The identity of the 12th HB: art and design

/ 21 May, 2015


Unlike the artists of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance or the Mexican muralists, my works do not contain referential speeches. They are the backbone of an event that evolves over time and real space and change with the movement of light and distance of the viewer. They are autonomous situations deprived of anecdotes in which the viewer discovers color, without past or future time, in a perpetual present.

Carlos Cruz Diez

The presentation of the catalog of the 12th Havana Biennial took place at Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center on the night of May 20. Printing, by Maretti Editore, and design, by the talented Victor M. Cabrera Muñiz, have dignified, in words of Jorge Fernandez, the event they represent. Besides being the documented memory of the most important visual arts event in Cuba and one of the most prestigious in Latin America and the world, the proposal for visual identity of this edition is erected autonomously because not only meets the conceptual presuppositions of the Biennale : it exceeds the vague and controversial boundary between art and design.

The fisiocromías, also called chromatic inductions, cromostransparencias and transcromías aleatorias, developed by the Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz Diez were an important reference for creating an image searching for the unfinished visual appearance, but sensually full. So the overlaps of the colors used hybridize both experiences but do not reduce them. Their “uncontrolled” lines are expanded into the immaculate appearance of the white forgetting their vacuum connotation to symbolize minimalism. Contrary to lighten up, this resource reinforces the concept of pictorial composition in which the digits in the twelfth have become a symbol. This perfect number is one that has culturally transcended, since the explorations of primitive peoples around the time and space up to the biblical, mythological and historical coincidences.

Art OnCuba spoke with Victor, also designer of our print magazine, in order to learn even more about the importance of design of the Biennale within so many artistic products.

Victor, you have been involved in the graph of the last two editions of the Havana Biennial and although you are very young it begins to be noticeable your experience as a designer in the field of visual arts. As head of the design of this 12th edition, tell us what aspects you have used to build its image.

For this edition, the first reference is the central text of the event, that of Jorge Fernandez, the first ideas and notes came from there and also from the conversations I had with curators, I was taking notes, trying to turn words and concepts into graphical elements. I made approximately ten proposals that were discussed in the organizing committee of the Biennale, they chose one, and the final design came from it. Some were more graphic, more typographic, always with well-defined attributes and styles. I think an identity should essentially convey an idea, focusing on a concept, so as to facilitate its cogency and operation. In this case, movement, dynamism and merging elements were the key axes.

From the semiotic standpoint, how do you link the color, shapes and symbols used in design to the concept proposed by this Biennale?

The color and shape are the fundamental way to translate the concepts into the design. I was struck by the response the use of colors has had in the identity of this Biennial; some see it as a “boldness” in a positive way, others question the use of magenta (pink in the popular imagination), which, for the Havana Biennial marks its first time in the international arena and even national, is not a “discovery.” At average level, the Biennial has been a bit cautious; red and black colors, which for us have unique connotations, have prevailed in its identities, although in previous editions we have also worked with orange, yellow and green.

I wanted to opt for a well merged chromatic combination, to transmit energy, freshness, naturalness. Something alive. Hence cyan and magenta, two pure colors in the printing process, which overlap each other resulting in dark blue. The white color also plays a key role because many of the means used had a white base. As for the forms, the main thing is the use of lines that are adapted to each means and do not respond to a particular pattern. Overall, it is an abstract design trying not to symbolize a specific image, and maintains a minimal aesthetic, without excessive resources and elements. Rather than convey ideas, this design focuses on conveying feelings.

How important is the created identity, what are the references that inspired you to a design like this and in what means can we find the image of the 12th Havana Biennial?

Identity “lives” on all means (catalogues, posters, banners, badges, spots), it is the identifying element that brings them together under one logo, not only the one of the Biennial itself, but it also appears in other promotional side events. Hence it is difficult to control its correct application, even occasionally variations of it appear –so far I’ve seen two of them in the web- and not always with happy results.

We must keep in mind that the usage time of the identity of a Biennial is short, a month, half a year if you count the period of the previous promotion, so it does not work like an identity for company or trademark. Of course, it is an image that remains in the collective memory and transcends time -in print and digital format. Only a year ago we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Biennial and the earlier marks appeared again, some of them very good and they still work after many years. But above all, they must play a role at a certain time, so this time we made emphasis on the visual impact above other factors.

As for the references I think that dOCUMENTA has been my greatest inspiration. The way they have maintained a consistent identity discourse through all these years, making new proposals as in its 13th edition, where there was not a fixed identity, but it was different in each means and only the way to write the name remained the same. Or the Biennials of Sao Paulo and Venice, which maintain the same identifier, but vary their graphics for each edition. I think this format must be adopted by our Biennial, and the proposal was made a few years ago, but so far we continue making a different identity in each edition.

From your perspective as a designer, do you have some suggestions for this mega-event?

Projects mostly relating visual arts to other areas of creation, such as music, architecture or design itself, always being the key of the working process and the union of knowledge, were selected for this Biennial. Most of them will be carried out in situ, from the specific conditions and characteristics of certain areas of Havana. Several of the artists who will attend the event have training in the field of design; others use it as a means of communication or expression. To mention some: Zolaykha Sherzad, Afghan fashion designer who has participated in the Venice Biennale and in dOCUMENTA, Dr. Lakra, Mexican artist who works illustration and tattoo, or Ewan Atkinson, Barbadian artist who uses posters design on his work. From Cuba I could mention the Proyecto Espacios (Spaces Project) of architecture and design that will open a gallery, and Yornel Martinez, whom from various techniques such as graffiti, calligraphy and collage has made an editorial project called P350.

It is an exceptional opportunity to experience the crossing of borders between art and design, enjoy their connections and learn from their strategies for coexistence in a world where advertising, digital technologies and the rise of certain brands set trends in our everyday life. We are each day increasingly aware of the importance of design and that experience is reflected from art.


Claudia Taboada Churchman

Claudia Taboada Churchman

Havana, 1990. Art critic and curator. She currently works in Villa Manuela Gallery. Her texts have been published in ArteCubano, Revolución y Cultura, La Jiribilla, Noticias de ArteCubano, among others. In 2015 she received the Curatorial Award granted by the Center for the Development of Visual Arts for the project Pintura expandida.

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