tomorrow at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales (The Center for the Development of the Visual Arts, or CDAV) in La Habana Vieja.

How would you describe the concept of Sala Discontinua? What themes are you exploring?

Sala Discontinua is a project that deals with fragments of microhistory of the island from the 19th to the first half of the 20th centuries. We’re trying to display fragments of the social, economic, and emotional history that—not being part of the major historical accounts—remain dispersed in family drawers and trading circuits in the city. Pieces of a patrimony that we try to connect with fragments of a present that reveals itself to us anew. The project assembles five kinds of elements: letters of transit and registries of slaves; passports with visas to or from Cuba; checks, deeds, account statements; postcards and photos; and scholarship medals from various educational centers. Each of these items focuses on topics of interest today in the island: migratory mobility, economic diversification, and the restoration of civic virtues, among others.

Another view of documents in Sala Discontinua
Photo: Miguel Hernández courtesy Celia and Yunior

How did you conceive the installation of these elements?

We use the concept of “sala discontinua” as a reference to the museum space and at the same time to the chaotic and random manner in which these fragments of our history circulate. It’s a space that has no chronological order or interest in explaining history as a hermetic and unilateral process. Rather, it has a higher grade of porosity.

Documents in detail, from Sala Discontinua
Photo: Miguel Hernández courtesy Celia and Yunior

The project concludes with a group of installations that mix together various elements: the documents previously mentioned and some household furnishings from the home of friends. All are arranged in the space in such a way to make it seem like an ergonomic approximation of these pieces of history. In some cases, we make a clear reference to ways in which we normally coexist with documents used in the project. In other cases, they resemble the spaces where we develop the process of research, or where we encounter some of the documents used in the installations. The room will remain illuminated by rechargeable lamps, such as those we use in our homes during power cuts. This is a decision that refers to the way we relate to these pieces of our history, referencing the fragmentation, the micro, and the scarcity of light.

A passport from the early 20th century, included in Sala Discontinua
Photo: Miguel Hernández courtesy Celia and Yunior

Sala Discontinua is a collaboration between the two of you and Ricardo Miguel Hernández. Is this your first collaboration with him? How did you come to work on this together?

It’s a collaboration where we all three participated, from the conception to the practical decisions of how to organize all the elements in the final exhibition space. It’s the first time the three of us have done a project together, although we’ve been united by a grand friendship for many years. Ricardo Miguel has worked with photography and video in the contemporary scene on the island, and one day he mentioned to us his interest in doing a project that would involve an alternative circulation of the city’s patrimony, and his desire to work with us. From that moment we began to meet, and after several work sessions, we came up with Sala Discontinua. We had the concept and during the open call for CDAV Studio 21 grant applications, we presented our proposal to the jury. It was one of the winners in 2012.

A permit to transport slaves, included in Sala Discontinua
Photo: Miguel Hernández courtesy Celia and Yunior

Can you comment on some of the elements in the exhibit? For instance, the passport and the permit to transport slaves.

In the case of the passport, it belongs to one of the installations that groups various of these documents with a visa to Cuba or from the island to other countries. Whereas the permit for the transfer of slaves is part of an installation that lays out the search for Ricardo Miguel’s spiritual great-grandfather in the registries of freedmen, police reports, claims against owners, and transit permits. It’s a search that tries to find some trace, beyond the esoteric, of the existence of Miguel García Mendivia.

Sala Discontinua runs through March 7 at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales in Havana. Also opening tomorrow night, February 7, at the Centro: Cómo es lo que es, a double show of painters Osvaldo González and Francisco A. Vives (Jim). The reception begins at 7 p.m.