OPC Blog Entry 4
March 27th, 2009
The 10th Havana Biennial opened today at the Fortaleza de San Carlos, a Spanish colonial fort situated on a small peninsula separated from Old Havana by a body of water. One of more than a dozen biennial exhibition spaces throughout the city, the fort’s picturesque location seemed like an ideal setting for the pavilions but reaching it was not uncomplicated. With no chartered shuttle, no means of traversing by foot, and baffling municipal bus routes, it was as though the biennial was designed to prohibit all but Havana insiders from reaching it. Several pavilions were installed within the fort’s centuries old infrastructures, which also contained vitrines displaying aboriginal weapons, medieval battering rams, and a Neanderthal man diorama. Enigmatic maps and unclear labeling enabled visitors to wander into the fort’s permanent displays and wonder if they were viewing a contemporary art installation.
Installation art was heavily represented at this part of the biennial, as opposed to otherwise performance-heavy biennial and the several painting exhibitions showcasing earlier generations of Cuban artists such as Wilfredo Lam. For us, the most interesting works at the fort were in the media of video and photography, both often functioning as part of a larger installation. Colombian artist Maria Elvira Escallón, for example, presented an installation featuring four large color photographs of metal bed frames. Some of the beds were placed in domestic spaces alongside chairs and night tables, while others were depicted more fantastically, with erupted grass almost completely obscuring the frame. At the end of the room was a white wall with a tiny peephole a little above eye-level. Through a fisheye lens, viewers witnessed a small chair adjacent to a metal bed frame resembling those in the photographs but here overflowing with soil. The way in which the stark arrangement of the material objects was coupled with the lusciously saturated, visually stunning aesthetic of their photographic representations resulted in a work that engaged the viewer sensorially and phenomenologically, as well as conceptually.
Juan Manuel Parada, a member of a Colombian video art collective, displayed Paka Posse, a surreal video telling a story about artistic and political development via different modes of animation technology. In this allegory of successive systems of visual representation, a magical pencil transforms the black-and-white world of collaged photographs into a mutable realm of color and imagination in which anyone with access to the pencils can change their world at will. Though the government of the collaged world sends forces armed with magical erasers to repress the spread of pencils, the rebels soon triumph in their creation of a whimsical, interactive utopia. Photography and video soon follow in Parada’s kooky history of representative technologies, imbuing their new world with an alluring, glossy sheen.
Later this weekend, we will be heading to San Agustín to spend the day at LASA, an artistic laboratory. We also look forward to Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Tania Bruguera’s upcoming performances at the Wilfredo Lam Center.