In May, Cuban Art News wrote about a new group show at Factoría Habana: El ardid de los inocentes (The Cunning of the Innocents). As the show nears its August 24 close, we return for a series of quick interviews with the curator and artists.
“The subversion of uses, changes of signs, paradoxes, and expectations in El ardid de los inocentes relate to the same oppositions existing in our society,” says curator, Onedys Calvo. She describes the eight artists in the show—Grethell Rasúa, Luis Gárciga, Nestor Siré, Renier Quer (Requer), Ricardo Miguel Hernández, Marianela Orozco, and Celia González and Yunior Aguiar—as moving “through more or less similar aesthetic or formal patterns.”
The artists—who offered their criteria in person and by email—aren’t part of a single generation, and they live in different places. But they coexist, and assimilate transformations filled with double meanings, which, in an era of reality shows and discarded utopias, point to a crisis of truth. Many findi it difficult to live in the 21st century without questioning the usual “certainties.” It’s more interesting, and more “certain” to head to the street, take a recorder or a notebook, a cell phone, camera, or video, and tell your own story…
“The title that we chose is quite provocative,” says Calvo, “and in itself contains a paradox between innocence and cunning [or ruse], which are somehow opposed. As we were putting together the show, shaping and imagining it, we found similar paradoxes in the works.”
“The artists are prepared, informed, and know what they want to do with their work, maybe not always intellectually, but intuitively. They gather together an anthropological, sociological perspective—that’s more or less obvious.”
“At first, the idea was to include not only Cuban artists. But life is very dynamic, and everything gets reconfigured, doesn’t it? In the end, the exhibition took another path, and what would have been presented as En torno a lo habitacional ended up being called El ardid de los inocentes.”
“Curatorially, our intention first of all was to show the city, the urban context, as an essential pretext. But that has been diluted, because everyone has a unique way of expressing themselves. The city and the individual living space appear as graphs of social attitudes. We wanted to play with expectations and encourage the public to think about these things.”
Talking about the show in Part 1: Luis Gárciga, Ricardo Miguel, Renier Quer, and Nestor Siré
Your visions of Cuban reality—what are they in response to?
Nestor Siré: My works usually do have a primary relationship with the urban context. Mostly because I enjoy moving around the city myself. I get involved in the experiences I capture in my work.”
Luis Gárciga (emailed from Mexico): “The subversion I envisioned was not a personal obsession but a shared concern. Ruralization [of urban spaces in Cuba] is a slow process that is accelerated at times, and at other times goes backwards, but it is palpable, measurable, and commentable. The residents of some Havana neighborhoods have spoken at length about how the city at times mimics rural areas, functionally and morphologically.”
Renier Quer (Requer): When I was asked to participate in this exhibition, I suddenly didn’t know how my work could match up with the urban environment, the city … I thought it would not be consistent with it. But when I got the chance to open the idea a little more, I noticed that there were points in common. I didn’t want to focus on the cracking facades of Old Havana, or the most run-of-the-mill, touristy visions of the city, which are completely overused. I referred to the conceptual precepts of my work, which almost always relate to the symbolic spaces created by people—the mind, fiction—which function as living environments in which individuals develop.”
Tell us about your creative process.
Ricardo Miguel Hernández: I place a lot of importance on formal elements, but I consider myself a bad photographer. Good photographers always go around the streets with their cameras, and always on the lookout for potentially interesting images. Me, no. Sometimes I draw an idea first and then look for what I want the photo to show.
The story behind the gas stations in Developer (2012) was that one day it happened that I wanted to take photos of them, and they said I couldn’t. So I decided to get serious about it…
Requer: I was interested in an environment that almost everyone knows: the zoos. Maybe it was not what people were expecting in an exhibition about the city, but I was captivated by a paradox: If you ask people if there are any bears in the Havana zoo, they won´t know for sure. In fact they are there, but most of the time they hide. In that moment when people expect to see bears, the only thing they actually see are some tilapia swimming in a pond in the bears’ enclosure. They make a friendly atmosphere, and they enable the bears to fish.
In my work the research of real phenomena has been the starting point for creating fictionalized events that form a seemingly incomprehensible story. The exhibition went super-well for me, because I enjoyed the opportunity to draw. I was eager to do that, and I especially wanted to break a bit with the documentary approach that I’d previously been working with. I first thought to interview the zoo guard, as this had been my modus operandi in other works, but it began to seem inadequate. I´ve alternated my work in the visual arts with work in films and comics. I tried to include all that in this work.
I scattered the documentation throughout, narrated in drawings. I managed to weave a story, told in vignettes, or in what has become like a wall-comic. As material, I used what I asked the guard, and what he told me. I always indicate where the story came from. I identify the bear enclosure—it’s a drawing of reality. The story is set in a context, but it almost always contains a great element of suspense. There is a story that deals with infertility, disappearance, paradoxes. They are narrated situations, much in the manner of film. I reinterpret classic scenes from movies like Seven.
In La siesta de las tilapias (2013), when you think you’ve understood everything, you always come to a point that suggests the opposite. Stories make you sail, but you don´t always know where. You don’t arrive at a conclusive truth. It works like an onion—many layers, but the core is empty.
Luis Gárciga: Thanks to extensive sound recording, I processed more than five hours of documentation about the elements involved in the ruralization of Havana—things that make a farm work properly, such as soil, water, fences and boundaries, roads, manual labor, and the development of animal and plant species, planting, and breeding.
Nestor Siré: I don´t arrive to places as an isolated researcher; to some extent my work is self-referential. I’m conducting research that’s quite related to my own life.
There are events that occur in a narrow ambit—not very social, so only those directly involved know about them. First, I’m interested in talking about them; then, I need to register them in some way. I use video as a means of documenting events, and to tell the truth, I’m always aware of the personal perspective that video implies. The story flows through the sounds; my interpretation takes it further, and above all there’s the image.
The simple decision of putting things together carries with it an understanding of the world, a personality, the knowledge that you have about photography or composition. We are social beings. In one way or another every historian, no matter how neutral he wants to be, live in a context and is influenced by it.
The idea behind the show interested me because lately, I’ve been working with situations based on a physical condition, on the transformations of the city. They mostly have to do with architecture, but they also speak to a psychological transformation.
My relationship with reality is different from the one that Requer, for instance, privileges in his work. As García Márquez said, reality is almost always stranger than fiction.
Are you interested in appropriating symbols like palm trees, flags, boats—imagery found in Cuban works of recent decades?
Requer, Ricardo Miguel Hernández, and Nestor Siré: No.
Luis Gárciga: I am interested in any forgotten communication wild card, to bring it into the dialogue. It is very difficult to use these icons and give them a different spin, because they’re not forgotten—they’re symbols. You can use them once or at most twice, for purposes of dialogue, but too much and they become played out. That’s what has happened. Why brew coffee a third time using the same grounds?
Onedys Calvo: In the history of art, the dialogue with the past is immediate and inevitable, either by continuity or rupture. These artists are very diverse in terms of their aesthetic and formal approaches, and all are very eloquent.
In some sense there is a difference, even between these artists and other artists of the same generations. For one thing, they easily enter into dialogue with art made at an international level. They’re more open, more contemporary, in their choice of media. They use video; they use photography in a classic way, which perhaps was more evident in the work of the 1990s generation. This isn’t a generational exhibition, but the artists in it have an interest in research and sociology that sets them apart.
Next: Four more artists in El ardid de los inocentes share their insights into the exhibition and their work.