The Multiple Constructions of the (Im)possible

/ 23 July, 2019

The Havana Biennial continues being built under difficult circumstances. Its history has been an endless battle against material adversities of all kinds, especially financial, misunderstandings inside and outside our context, ideological tensions of varying intensities, to which has been added for some years now the stalking of collectors, directors of fairs and museums, art dealers and gallerists in search of juicy profits and talents. We have designed and built it with more passion than pride to inaugurate each edition as a space of significant cultural, moral and spiritual relevance, that other space for the exchange of knowledge, aware of the trust artists and diverse publics place on us.

The evident dilatation of its periodicity, now four years after the previous one, has led us to disrupt the initial ideas of this 13th edition regarding its conception and structure by submitting ourselves to constant reformulations.

But beyond all kinds of arguments, the truth is that the Biennial survives and will survive thanks, among other reasons, to the awareness we have about its national and international importance and prestige (…).

Biennial of impossible appearance is the one that we have designed and built since we faced, for the first time, a project of such magnitude (without any previous experience) in 1984. Since then we’ve had many dreams and we have done much of it almost without realizing it, out of pure enthusiasm, proud of the mission we were assuming. (…)

Fairs, biennials, festivals, residences, workshops, grants, interweave a powerful skein in the visual universe today. The jungle that emerges from these institutional or individual actions creates dense clouds, sometimes stormy and with the force of a hurricane, in the skies of curatorships and criticism. What to show, then, in an event of this nature? (…)

Hence the outlining of diverse conceptual, curatorial cores that highlight such complexities and lead the viewer through complex and unprecedented paths of beauty and enjoyment, not at all complacent. Determined to continue enhancing the transcendence that architecture and design acquire today in the structures of social behavior, we value both disciplines as active protagonists in the humanization of our habitat and cultural environment. The importance given to the city as a key stage for art, tipped the balance of the Biennial towards multidisciplinary projects located in two of its well-known arteries of Havana: the avenue of the Malecón seaside drive, on the edges of the Historic Center, and the three-kilometer-long Línea Street, located in the modern zone of El Vedado.

Along the Malecón, with works located in that coherent urban, cultural and social fabric  ̶ full of citadels, barren plots, sidewalks and eclectic buildings in its area considered historic and traditional ̶  the project Detrás del Muro (Behind the Wall) will materialize for the third time in order to revitalize areas that have lost their meaning and significance as a result of the physical deterioration suffered in the last 50 years in part of the city (and which, nevertheless, is preparing to celebrate the 500th anniversary of its foundation this 2019 with a strong historical pride).

On Línea Street a group of ideas can be seen, essential today in architecture and design worldwide, dominated by a team of specialists committed to making this area of ​​Havana a new space for cultural and expressive exchange. With the title Corredor Cultural (Cultural Corridor), as a pedestrian route in that building environment of the 1950s, the articulation of varied expressions of design, art, green areas, lighting and urban furniture is expected (…).

The network of cultural institutions in Old Havana, Centro Habana, El Vedado and Playa will continue to host works and interventions of invited artists in and outside their spaces as has been usual since the first editions of the Biennial, with the special feature of incorporating projects conceived not only by the team of curators of the Biennial. As for artists, the emphasis, as is known, is placed on creators from Central America and the Caribbean, South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, plus the inclusion of a group from Europe and North America.

But something really outstanding in this 13th edition is the fact of exhibiting artistic projects that have emerged in other cities in the country that will allow direct contact with new sectors of the public, taking into account the cultural development of those specific cities and the real material possibilities of inserting them for the first time in our event.

(…) Without having to resort to the pristine of our concepts and curatorial cores, forgers of that sort of “mysticism” that caused a healthy evolution of this type of events in almost the entire planet (I emphasize that the second Havana Biennial, 1986, was the first global biennial in the world to integrate for the first time in history artists and experts from Africa, Asia, South America, Central America and the Caribbean and the Middle East, recognized as such in international meetings of experts, although the third edition of 1989 has been more highlighted for its media impact that year, relevant in many ways), we must reconsider some of our research and development budgets because the world is different. It would be naive to cling to ideas of a certain transcendence that today are undergoing transformations and processes of change based on new realities and complex social and political situations in our cultures and countries, clearly visible, by the way, in our regional context.

Hence the difficulty of clarifying, and clarifying ourselves, the diversity and plurality reigning today and, above all, expressing it in works and projects. We ask for the impossible, paraphrasing that graffiti of the French May. But we also ask that what we believe possible in this small Caribbean island be understood.

Subjected to multiple and adverse circumstances, we sustain and will sustain the Havana Biennial come hell or high water, wherever it comes from. We have no choice. Ladies and gentlemen, as Scarlet O’Hara said in the final scene of Gone with the Wind, when we think about the next one, well, tomorrow is another day.

Nelson Herrera Ysla

Nelson Herrera Ysla

Art critic, curator, poet. He is co-founder of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center and of the Havana Biennial, an event he led from 1999 to 2001, and where he is currently curator. He has lectured in numerous countries and published numerous critical texts in specialized publications of Cuba and abroad. General Curator of the XVI Paiz Biennial of Guatemala, 2008. Essay Jury of the Casa de las Américas Prize, 2005, and international art events in Latin America. National Award for Arts Criticism Guy Pérez Cisneros, 2007, and National Prize for Curators 2013, both in Cuba.

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