Architecture as a Pretext

for La Madre de Todas las Artes

/ 1 June, 2016

The concept proposed by Heidegger in which he points out that “To be a human being means to be on the earth as a mortal. It means to dwell” and that “Building is really dwelling” allows a timely access to the exhibition La Madre de Todas las Artes (The Mother of All Arts), in the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center in Havana, in which its curator, Nelson Herrera Ysla, opened multiple accesses to approach the inhabited, built space which the most recent Cuban artistic production has dealt with.

This perspective of the German philosopher also reveals, in a given way, how this topic has been fundamental for Cuban visual arts every time it has been necessary to reaffirm identity, as happened with Amelia Peláez and René Portocarrero during the Vanguard or, in the 1990s, when the topic was practically established as a constant from the renewal positions by Carlos Garaicoa and Los Carpinteros (who are part of this exhibition).

From this point of view, it is also more comfortable to spin the curatorial statements that have moved in this wide concept, which transcends the notion of architecture as art in itself, with its own prerogatives, to include many ways to approach multiple aspects implying architecture or what is architectural from the semiotic inquiries visual arts allow, a versatility that has resulted very confusing for the spectator.

Although architecture was always considered as the main of Fine Arts, because of its scientific, engineering component, and because for a long time painting and sculpture were assumed as its complement, the truth is that, from the angle of visual arts today, approaching this topic in Cuba is conditioned by concrete circumstances which rather direct the pretexts of the exhibition. In the global context, architecture has reached such grandiloquence that many affirm that it is increasingly becoming sculpture because of the way in which the aesthetic values and creative identity of the architect are exacerbated above functionality. But little is built in the local environment, so there is not too much possibility for creation in this expression. The space for construction is reserved for restoration and for moderate new constructions with immediate solutions, thus entailing the reaffirmation of the built element, the identification with an environment that changes little, and the remodeling of the symbolic value in constant dialogue with memory and with a Utopian yearning. In this way, what exceedingly distinguishes what is inhabited in Cuba is that it offers abundant discursive pretexts to visual arts as a field for interpretation.

“With this exhibition we intend to show architecture from its diversity, creatively, directly or in a more elliptical form. I think it still is one of the fundamental pillars of culture in any country,”1 its curator states. For these purposes, a wide spectrum of discursive possibilities, revising treatments of the topic from painting to video mapping, were opened but, in my opinion the most pretentious, intending to embrace the issue from what is morphological, procedural, symbolic and social, allowed him to include sixty artists. This vast list covers the work of artists who, with their very own approach, have constantly dialogued with various points of view having to do with the topic, and with others with punctual pieces although perhaps appropriate, as well as with several generations. Herrera Ysla also included Cuban artists not living in the island, as Gustavo Acosta and Néstor Arenas, who live in the United States, and Ana Gloria Salvia, who is established in Paris.  Most of the pieces were conceived beforehand, and a considerable number has been exhibited in previous curatorial projects. Thus, what is inhabited is explored from the representation of a simple element to elaborated conceptual inquiries in which what is architectonic transcends its condition as container of urban dynamics, to point out the system of thought, the priorities and vulnerabilities of its inhabitants.  But in this widening of the topic is where the greatest conflict of this proposal lies. (…)

Onedys Calvo

Onedys Calvo

She holds a master’s degree in Art History. Lives and works in Havana. She is a curator with the City Historian’s Office and contributes to various specialized publications, such as Artecubano, Revolución y Cultura and OPUS Habana. She also contributes to the radio station Habana Radio as a journalist, and is the director of the Center for Interpretation of Cuba-Europe Relations, Palacio del Segundo Cabo, Havana.

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