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Prieto graduated as a painter from the Higher Institute of the Arts, Havana, in 2002. At that time his work could be interpreted as a sort of opposition to what he had learned. It was an exercise in which the instinct for freedom and an iconoclastic stance predominate. The starting point for his explorations on canvas with acrylics was his search to come to terms with doubt and uncertainty.
The artist presents us with territories or objects where different events have been consummated. One approaches them after the illusion, passing through places that have been withered by what is happening. Viewers come into contact with these events that have been tempered by experiences and the desires of others. Circo triste [Sad Circus] (2012), made during the Eleventh Havana Art Biennale, is such a painting: in this case, the work is completed one day after the show has been given. The viewer arrives in the empty circus tent, minus the music and the clowns. The trash left by those who were there before can be seen and forces viewers to reflect.
Gestures preceding the intervention are brought to life in every scenario. It is a type of unburdening that seems to originate in the mind and dictates the nature of the poetry. It is really quite an open circuit, open to all possibilities. It envisions the potential of each substance and object so that one can get to the deeper significance.
We are dealing with the extreme metaphors extended to us by the artist, such as in Piedra con mantequilla [Stone with Butter] (2011), where the supposed stability of language is penetrated by sensorial fluids, filtering tension and a wide range of moods. Viewing this stone with butter, we can feel horror imagining what would happen should we bite into this morsel. We participate in an absurd situation to which we have been led through the power of Prieto’s visualization.
His piece Polvo amplificado por diamante [Dust Amplified by Diamond] (2011) reveals another powerful metaphor: the two elements are extraordinarily connected in a play of values. This reflects one of the valid concerns of contemporary art all over the world. We see here the diamond giving dust its due, ceding its protagonist position to it and resulting in a beautiful experience for language.
With his Estrella muerta [Dead Star] (2010), Wilfredo Prieto again surprises us. The key to this composition is its apparent simplicity which invites a multiplicity of interpretations. The center of interest is a match which has concluded its useful life, which is, in essence, dead. However creative, instinct has given it another dimension: the match has turned into a star. The poetry of this idea is stronger than the tactual ruth, giving way to the theory that dead stars become black holes.
Prieto has us witnessing a manifestation that needs no premeditation. We are inundated by expressions of contingencies, images where reality encourages our desire to search for answers. We are being pursued by instincts and provocation. We sometimes do not receive the answers we expect. Everything occurs following an esthetic behavior that ends up being the support and provides legitimacy to these events.
Part of Prieto’s work is closely associated with sculpture and other pieces are so expansive they are closer to performance and installations such as his Mucho ruido y pocas nueces [Much Ado About Nothing] executed at the Galeria Habana in 2003. This was one very paradoxical intervention, faithful to its title and also a steadfast expression of popular ways of talking.
Amarrado a la pata de la mesa [Tied to the Chair’s Leg] (2011) was another performance in his work. On this occasion, he delightfully manipulated the illusion of the audience, getting them to finally believe that everything is relative and that they have no other option than to get used to this status. It is a very showy piece with great social impact.
Among his most sculptural works is Biblioteca en blanco [White Library] (2004), composed of 6,000 books. These books are pure structure and have absolutely no content. They can be considered as a whole or as units. Something similar occurs with his Pecera sin peces [Fishbowl Without Fish] (2011). Both of these works operate on the concept that traditional objects have had their utility removed so that they can be exhibited in purely esthetic terms. But this new vacuum or nothingness generates reflection. The absence of conventional signals provokes the birth of others and the only witness is the individual in the most perfect experience of solitude.
Prieto’s installations result in a wide variety of reactions and this becomes a complement to the creative act. It legitimates the subjective atmosphere and on this basis, one is able to evaluate the meaning of its execution.
It is amazing how the artist passes through the different states of creation, going from the minimal structure of a chickpea to the complex monumentality of a mechanical crane. We are exposed to his sensibilities and to the influence of his obsessions, the tools he needs and which decide his destiny.
In an indisputably novel manner, Wilfredo Prieto dialogues with the problems of ideologies and history. The weight of these phenomena does not eclipse the prominence of desire and the seduction of the spaces through which it travels. That instinct about what has to prevail pulls apart anything that could be tedious and removes it from the burden caused by formulas.
May 2015 This article formed part of the May 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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