Yornel Martinez talks about the text and its new forms of reception
Yornel Martinez (Manzanillo, 1981) is undoubtedly one of those artists worth of being deeply analyzed. He can hardly be pigeonholed in one style or generation, because his work has that peculiar condition of getting divorced from any plan, to express itself through all its expressive possibilities. In his pieces a spiritual halo, inherited from the Cuban Eastern culture and immortalized in actions, recycling, lines or discrete interventions in public space, remains. His presence today at the Twelfth Biennial of Havana summarizes an edge of his work where text is seen as an expanded concept.
In your proposals there is a concern to demystify the way we traditionally face the written text. In this sense, what values do the reader-spectator / text-image binomials take and in which of your works is most evident this relationship?
I am seeking to create a connection between words and image. I think it is the essence of most of my work. I aspire to bridge the gap between reality and language, to restore its principle, to forget its empire. The word revives in doubt, in the distance, because I think that reality -in all its magnitude- is not concrete, but intangible. When I think in terms of binomials, I remember the almost categorical excision the West makes between writing and image; something that is different for eastern culture. We just have to think of the Arabic or Japanese calligraphy. In the series of Caligramas you can see more clearly this concern; works that attempt to investigate the writing space as image, to break the impenetrable wall we have tended between the sign and symbol and remove typography from that static block. Thus, the image-word acquires a new expressive possibility. I could list some works where you can see this from different perspectives: Cielo concreto, Caligramas, Exergo…
The Twelfth Biennial of Havana has opted for a logic work that involves insertion and transdisciplinary processes in the contexts, thus defending the idea of art. How your project “Intervención en una librería” does is inserted within the curatorial line of this edition? Could you explain your proposal?
This is my first time in the Biennial of Havana. My work is an intervention in situ at Fayad Jamis library, with invited projects and a lectures center. This is a project of investigational character where I seek to create links with literature (discipline that has always been present in my work). In this way I’m moving into another field, appealing to transdisciplinarity as cover to open referents and oxygenate ways of thinking the visual arts. The invited projects include Libros sin dominio (sample of books-objects curated by Elvia Rosa Castro), Torre de letras (meeting space founded by the writer Reina María Rodríguez, which generated an editorial project to translate and publish unprecedented authors of international relevance in Cuba), Alias (editorial project created by the Mexican artist Damián Ortega), La Fracción (in Tabloide Noticias de Arte Cubano, by Julio César Llópiz) and a new presentation of P350  . Moreover, the lecture series will feature “Muerte del libro y nuevas formas de sociabilizar el conocimiento: el libro como alternativa cultural vs alternativa comercial”, “Proyectos editoriales alternativos, el papel del editor”, “Presentación de El Humor otro”, and “Santiago Armada in memoriam”, by Caridad Blanco.
Specifically, the work is an intervention in the library; which I try to turn into a work platform, in an area of action and not of mere exchange. I do not understand it as a re-functionalized space as a gallery to exhibit a visual art; but I try to stimulate the circulation of texts, create interventions and actions that respect the format and contextual logic, to encourage in the reader a new perception of the book as a whole, beyond the object. The idea is to understand the library as a dynamic and open cultural universe, able to generate new contents, stories, dialogues; privileging symbolic and textual value of the book, compared with its conventional connotation of economic acquisition. I also want to rethink the role that independent publishing plays, and its contribution to the library-diversity. It turns out that for some time now, I have dedicated myself to collect issues of old magazines; for example Albur, Enema, Naranja dulce, Orígenes, Lo que venga. P350 is a tribute to those projects that attempted, at a certain moment, uniting like-minded people, as Diápora(s), Banco de ideas Z or La Naranja.
Moreover, I will make visible the activity of some editorial projects, which represent a new model of artistic and intellectual intervention, by generating in practice a kind of cultural activism; a way of driving that since the early twentieth century, and especially from the approaches of conceptual art, has increasingly gained importance. In this sense I’m interested in artists’ books (that object created from the concept of book where image and text are combined), a genre that I believe is yet sufficiently rated in our context. This concept of book-creation begins to take shape with Mallarmé (Una tirada de dados nunca podrá suprimir el azar, 1897), Apollinair (Caligramas, 1914), Dieter Rot (Kinderbuch, 1954-57; Picture Book, 1956); up to the works of artists like Brossa, Cage, Lewitt. The fully interdisciplinary nature of the artists’ book offers endless combination possibilities of artistic techniques, craft jobs, text, etc.
In short, the book, by its very nature, seems to be an ideal means. Although I do not seek an ode to “its death”, I do not think the support material must be taken into account beyond the extent through it will contribute to its content. After all, the book is the means not the end.
What expectations do you hold in relation to the public that will attend this work in particular, taking into account the characteristics and location of it?
With this intervention I am interested in blurring the boundaries of what is traditionally called the “artistic”, up to conceive “the work” as a space for social participation. I wish to take advantage from the number of people the bookstore allows, confronting the reader with the limits of the literary text and questioning our way of reading. The intervention requires decoding the text no longer in the small space of the book as object, so it obliges recipients to decipher it. Our way of reading remains the same as when the printing press was born and this reading model is claiming other ways to approach the message. I assume the library as a cultural universe itself, dynamic and open, capable of generating new meanings. I get involved with the organization of volumes in space and their subject classification. I want to work symbolically with the need to decode the message issued by art and delve into these vacuum zones that so much stimulate knowledge.
(1) For some time Yornel Martinez has served as manager of the independent publishing project P-350: a creative magazine or blog in progress, with open collaborations.