Sunday, May 24, 2015

Havana Day 4 (art and politics)

This is Tania Bruguera, the Cuban artist, emerging after she's just closed up her 100-hour performance piece, a reading of Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism.  The readings were carried out by those who signed up on a sheet on the inside wall of a bare space - with chair, microphone (the reading was relayed to the street outside), and dove.  To read was, necessarily, to give support to artistic freedom of expression.  As the Biennial shows - the official Biennial, that is, for this of course was far from official - art and politics move hand in hand here.  But not all art. Indeed, the official rumor (if there are such things, and in Cuba there most certainly are) was that Bruguera wasn't even here, but in Venice.  Of course she was here.

So people read.  Here's the Peruvian art critic, Jorge Villacorte - whilst the tethered dove is being gently coaxed back to its corner.

I sat in the chair about an hour later.  I'd only intended to read a short paragraph - whilst I can read Spanish aloud ok, you'd hardly use me as a model performer, unless you don't mind its heavy Italian intonation.  But no one seemed around to take over.  Indeed, and ominously, people seemed to be clearing up their things.  But one doesn't stop reading, in a videoed performance ... seven pages of Arendt later, Tania B herself came and took the book from me, and finished that particular paragraph (which was about the Nazi persecution of the Jews and other undesirables).

And then we all exited; walked twenty paces up the street, where she was greeted by a man and a woman from the Ministry of the Interior.  Everyone was very courteous.  TB released the dove; got into the car, and off she was driven.

By that stage, I'd been firmly told to stop taking photographs - I snatched this one as I put my camera away.  You can't tell who's plain clothes here, and who isn't.  What was more confusing was the chanting that broke out afterwards - all led by women, who seemed to be local - Viva la revolucion! Viva Fidel!  I couldn't tell whether they were glad to see the back of someone whose presence had caused them to have their street ripped up for "work" as soon as the performance started a couple of days ago - or what.  Time was when, in an Italian street, people started singing Bandiera Rossa trionfera! and one knew where one was.  This was a very direct insight into life in Cuba today.

This all made the official art of the official Biennale look a little tame.  Spent the morning at the many small shows in the Moorish fort - plenty was interesting, but I'll single out Aries del Rio's "La necesidad de otros aires" - "The need for other airs" (or one might subtitle it: I Can't Breathe) - lots of mouthpieces on the end of plastic tubing;

and Fabelo's large piece with workers marching round a huge cauldron.

Indeed, back on the Malecon, forks were in evidence again (there is much repurposing in contemporary Cuban art - maybe there's been a fork surplus).

Some locals were using installations as fishing towers;

others were just hanging out and watching;

and others waiting for the storm to break.  

Hard, however, to think about the Biennial in quite the same way, after this afternoon.

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