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Report from VIII Havana Biennial

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Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wilfredo Lam,
Nov 01, 2003 - Dec 15, 2003
La Habana Vieja, Cuba

Report from VIII Havana Biennial

During the course of the VIII Havana Biennial the Sala Servando Cabrera" art gallery was inaugurate, which showed paintings from the "Rites of Silence" series by Agustí­n Bejarano. The works of Bejarano confront the drama of contemporary humanity while weaving together stories based on our most elemental needs. On November 2 within the precincts of the Casa de las Américas, under the title "Art - Life", an auction took place, for humanitarian purposes, of works contributed by 52 Cuban artists. The proceeds will go to improve the living conditions of the children at the Oncohematological Room in the Villa Clara pediatric hospital (Center). At the auction, which has been developed with the slogan "every child saved is a work of art", works were shown by such well-known artists as Roberto Fabelo, Alicia Leal, Alexis Leyva (Kcho), Manuel Mendive, Zaida del Rí­o, Eduardo Roca (Choco), Arturo Montoto and Pedro Pablo Oliva, while photographs were included by the late Alberto Korda, Raúl Corral and Liborio Noval. According to unofficial sources, the works sold amounted to a total of US$80,000. Among the most successful were those of the "De la serie Archipiélago" series by Alexis Leyva (Kcho), and "The bird" by Manuel Mendive.

Other events which have become customary at each of the previous editions of the biennial are the theoretical talks. With the participation of 60 experts (artists, promoters, curators, professors, theorists and critics), this forum under the name "Forum Art - Life", represented a platform for analyzing topics in connection with different art forms as a living experience, and for the relationships between art and life in the new millennium.

Very close to El Morro is the Fort of San Carlos de la Cabaña, the largest of those built by Spain in the New World with walls over 700 meters in extent, emphasizing the defensive system erected in Havana following the English occupation. The Colonial architecture of the Fort, its geographic location, and the large size of its rooms make this an ideal place for exhibitions within the framework of the VIII Havana Biennial. On view was the "Aracnic percussion assembly" by Ariel Guzik (Mexico) formed by spider-like automated machines which rang out bell-like sounds and played drums. Another of the facilities attracting attention in this tour is "La Patera" by the Cuban Armando Mariño, consisting of an autombile chassis (Chevrolet) in plaster, polychrome polyester, wood and glass. The Argentine Edgardo Madanes presented "The earth joins us, the earth separates us", while "Contention" is the proposal of the Cuban resident in Mexico, Geisell Capetillo. From Holland Zegers Reyers brings us "Auspicio", consisting of a large table piled high with crockery. Flags from different countries designed in white and black with official dimensions and materials--a call to the end of global politics--is the "Apolí­tico" exhibit proposed by the Cuban Wilfredo Prieto. Based on the knowledge that the impression produced by each one of the objets of art is decisively influenced by its location and environmental structure, the German Jens J. Meyer has mounted an exhibit influenced by architecture and landscape, with a social utility giving the spectator numerous possibilities for reading, consultation and entry.

Artists such as Alma Quinto (Phillipines) act as mediators between various cultural, corporal and psychological realms, using the power of cloth as an implement for feminine meditation, communication and subversion. In her work "Higaanng Babylam", she collects and brings together feminine concepts through cloth and needle, and attests to the generating capacity of women, especially their capacity to give birth. Leaving canvas and paper to one side, Aimeé Garcí­a of Cuba explores daily life in depth with her work "Home". An amazingly patient process was undertaken in sewing and embroidering a tablecloth formed by metal sheets in the most faithful antique style, with an attitude bordering on madness in view of the implicit and explicit difficulty of embroidering such hard and resistant objects. This is a very well composed work with a visibly poetic tone, the contents of which emphasized certain socio-political realities on the island.

The Cuban Liset Castillo showed us her work "Point of Departure", consisting of color photographs on aluminum foil. In the words of Liset, her work is founded on three basic concepts: impermanence, vulnerability and nomadic aspects governing contemporary life. Another project at the Fort of the Cabaña is the Reproduction Workshop (Argentina) with the work "The Transitory Nature of Ramona". On this occasion we were shown a group of seriographs and cloth made by the inmates of the Ezeiza Womens’ Correctional Institution. This project represented a very rewarding experience, founded in the year 2000 as a workshop for training the inmates of the institution in the art of engraving.

Another of the showcases of this Biennial was represented by the San Francisco de Asis Convent. At the present time the Convent is operating as a concert hall, since the majesty of its construction lends itself to extraordinary acoustics. The rooms of the ancient cloisters are currently being used as a school for Junior High School students. Reverberating with music within this timeless environment, the outstanding work of William Hernández (Cuba) entitled "Adam and Eve" was placed in the courtyard. We can also see in other pavilions the works of Luis Gómez, with his boxes of lights ("Document"), the screening by Elsoca and Fabian, "Nothing like one day after another", Lindomar Placencia with "Rope", and others as part of the "Virus" project. Other spaces have been opened within the framework of this Biennial, including the Visual Arts Center, where the works of Carlos Garaicoa, Esterio Segura and Luis Gómez was being shown. At a "solar" (a place containing many small dwellings with access to common patios and passageways) in Central Havana, the exhibition took place of the Isaroko Project, by the Cuban artists Manuel Mendive, Roberto Diago and Eduardo Roca, "Choco". Also taking part was Betzabée Romero with her textile printing workshop and beautifully transformed recycled tires.

Lastly, we want to take note of the exhibition which took place at the Galerí­a de 23 y 12 with Sandra Ramos and Abel Barroso. Under the title "State of the Art Technology", Abel showed us interactive artifacts moved by the manipulation of mechanical parts that required the participation of the public, while, on the other hand, Sandra exhibited "Shipwrecks", a series of illuminated photographs of fishbowls with texts from the poet Virgilio Piñera. His work cited here, Island in the balance), is a beautiful example of the work he has done on the subject of Cuba over the past 10 years.

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