HAVANA BIENNIAL DOCUMENTARY

Posted Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 at 8:00 am

OPC Blog Entry 2

March 25th, 2009

During our first full day in Havana, we spent more time experiencing the constructive chaos of Arte de Conducta at the Galería Habana. The second night of this experimental art school’s Estado de Excepción primarily featured performances, most of them heavily body-oriented. For her Muro de lamentos project, Jeanette Chávez asked men on the streets of Havana to enter the gallery and undress, then stand facing a wall, beat their chests, and chant “Mea Culpa.” Both of the men who agreed to participate performed this task for approximately twenty minutes; lacking watches, they had to trust internal clocks to determine when their responsibility should end.

Carlos Martiel spoke with us about his performance of that night, in which he sliced open healed scars from childhood while crouching naked on the gallery floor. After searching out and re-opening every old wound, Martiel stood upright before the crowd for several minutes while viewers took photographs and filmed. The artist cited the influence of feminist forbears such as Ana Mendieta and Marina Abramovic, yet he was one of six men who performed nude – or, nearly nude – this night. While Martiel’s work references his personal experience as a twenty-first century Cuban, he also discussed aesthetic influences ranging from post-war European actionist art to contemporary Latin American artists.

In speaking to the artists of Arte de Conducta, it was often difficult to tell where the performances ended. In Mauricio Miranda’s performance Indemnidad the artist mingled with the crowd, chatting with friends and exhibition guests while revealing to each interlocutor an accurately rendered gun tattooed on his upper leg. While his actions of the second night mirrored his social interactions of the previous evening, there was a surreptitious conceptual shift involved. With performances occurring in every corner of the extremely crowded exhibition space, Miranda’s practice of sidling up to people and lifting his shorts to his upper thigh was covert yet revelatory. Miranda’s performance confronted us with the challenge of how to present ephemeral, conceptual artworks without distorting the artists’ intentions.

The most immersive performance of the night was Cabaret poético, in which an organic exchange between audience and performers soon became apparent during the dance, music and spoken word segments. The performance involved not only artists of the collective OMNI, but their family members and the crowd as well. We were struck by the use of imagery from U.S. cinema in the videos that played behind or in between the performers. From Groucho Marx to Michael Jackson to Waking Life, these visuals provided breaks in the cabaret performances. These performances were openly critical, but epitomized activism as a social experience, with a political constituency built upon shared social relations.

Leave a Reply