There is no peace for the evil people. Account of some alternative projects
An alternative project is not an independent space that, alternate to the art institution, gives others possibilities of making visible the work of the same mainstream, the bright young hope or the lucrative talents of the day. Then, Avistamientos (Sightings) by José Bustos is not an alternative project; and neither the new bars that have art exhibitions, the open house or the studio-gallery that start to come up quickly with the new entrepreneurs from Havana.
An alternative project can arise from the very same cosine of official support. Like an incontrollable rash, Mr. eighth note, a fraction. There is no peace for the evil people. I know very well that a definition by rearranging never turns out effective; it leaves too many loose ends; but North is only one out of four cardinal points.*
Let’s start from the worst part, saying that the die is cast for the alternative projects. That is: Betty Gago, whose mental processes work at a speed that many people cannot follow. She gave birth to an exquisite idea despite the awful middays of our tropical island. I don’t remember in what Art Biennial of Havana, Gago wanted her collateral exhibition to be a sex shop no less. With a catalog of works and artists exceptionally selected by the curator and the delicate Betty’s hand shaped a unique puzzle, according to the skilled receptor or the pornographer. This last detail is more a gossip than a certainty, but I believe that one of the conditions was that it should work also or exclusively at nighttime, I’m not sure. Details, details.
Luckily, Betty is a woman of an upright thinking, and Sex shop never materialized in the deformed and broken ways they suggested her. So, we stop here to point out a quality that seems fundamental to me: an alternative project can have its failures, but it should never let itself to be a pamphlet. Not all roads lead to cross the Rubicon, and Encomienda put another strange project at issue, anachronistic by old school, “failed” according to its own terms; necessary and praiseworthy to the extend it works as the alto-contrast of coolsilería, which generally plagued us.*
Victor Fowler wrote about what has been a standard practice of life for him when circumstances reduce him to non-doable options: to do a third thing. María de Lourdes Mariño in a close collaboration with Anamely Ramos and Gretel Medina show a dossier that would seem like a correlate of that attitude. Their main skill has been to make an ephemeral curator work in distinctive places, as they are dismantled places within the usual journey of Art. Not even dysfunctional Culture Houses or studios of artists: we are talking about places like a church ruins, or the polemical Ballet Academy of Vittorio Garatti in the High Institute of Art. This is just one side of the coin that complements with the emphasis with which the authors manage and adapt concepts of theoretical thoughts about art to join with a curatorial speech always meticulously articulated, intense, and disturbing; that, at the present state of things, is a privilege.
A very little walked path is this of the alternative projects brought to a successful conclusion, so the work of these curators is a praiseworthy event.*
Of course, the mother of all freaks, of all alternative projects, is named Sandra Ceballos. Aglutinador (Agglutinating, 1994) is a crazy thing, a jumble that I always imagine shapeless, where characters like Santiago Sierra, Ezequiel Suárez, Glexys Novoa or Arturo Cuenca are mixed. Agglutinating is definitely a matrix, mixture of attachment, activism and commitment. Recently, Sandra divides her work towards the Museum of Neurotic Art, space that allows her to keep producing Sui géneris projects.
Be aware, Wet Paint! It is true that an alternative project, as we understand it, comes from the notion of a physical space around which a group of exhibitions are made. However, Ceballos’ objectives with Agglutinating and Bustos’ with Sightings are almost diametrically opposed. Even how they both use the domestic space is enough to understand that they travel through different paths.
A similar typology, I mean, that of a project that emerges associated to a specific space is the one of the Crist Savior Gallery (2011). It has an attitude established on the official character, although it is more emphatic on the practice of rebelliousness and excess. As they state on their program, their concern lays on those areas of marginalization in Cuban Art, away from profitable interests, with low levels of budgets and a visualization different from that of the perfect quality legionnaires. With its critics and followers, it already has some interesting works and some disparity.
Of course, it is valid, but I stick to the idea that an alternative project does not have to incorporate the visual signs of poverty and emergency as a forced element of credibility.
Fanguito Studio only worked three or four times around the year 2005, where, according to reliable critics, Rodolfo Peraza presented underground exhibitions. The confluence of chance, fortuity, and the will to do something, is what define these events. As it can be seen in the Crist Savior or Agglutinating, and that is shown in its ephemeral duration, it is not a deep-rooted project with a program, or something specific. However, as we are not narrow-minded, it doesn’t mean that it is another example of alternativeness we are trying to trail. It has the credit, like all projects of this kind, to choose a practice that would always have a visualization, impact or acknowledgement shortened in proportion to the effort it requires. *
Two words about Zalle Zero. Up to this point it may cause doubts due to the close relationship it has set with the French Alliance, but it is an initiative that not only worried about spreading a very problematic issue like the audio-visuals, but also it made it from a very fashion perspective according to the alternative functioning dynamics that we favor on this text.*
It is impossible to understand P350 like a personal work by Yornel. In any case, it is an idea that El Chino has turned into confluence, into a collection of one of its kind with amazing riches. Gestures like this are able to shake, to call in a different way, to activate the sixties and to have more models to shape.
The group subject, the reunion of sensitivities that acknowledge themselves as similar, is perhaps another way in which an alternative project display. Then, the character of the nomad or the ignored –which is present in some of the practices afore mentioned– appears too often. On one hand, it is worth to go through the work by Tropical Ballad, mainly before it became a more well-founded group. On its early times, this group of students from the High Institute of Art carried out the task of disorganizing, and expressing themselves through chaos and a recalcitrant attitude, which was their best weapon. Vital entropy and distress that have a way out through a work that has tried to call alternation as an essential practice.
Besides, it has a PowerPoint from a doubtful source of four very interesting events. It is about some interventions on public spaces produced in an independent way by a group of associated artists. Marina 255. Mass Confinement; Displaced Information; Hidden and Territorial References, took place in different spaces of Havana on 2007 and 2008; and probably there is not a better example of something marked by the displacement, parallel, of someone who finds a hole and plant a baobab. A lobby, a park, a gallery, a harbor, were the stages for daring and smart exhibitions with some of the best sites specifics that have ever been made in the last few years.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing was how these actions have disappeared and today they are almost impracticable.*
An alternative project is in itself the limit and derivative. I guess that it always has the additional pressure to become its opposite, or just to diversify in its path. It is a very complicated subject of which I can simply make a defective and humble account.
There is not a validated method to identify or mark an alternative project, and every effort to do it will always sow the discord. There are projects of short or long terms, of bigger or smaller formats, with well-defined attitudes according to their social and political projection… There will be people to whom the Veigas’ Archive seems an alternative project because of its singularity. There is an orbit generated around the houses of characters like Ítalo Expósito, or Rafael Almanza from Camagüey (recently discovered by the artists from Havana). But, what is true, and it seems to be enough motivation for many people, is the conviction that in galleries we are not going to find the most avant-garde art of the present.
This definition was made by Elvia Rosa Castro, and it is very good because obvious reasons and because it defines the Cuban art scene. (It is a pun that refers to chic things.)