12 Biennial, Architecture & Design

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A Biennial exhibition so inclusive like this year’s edition couldn’t avoid the proposals put forward by architecture, urban planning and design. It is due to this ambition the coexistence of such diverse projects like the distinctiveness of dwellings by the Mexican architect Sandra Calvo and the Cuban artist Candelario, placed in the House of Obrapía and the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art (backyard), respectively; the interventions, either in an urban space, Behind the wall: In the middle of nowhere, or in places in ruins like Mountains with a broken side. The close association architecture-design materialized, for example, in the opening of the Architecture, Art and Design Store, in charge of Vilma Bartolomé and the Spaces Project. This initiative makes visible a phenomenon that has gained importance in the last few years and, in some way, it has changed the outlook of Havana’s streets: the growth of private enterprise, which goes beyond cafeterias and restaurants.

A piece like E14LAM has a lot of logic within the artistic work of Candelario, who from the outlying community of San Agustín (La Lisa town, Havana municipality), has always been interested in the housing matters and in every problem caused by a deficient urbanism. He undertook a work that expresses outwardly his perception of art, which is inherent in life. That’s why, his proposal was a “sculpture to live in”. “Sculpture”, but, in this case, uninhabitable, could be one of the possible ways to classify the replica of a solar[1] in Old Havana, at a scale 1:1; a Sandra Calvo’s work, who counted on the collaboration of architects, historians and neighbors from the community. This piece, which seems to suggest a research work, intends to call the attention on solutions that deprivation has produced, and this is what the Aztec artist calls “architecture without architects”. As part of that “fieldwork” the register is shown by means of video exhibitions. All these series of works is what makes up Multiplication of interior landscapes.

For the second time, the collective exhibition Behind the wall is arranged; this time it took part in the collateral activities. But, like in its first edition, it has been very successful with the public. However, regardless of the aesthetic quality and the questionable sense of some pieces, it cannot be denied that Juan Delgado’s proposal, who counted on the help of Elvia Rosa Castro and José Fernández, has transformed the dynamics of this avenue of Havana city. Unfortunately, we have to wait for three years to “alter” the view of this part of the city. It clearly makes no sense to have that show in a permanent exhibition, but it could generate some proposals that encourages a deepest relationship between space-passerby from art.

This idea reaffirms the flood of public in the opening of this Project, last Sunday May 24th; as well as the everyday coming of hundreds of people that increases mainly on weekends. The work team is made up by almost 50 Cuban and foreign artists. Foreigners come from countries like United States, Mexico, Spain, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Morocco and Germany. Similarly to many exhibitions scattered around the city, the curatorial project emphasizes on the dialogue between acclaimed and young artists, as well as the variety of artistic offers (performances, sculptures, mural paintings and different interventions). Among the pieces with a highest impact in the media it has been Hangover by Arles del Río (Cuba) and the skating ice rink by Duke Riley (USA/Ireland), just to mention two examples.

Other interventions move away from urban spaces in search of places that re-signifies the artistic expressions. That is the case of Essay about fluids by the Mexican Héctor Zamora, Havana [re]generation and Esterio Segura in the thermoelectric of Talla Piedra and the project Mountains with a broken side, headed by the Cuban artist Wilfredo Prieto and the Cuban curators, Direlia Lazo and Gretel Medina.

In the last, after a thorough search, the curatorial team decided on a building in ruins located on the corner of Línea and 18 Street, in Vedado neighborhood of the capital. Undoubtedly, the building’s history must have influenced on the decision. At first, it provided a space for one of the streetcar stations; later it was built there the well-known Factory Claudio Argüelles Camejo, where busses are assembled; in the 90’s the busses were substituted by bicycles (Pipian bicycles factory); and at the end of the last century, there were made different kind of repairs. On March of 2002, it took place an accident that left the factory in very deplorable state, which worsens due to the neglect it endures.

The approaching to this subject, which repeats all through Cuban architecture, and more specifically in Havana architecture, decided on the type of intervention to carry out: the site-specific. It also represented, undeniably, a huge attractive position to establish a correspondence between the transformation of functions undertaken by the place and the “mobility, the change and the ability to adapt”. But it also denoted a challenge, because, independently of previous ideas that each of the invited artists could have, only in situ they could create a “dialogue with history, physical remaining, the intangible memory of the place”. That’s why, among the first opinions to make up the exclusive catalog (a total of 14 artists) it was, on one hand, to assume art as a process where creation and research come together; and on the other hand, the ability of each artist –demonstrated in previous work– to establish accurate connections, either semantic or poetic, with the space to intervene. And in the opening day, not only with the old factory, it was carried out performances that tried to achieve a biggest involvement in the community and so a direct effect on its inhabitants.

Clearly, a project of such characteristics required the collaboration between all artists, in a way that all the pieces joined harmonically to the space. And speaking about harmonic collaboration, the exhibition of art poster Happy together / Felices juntos is a clear example, where 24 designers: 12 Cubans and 12 Americans, appropriated some symbols of cartoons and comic strips from both countries. In that way, the Cuban designers Pepe Menéndez, Raúl Valdés (RAUPA), Robertiko Ramos, Giselle Monzón, Edel Rodríguez (MOLA), Fabián Muñoz, Alejandro Rodríguez (ALUCHO), Laura Llópiz, Nelson Ponce, Darwin Fornés, Idania del Río and Michele Miyares would give their unusual vision about the Simpsons or the Flintstones, just to mention two of the cartoons that are well-known in the Island; while their equals David Gallo, Jeff Kleinsmith, Sasha Barr, Darin Shuler, Eroyn Franklin, Chelsea Wirtz, Kelsey Gallo, Carlos Ruiz,Jesse LeDoux, Robynne Raye, Vannessa Blea and Víctor Melendez, would inspire on Elpidio Valdés and El Loquito, among other ten characters. The art posters, besides their author’s hallmark, show a huge variety of styles. In that way, from the space of culture, it is generated a symbolic interchange that makes reference to the kind of relationships both the Cuban and the American people expect to be achieved by their governments. This tone is present in a significant number of pieces, both in the main and in the side exhibitions by Cuban and foreign artists.

R.F.R

[1] In Cuba a solar is a block of small and poor adjoining rooms with a yard in the middle where many people live. 

Images: Project Mountains with a broken side, headed by the Cuban artist Wilfredo Prieto and the Cuban curators, Direlia Lazo and Gretel Medina.

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