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Touring the Malecón, from La Punta to Maceo Park on inaugural Sunday. May 24, 2015, was a bona fide festivity. People were out to “enjoy” the Biennial, to see, to ask, to smell, to touch and, in short, to take part in and be a part of this art, which under a clear-sighted curatorial principle, has overrun the streets of the city. So it was nothing unusual to see entire families, grandparents with their grandkids, couples hand-in-hand, everyone sharing the space with artists, winners of the National Literature Prize, such as Nancy Morejón and Reynaldo González, critic Gerardo Mosquera who had a hand in legitimizing young art in the 1980s, musicologist Miriam Escudero or Deputy Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas who was going up and down, smiling broadly and with his cell phone glued to his ear, to all intents and purposes like someone in one of the performance pieces.
Turning off the Prado onto the Malecón, I had my first surprise. Was that light post always there? A group of nosey parkers confirmed my suspicions that this was “an artwork in the Biennial.” That’s how I found Rafael Villares’ Árbol de luz [Tree of Light] made up of lights from 15 different countries listed at the foot of the “tree,” and which passersby identified at will. Accompanied by his parents, wife and even his baby daughter, the artist was answering questions and slyly assuring people that not marrying lampposts with countries had been intentional and he was leaving this to the public’s imagination.
Close by, in the small La Punta Park, for his work called Stella, Florencio Gelabert implanted 60 cut and burned tree trunks on mirrors seeking to remove established esthetic patterns and shake our automatism.Across the street as we endlessly zigzagged our way along, Glexis Novoa has filled the surviving columns of a ruin with exquisite miniature drawings in El vacio (La Habana) [Emptiness (Havana)]. Spectators have a good time finding and deciphering them while a performer dances passages from the adagio of the second act of Swan Lake.
Some works have not been identified but this fact only seems to add to our pleasure. The bronze studded with shells has Manuel Mendive written all over it, but other pieces are not so identifiable, like the strange marine forms made out of orange gloves; or the piece of cloth held up by blue ribbons being woven precariously by two young people inside a metallic structure; or the delicate white forms “planted” on a shiny surface; or the set of Chinese chopsticks with the symbols of Cuba and the US. There is a tall lookout, like a lifeguard station, which anyone brave enough can climb and gaze out over the horizon like an ancient mariner in his crow’s nest. And a huge secretaire full of drawers that are most difficult to open hold secrets that are impossible to reveal. A giant woman’s high-heeled open-toed shoe serves as a slide for the kids’ enjoyment.
Roberto Fabelo gives us Delicatessen, a huge pot that has its surface pierced by a gazillion forks until the whole thing looks like a repulsive porcupine. But after this first impression, passersby get up close, touch it and try to look into the interior of the recipient through all the holes. Judging by the blank spaces visible in a few spots, a few audacious souls have even tried to take home a fork or two as souvenirs.
Arlés del Río’s Resaca fits in so well where it is located that at first you don’t notice how odd it is to see a beach with sand, parasols, tables and loungers on a section of the Malecón seawall. Even better is the fact that some people come and rest in the loungers while others install themselves on chairs and tables with beer, hi-fi equipment, sun hats, just as if this was Varadero, in the secret desire that the installation never gets taken down, ever. And Inti Hernández’s Balance cubano also invites spectators to take a break and chat while comfortably settled in rocking chairs.
Another work that is drawing a lot of attention is Rachel Valdés Camejo’s Cubo azul. Inside the blue cube, the play of color, the transparency and the mirrors give a totally different view of the city and the ocean. Going inside and coming out again is like some fantastic journey that everyone would like to take. Maybe that’s why such long queues have formed. Both adults and children await their turns to enter this strange blue paradise.
Further on, I join some gawkers who are bobbing their heads from one side to another discovering the double image in Goteo, Ernesto and Javier Fernández’s ingenious piece of lenticular photographs. “Lady, look closer. There’s a trick here.” That’s the advice given me by a young man in shorts, flip-flops and beer in hand. I wonder if he has already written his message on Manuel Hernández Cardona’s Love Is Calling You, a great opportunity to put graffiti out there for all to see.
Kids have a great time climbing, sliding and running without hearing the well-known maternal admonishment of “Don’t touch that!” They’re going crazy with the ice-skating rink installed by Duke Riley on The Cold Corner, as it is called, of Malecón and Belascoaín. At first they’re shy, maybe even a bit fearful, but in no time they’re sliding, slipping, tumbling and laughing. It’s happiness wearing the face of a child!
On the sidewalk by the sea, lookouts, towers, and even a telescope invite you to survey the horizon. I wonder what lies beyond the wall. On the street, a transvestite resembling a Tropicana cabaret dancer moves around among the passers-by. Over there, an asexual figure in red remains motionless, letting itself be observed. Further on, a man is embroidering hankies. I thought this was a spontaneous action and then someone told me this was Ricardo Rodríguez who used to embroider handkerchiefs with his hair (that he let grow for 30 years), and then gave the hankies away. But by then I was too tired to backtrack.
A colorful stall attracts the attention of every pedestrian who are trying to find out what’s inside. A little girl, her face full of sunshine, whispers that when it’s open, they give away toys.
Facing Maceo Park, at the end (or the beginning, depending on which direction you choose to take) of “Juanito’s Wall,” there is an impressive piece: two bows with converging arrows, but you can’t see their points, only the shafts and feathers. An elderly gentleman, probably an editor or a designer, commented to his companion: “That should be the cover of whatever book is written about future Cuba-US relations.” Opuestos by Kadir López and Enrique Valdés, with its infinite suggestions, is a splendid start or finish to venture into this exhibition that is in front of, on and beyond the wall.
June 2015 This article formed part of the june 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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