Breaking the canon is possible even without cracking the “marble”

/ 10 July, 2015


A realistic sculpture lies in the theater. Gabriel appears on the scene with a bag in his hand, places right next to the sculpture and scatters on the stage clubs that he proposes to the viewer. Not saying a word is his intention, but if someone expects answers may well take the heavy tools to punch the carved image. This is the only way for the curious. The exercise of finishing the studies was becoming a challenge. The court stated: you have set up us. Gabriel just smiled.[1]


The debate on Sin razón, sin aliento y sin nada started.

The emphasis on the process of thesis defense by the professors from the University of Arts (ISA by its Spanish acronym) seems not to have been sufficient to reach a consensus. Where to put greater emphasis when assessing: in production, in the conceptual answer that accompanies the oral presentation that the student finally proposed as a synthesis of the two processes? Of course, it is not an easy dilemma to resolve and, on the other hand, does not fail to be shared by artistic and pedagogical institutions elsewhere; even when Howard Gardner asserts that an acquiescence on the need to go beyond the “mere production” occurred on this field and recognizes that, despite the differences, experts agree to eliminate all exclusive emphasis to privilege discussion and analysis of the works of art themselves and an appreciation of the cultural contexts in which these works are made.[2]

With this, all of us -or at least almost all- agree, and in fact, so it was assumed when the student Gabriel Cisneros suggested that we had to choose between preserving his sculptures and a supposed theoretical answer that lay within them. After all, as Catherine Millet said: “Why would we deny a young graduate of art school the freedom that we recognized, long ago, to Marcel Duchamp?”[3] Obviously, we resigned ourselves with what we understood as a part, that gesture that questioned the role of art education and that put in crisis the budgets from which it operates and controls. However, in such a situation, weaknesses, doubts, misalignments that still remain to be solved raised and it took us hours for its review, reflexivity about the artistic act and its evaluation. It is an extremely valid thinking process of which, I am convinced, not even Gardner himself would be safe when betting for “… designing evaluation methods that do justice to what appears to be most important in art forms”[4], as there is for Gardner an emphasis, something more important that deserves more attention but that he does not identify.

However, it was not only the educational institution the object of Gabriel’s criticism. The declared nihilistic attitude that Sin razón, sin aliento y sin nada reveals, points to the recognition of a lifeless, decaying environment and that, of course, understands the disciplinary structure of ISA as immediate context from which the work emerges, but it even goes far beyond. And paradoxically, that total denial does not imply a conformist or accommodative stance. On the contrary, it is established an encouragement, a continuous test of the viewer that Gabriel manipulates and becomes in actor and whom, therefore, makes him susceptible to be tried, to fall prey to the trap set by him. Because the artist is always interested in the interplay, seemingly unreal or uncertain; in what we can not accept as true nor false due to its ambiguity. Therefore he conceals from the nature of the material used -resin mixed with plaster to simulate a stony surface- to the words themselves. All of which explains the sarcastic, inquisitive gesture, provoker of his sculptural representation, gesture that has not yet ceased to be consistent and does not reveal more than what is allowed, i.e., “nothing.”

Therefore, a piece like this, of undeniably destabilizing essence, emphasizes the relevance of taking risks which, in fact, few have been appreciated in recent times within Cuban art. Sin razón, sin aliento… becomes a warning by emphasizing the intrinsic ability of search art, renewal or regeneration of codes or operatories to activate new and appropriate meanings. In this direction, the combination performative proceeding seemed useful -for which the chosen location was more effective- with sculptural recreation in a more academic way. And precisely this factor dynamited another reflection on the paradigms and stereotypes that art and its morphology still possess: respect for the profession and that fear that keeps us from going against it, against that perfectly executed, against the canon. Fear to which, however, Gabriel knew how to evade…


The theater was closed to the public, now the actors were only the judges. Once in the room they ran toward the object, scrutinized it, turned it down and proceeded to break it…. fragments were scattered on the soil. Then the doors were opened. Gabriel refused to accept incredulous the revelation of his secret. The court stated: we have set you up. Gabriel, again, just smiled.


Photos: Rigoberto Otaño Milián


[1] Construction of the first and third acts, apparently fictionalized, is based on the events of April 30 in the thesis defense student Gabriel Cisneros Visual Arts. This is because finding a similarity with performative, theatrical intent of the proposal and the artist’s interest in fake”, supposedly the realities.

[2] Gardner, Howard. Investigación disciplinada en la escuela secundaria: Una introducción al Art Propel.

[3] Millet, Catherine. La crítica contra la arbitrariedad.

[4] Gardner, Howard. Op. Cit.

Marilyn Payrol

Marilyn Payrol

(Santa Clara, 1990). Graduate of Art History at the University of Havana. Professor of Theory and Criticism at the University of the Arts (ISA). She is the editor of the website of Art OnCuba magazine. Their texts are available Artecubano News and Art OnCuba website.

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