Friday, July 3, 2009

Havana Biennal, performance and wacky politics

Alfredo Triff

I'm beginning to post stuff from the blogosphere. Here a paragraph from
Art World Salon:

The Havana Biennial has always stood in a category of its own, and as such a cultural anomaly it is always valuable to see what it has to tell us. It is produced with a minuscule budget, and anything done there is done against a powerful background of symbolism and—it feels to me—historical resonance. While other biennials feel like spectacles, Havana feels like a cause. But every time I visit I am left both with contradictory hopefulness, dismay, and disillusionment. Hopefulness because art really feels to have a mission and a purpose there; dismay because what flourishes there does so at the expense of repressive state policies and a yearning of freedom of expression. And disillusionment because Cuban artists, while the appreciate the attention, ultimately their aspirations are be in Chelsea, while we outsiders crave for the sense of historical mission hat they have. So, again, is there something to be learned from the remnants of this revolution?

I find Pablo Helguera's piece on the Havana Biennial pretty on target. It's not easy to talk about the Cuban issue without sounding either naive or didactic (or both). Tania Bruguera's performance attracted a lot of attention: A week after the event, the Biennial Organizing Committee published this note on La Jiribilla, a popular Cuban Website:

On Sunday March 29 at the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, several people outside the cultural sphere, led by a professional "dissident" made by the powerful media group PRISA,1 took advantage of the performance by artist Tania Bruguera for a provocation against the Cuban Revolution. These individuals, at the service of an anti-Cuban propaganda machine, repeated the worn-out claim of "freedom" and "democracy" as required by their sponsors. They talked or rather acted for the cameras, and the incident became today big news in the Florida media.2

The "dissident" above is Yoani Sánchez, an internationally-known Cuban blogger who runs Generación Y. The trepidation of the organizers over
this section of Bruguera's performance goes to show the wackiness of Cuban institutional politics. What did the conceptual artist think of the performance? When Fabiola Santiago, an art critic from The Miami Herald, interviewed Bruguera over the phone from Miami, she declared: "I'm an artist who tries the impossible. This is my job and that's how I live my life."
1The reference to PRISA would automatically imply that Ms. Sánchez is acting as a foreign agent. Sanchez's independent journalism has provoked strong responses from the Cuban authorities.2 It gets better: Bruguera's performance is entitled Tatlin, which brings to mind Lissitzky's Rednertribune. According to the Constructivists, if art was to have any meaning at all, "it had to stir the people." Tatlin (the artist) would have been proud of the outcome of Bruguera's Tatlin. Maybe art is more than just an feeble apology for empty beauty-talk.


Anonymous said...

Triff: As a Cuban-American artist, all this smell like political shenanigans. I can sympathize with your take, but Bruguera cannot have it better. First, she travels outside the island and lives and teaches in Chicago. That's not the situation of many artists that were not included in the Biennial and had to show in a bunch of alternative places throughout the city. The authorities didn't see it coming. More than Bruguera's plan it was a spur of the moment thing.
Thanks and good luck with your blog.

miamibourbaki said...

The authorities didn't see it coming. More than Bruguera's plan it was a spur of the moment thing.

Agree. But even if she didn't intend to be as subversive, Bruguera's piece served the Constructivist ideal. Don't you think?

Feminista said...

I'm glad Bruguera had the idea of having the piece performed at the Biennial. And who knows? Maybe she had hopes for something of that sort to happen. It opens the possibility for timid but nonetheless incipient acts of dissent. I guess that is the beauty of performance.