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"Under the paving stones, the beach." This dictum supports the truth that the subsoil of uniformed repression hides a libertarian diversity close to reaching the surface and, even more importantly, transforming it.
The expression was a pillar of the French May.
In Fin de silencio, Carlos Garaicoa inverts the meaning of this expression and the utopia that gives it life. The tapestries and messages that make up this project – popular hieroglyphics that today are read as almost mystical parables; previously innocuous, now threatening, charms – had remained hidden under the uniform sand (ideological or touristic, ideological and touristic) which is usually projected as the present of the Cuban experience.
Garaicoa is not unaware of the communicating vessels between the Antillean revolution and the French uprising (that mutual shift of sand and paving stones that have sustained so many revolutionary dreams in recent decades). With Sartre at the head of the connection and his proclamation of "revolution without ideology": distanced – according to his own present half a century ago – from the Soviet Union and at the same time from the United States. In a passage from Hurricane Over Sugar (the book he would dedicate to Cuba in 1960), the French philosopher even allows himself to propose to Cuban intellectuals his unique recipe for eluding both empires: "Be Frenchified," he said.
Sartre’s formula was not a pillar of the revolution. But it was a pillar of the image of the revolution in western lands. Since then, Cuba as an ideological fantasy and Ultima Thule of resistance to imperialism; a lighthouse of the anti-capitalist movements and symbolic landscape where westerners can, once a year, practise their tropical version of redemption.
In contrast to the imaginary islands and cities of Moro, Bacon, Campanella or Erasmus of Rotterdam, the intellectual left found in Cuba a distant but real island, an exotic but western place, an authoritarian but charismatic leader; similar to that King Utopos, founder of this dark and perfect world which was Utopia.
Indeed, utopia traces a continuous line in the work of Carlos Garaicoa. An overflowing utopia, however, given the not always perceptible fact of its obsolescence. Therefore – in contrast to the classic French dictum – here, under the beach of paradise (touristic and utopian, revolutionary and hedonistic), these tapestries that do not invoke any abstract emancipation but rather concrete possibilities – "minor" forms of facing the world – are rescued.
Carlos Garaicoa has not only persevered in observing the physical results of the utopias; he has also informed about the devastating consequences of their dreams. From his photographs of the ruins until his models, from his videos to his installations, from his plans to his texts, it has been the north of a work that has taken apart, one by one, the supposed truths of the utopian paradises. To this end, he has compared the "there is no such place" of these projects with the place, which really exists, of their ruins. Ruins transformed into ritual spaces; or into a set prepared for a postcard.
While others insist on defending the utopias under their redeeming halo, Garaicoa prefers to strictly focus on their physical deterioration. Insomuch as they are placed as a future paradigm, he issues a warning on their method of kidnapping the present. Where many see freedom, Garaicoa has detected repression.
This is the case of Las joyas de la corona. Eight "jewels" of repression placed under distinct cultures and political systems, but all guarantors, par excellence, of the disciplined working of the urban experience.
Neither Campanella’s City of the Sun; nor Tatlin’s spiral. Nor those works made for what is to come by the Italian futurists. It is simply about eight buildings where repression and torture are practised or designed: the Estadio Nacional de Chile; the KGB building, in the former Soviet Union; that of the Stasi in Germany; the Guantanamo Naval Base; the Pentagon in the United States; the Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada, in Argentina; the DGI or Villa Marista in Havana…
We are talking about silver models, pieces of jewellery. And about horror as the object of aesthetic sublimation, which can become art, and be silenced pertinently under a bath of silver.
If Las joyas de la corona is concerned with veiling, Fin de silencio "unveils" (in any sense of this word). The strategy is no longer about clouding, with a bath of silver, the most sinister areas of contemporary history.
Quite the contrary.
In Fin de silencio, the rescue of forms is, above all, the rescue of the word. The unmasking of the image is only the first step in recovering the imaginary.
By sweeping away sand, the standard has been dismantled. The carpet has been shaken and the hitherto inaudible whispers of another time and another life have started to appear. Secrets that were not under the carpet but drawn on it. (And upon it, an esplanade of silica that had to be subjected to excavation; to a certain archaeology).
The carpets of Fin de silencio seem to have suffered the action of the vacuum cleaners of Mr. Wormold (those that checkmated the world of the Cold War in Our Man in Havana). With these tenuous truths, clinging closely to these tapestries – just like Graham Greene’s false spy in Havana – "as to the scenario of a disaster."
Fin de silencio recovers a moment prior to our current experience. A world in which the cities have not (yet) become theme parks or the political deeds "artistic practices" to be programmed in museums. The beats heard here have something to say about contemporary art (or what remains of this ambiguous definition) and the obsession with finding – from Russia to China, from Guantanamo to the future Museum Island in Abu Dhabi – new levels of vanity conveniently varnished with altruistic discourses.
Hence these tapestries have a certain anachronistic sense. More than art, they evoke a craftsmanship; old and familiar, tactile and close. More than a discourse (under which they have remained crushed for long years) they imply a poetics. More than Cuban, they are "cubist", given that they advocate the forgotten custom of coexistence and acceptance of all possible angles.
In bringing them to the surface, Carlos Garaicoa proposes to us the solution of a contemporary crossroads, adaptable to any place or circumstance. It is difficult to resist living under the shapeless sand of standardisation, but we can hold on to our own words to resist, with some dignity, the urge for indifference that governs our time.
Iván de la Nuez
* 1964 Havana, Cuba. Essayist, art critic and curator.
Fin de Silencio
14 May - 28 August 2011
Centre d´Art La Panera
Also part of the exhibition:
4 June - 18 Sept. 2011
Le Sale del Convitto, Giorgio Cini Foundation, Venice, Italy
Previously shown at:
Abierto x Obras
Matadero de Madrid
25 Sept - 7 Nov. 2010
Internat. Architecture Exhibition, 22 May - 21 November 2021. Curator: Hashim Sarkis.
59th International Art Exhibition, 23 April - 27 November 2022. Artistic Director: Cecilia Alemani.