After all… Whose is the house?

/ 12 March, 2015

No one who comes to this island doubt the hospitality of the Cubans or at least the image of our hospitable spirit has been built and by which we are identified worldwide. Taking a colloquial phrase that refers to that quality as starting point, Cuban artist Kelvin Lopez has called his latest exhibition at Servando Gallery. Mi casa es tu casa is an exhibition comprised of three of his series, namely: Mi casa es tu casa (2014) Achievements (2014) Esta es tu casa, Fidel (2014), which have in common the fact that this creator reproduces homes that were abandoned by their owners at the triumph of the Cuban revolution and they were subsequently granted another function, serving emergencies claimed by the blossoming revolutionary process.

Patria o Muerte. Apoyamos al gobierno y sus leyes make the typography selected by Kelvin Lopez to make a stamp he uses to set up many pieces of series as Achievements and Esta es tu casa Fidel. He takes over a political slogan that has transcended to today, or just a piece of it, as the fragment corresponding to the answer in the people voice –Venceremos– has been replaced by another equally affirmative: “Apoyamos al gobierno y sus leyes.” It is a sign that, although it could visually be sweetened by recurring in traditional landscape, from a closer reading, it brings up questions laden problematizing spirit if so, from the ongoing dialogue that the artist establishes between Cuban modern architecture and its configuration or coinage inks on cardboard, paper or fabric. Following the exercise of drawing with his stamping as an element of the piece and as a carrier of meaning, phrases like “propiedad de…, perteneciente a…” are hiding. They refer to permutations that took place in all spheres after the victory of the Cuban revolution; being the implementation of the General Housing Act one of the drive motors in transforming Cuban lives and especially in the design of such important notions as home and family. These events, which took place in the Cuban context during 1960’s, are temporarily rescued and spatially transferred to art premises as a pretext to reflect on issues as complementary as politics, power and the role it plays the mass or the community in the fervor of a revolution.

The historical and personal memory, the fulfilled promise and the revolution as metanarrative of salvation are thematic units that are drawn into this exhibition. From a seemingly innocent cityscape, López Nieves insists on calling attention to two realities or two cities that came together at the dawn of revolutionary Cuba: the city already seen and the imagined city, following the terminology coined by the Colombian Armando Silva. From photography as record or historical document, this artist speaks of the city already seen, especially in that Havanian part which during the last decade of Republican period was set from modern homes, expression of a wealthy class as well as the model of society hiding behind. His mixed installation on cigar boxes, where he placed photographs of homes as a collage, glued with resin layers, revealing his own life possible structure that existed within the habitat of the haute bourgeoisie. This particular piece could connect with pop art visuality, especially James Rosenquist’s way; particularly given the high level of fragmentation of the composing elements, semantically unrelated, as women faces, apparently cut from magazines or comic strips. They are women consuming or women as objects hiding behind cigar boxes, both presented as a commodity, as objects of profit, as fetishes which are concealed behind an architecture that paradoxically aspires to be rational.

While on the other hand, the imagined city appears, the one promised by the revolutionary project: social equality. It is then when he includes pieces like his installation made up of remnants door entrances of homes in the sixties, gnawed by time, but keeping the memory of those happy moments, in which the imagined city became a lived in town for an entire generation of Cubans. The plates then inscribed on the doors were rescued by Kelvin, since they become the starting point of the exhibition. These inscriptions that showed a strong commitment to the Revolution – Esta casa es propiedad del que la vive gracias a la Revolución. Patria o Muerte[i] – symptomatic of a sense of gratitude and identification, appear as a relic, like evocation of a past that will not return.

Moreover, his training in the art of engraving foreshadowed in its Achievements (2014) series, which uses dies as building drawing. He represents icons of the republican architecture as the Capitol, the National Hotel and the Yacht Club, coined as achievement or success, by the revolutionary government. Also, the National Art Schools were born under the revolutionary imprint, so in its representation of the Faculty of Art prints such seal. With this proposal, due to the peculiarities of his workmanship, he reunites his training as an engraver, now as a painter.

All these facets that Kelvin Lopez has gone can be seen in the exhibition, in the same measure that makes use of a wide range of techniques. Boasting refined painting private homes, careful ink- based drawing and an installation which drinks of the Duchamp’s readymade, he brings together these disparate ways of shaping the artistic device based on a conceptual proposition anchored to their context national. This artist, true to his poetry in relation to his work with the landscape, presents it in this stripped of the traditional nineteenth romantic and impressionistic momentum, to insert in a curatorial proposal which takes great connotation, as it represents a cityscape consisting of republican homes, now under new laws and functionalities.

Rationality between landscape and idea, and the fusion of art and thematic tradition emerges in this exhibition, on par with the creator and also commitment to the traditional ready-made and installation. In perfect coordination with Cuban contemporary artistic practice, without neglecting any dose of nostalgia, drinks of the historic past, clings to the artistic present and committed to a lavish reception in the near future.

[i] Note of the translator: This house is owned by those who live in thanks to the Revolution. Homeland or Death


Julienne López Hernández

Julienne López Hernández

La Habana (1989). Licenciada en Historia del Arte por la Universidad de La Habana. Desde el 2012 trabaja como docente en el Departamento de Estudios Teóricos y Sociales de la Cultura de la Facultad de Artes y Letras de la Universidad de La Habana. Ha colaborado sobre temas de artes visuales cubano, latinoamericano y caribeño en publicaciones como Artecubano y el Boletín Noticias de Artecubano, y en sitios web y catálogos personales de artistas cubanos contemporáneos.

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