Reality is never uniform. There are only fragments, parts, organs, minutes. Fragments in time and fragments in space. Particles that memory joins creating an illusion of continuity, as the retina melts the photograms creating the illusion of movement.
María Cienfuegos rarely finds references for her photos in everyday environments and when doing it, she always shows a strict intention to address issues that transcend the displayed image. In the relatively short time she has been developing her work, she has also managed to find innovative ways of expression far from traditional photographic methods, marking thus a distinctive seal between proposals of the vast diversity of contemporary Cuban art.
As part of the program of this year’s edition of Noviembre fotográfico , which has been sponsored for six years by the Photo Library of Cuba and the National Council of Plastic Arts (CNAP by its Spanish acronym), the young artist opened a personal sample last November 7th. Titled El árbol que no me pudieron nombrar, this, her most recent work, will be exhibited on one of the rooms on the ground floor of the Centre for the Development of Visual Arts (CDAV by its Spanish acronym) until February 30.
If we know beforehand that we will attend a photo exhibition, when arriving there we found a truly unexpected and original result. The entire sample is arranged as a single work of installation nature in which María Cienfuegos makes evident her training as biologist, this time, approaching the world of botany using as source documents, labels and field notes corresponding to plants collected and classified in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But the most unthinkable for a snapshots exhibition is not the subject selected for her, but the fact of finding, fixed to the wall, apparently only vegetable remains, glass sheets and Petri dishes.
The glass sheets are coated with a light-sensitive emulsion and are file objects that functioned as negative at some point in their existence. The artist, intentionally, has put them back to the anxious gaze of the viewer. This, coupled with the crackled of the solution and aging by oxidation suffered, compels us to strive if we partially want to see the images on them. The Petri dishes, meanwhile, are made with impressions of transparent material that get fused to the crystal and make up structures of special charm meticulously arranged responding, perhaps, to their physiognomic appeal rather than to any other reason.
By repeating structures in a large mosaic, as if it were an exercise of systematization of these as few vernacular and popularized findings, Maria seeks to transform the hidden, fragmentary or marginal historical material in a physical and spatial fact. Information about various plant species, scientific names, descriptions, dates, notes handwritten by major researchers as Juan Tomás Roig, Julián Acuña, Onaney Muñiz, Erik L. Ekman, Brother Leo, among others can be appreciated on the delicate surfaces.
The artist has executed everything with extreme thoroughness as if in the act she would not only try to make visible but also to preserve a precious treasure or pay tribute to the work that for more than a century has developed the National Herbarium of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba for botany, teaching and research and particularly the work of Yiya (Berta Lidia Toscano Silva) and Ramona Oviedo Prieto, who were depositories of so much history there and also served as curators of the exhibition.
Just through these fragments of reality, inaccurate, discolored, unintelligible, worn by the passage of time … the creator deals with the fragility of memory. From them she seems to question the processes of visibility that decant weight, evade and distort information in that sort of planned amnesia referred by George Steiner, and seems to judge the memory itself, which not always behaves as we would like, and sometimes stores information we do not need just as it forgets things we’d like to remember. All this encourages us to think that the selection of the topic that led us through certain channels of the artist’s own learning in an attractive self-referential gesture, has not been more than a pretext.