HAVANA BIENNIAL DOCUMENTARY

Posted Thursday, March 26th, 2009 at 10:03 am

OPC Blog Entry 3

March 26th, 2009

Today we were lucky to have the opportunity to speak with British curator Claire Bishop, who writes about participatory art practices and pedagogical issues. During our interview, we discussed how the work of the young artists in the Havana Biennial dovetails with her research interests. She opened up to us about her anxieties: how the model she has developed in her work surrounding Great Britain and Western Europe translates to the local Cuban context. Bishop admitted that her framework faltered even in New York City, where institutional structures more closely mirror those in Europe than in Cuba.

We questioned Bishop about how market pressures differ in places outside of Western Europe -  particularly in Cuba, where capitalist structures are underdeveloped to say the least. She expressed concern that the presence of Western art world figures (including herself) in Havana this week would encourage young Cuban artists to adopt the logic of market-friendly practices. 

Bishop noted parallels between the makeshift institutional art structures present in Cuba and attempts by some practitioners working in heavily bureaucratized art centers to offer alternative collaborative and pedagogical models. We discussed the contrast between Cuba, where political restraint intersects with artistic experimentation, and places like the United States, where political liberties are frequently coupled with the expectation that artists fit into preexisting artistic models. We plan to meet with Bishop again when we all have attended more biennial events to continue our conversation about these themes.

One artist’s work exhibited today resonated with our conversation. Núria Güell’s Aportación de agentes del orden documented the artist’s encounters with police officers in Havana over the course of several months. Noticeably non-Cuban, Güell was the focus of much attention on the street, mostly lecherous. To carry out her project, Güell cleverly entrapped a number of her accosters, responding to their catcalls by inviting them on a date to her opening at Arte de Conducta’s nine night exhibition. There, the men were confronted with a bulletin board that mimicked a detective’s investigation board displaying their  photographs, transcripts of their conversations, and personal information such as phone numbers and addresses. A small camera mounted above the board captured viewers’ reactions, hopefully including those of her solicitors. To protect her privacy, Güell was not present at the opening and we were not able to positively identify the men in question, but the footage might reveal whether her invitations were accepted. Despite the often oppressive nature of everyday life in Havana, particularly for a non-Cuban female,  Güell was able to exploit the experimental impetus of the Arte de Conducta to delve into these issues in her artwork.

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