CARLOS GARAICOA MANSO 

(Havana, 1967)

 

 

 

The art career of Carlos Garaicoa has been truly meteoric. That doesn't mean that he appeared out of nowhere or that sheer luck (or a sudden market opportunity) exempted him from the gradual upward mobility that characterizes the careers of many artists and launched him into celebrity. Garaicoa has always moved forward step-by-step to guarantee a sure advance without setbacks. And this has been possible, not only due to a large dose of talent, originality and creativity, but also to discipline and an enviable ability to organize, like an efficiently-run business. In the field of art, these characteristics are seen more frequently in a film production, or in a theatre or dance company, and certainly in the field of architecture or urban projects and constructions, where collective planned work is essential; but it is unusual to find them in a visual artist whose works are exhibited in galleries and museums. In the case of Carlos Garaicoa, the execution of his numerous projects -- often shown simultaneously in various parts of the world -- would be impossible without the backup of a small and powerful team of professionals of diverse disciplines grouped under the name "Carlos Garaicoa Studio.”[i] In Cuba, this technique is  recent, perhaps inaugurated by Carlos Garaicoa.

 

It seems that, like in the biological process called natural selection, the Cuban artists who began their work during the harsh economic (and also social, political, cultural and moral) crisis, called the Special Period, were subjected to a swift adaptative process that made them stronger and more dynamic than those who began their career during the previous long, paternalistic or subsidized period. Like creatures that begin to walk by themselves and search for food as soon as they emerge from their shell or their mother's womb, some of these new artists entered the art system hardly depending on governmental institutions. Garaicoa is a typical example of this autonomous, self-promoted, self-employed generation.

 

Carlos Garaicoa is also one of the few Cuban artists whose work has a global character, not only in terms of international circulation and exhibitions, but also at the level of interests, themes and ethical and political attitudes in the face of situations and problems whose relevance goes beyond the local environment; the Angolan War, authoritarianism, censorship, repressive institutions, and capital and globalization are a few examples.

 

Yet in spite of the complexity and variety of his artistic expressions, the work of Carlos Garaicoa has the virtue of preserving a relatively homogeneous nucleus. Frequently he uses the universal languages of architecture and urbanism as his main sources of stimulation. Thus we can identify his alphabet and his grammar and feel like polyglots, even when he uses different calligraphies, according to the content of his ever-changing discourse, which is provocative, rebellious, subversive, as well as utopian and often anarchist. It does not matter that his work deals with forgotten neighbourhoods, ramshackle buildings, urban spaces threatening to disappear, closed cinemas, buildings for imprisonment and torture,  walls riddled with  bullets,  he always refers to the persons who live or use these places, to their problems and aspirations. Neither is it important that in his creations he resorts to scale models, drawings, photos, threads, candles, paper lanterns and folded papers. His work is always focussed on the problems of society, the individual, not who but where, not the concrete man or woman or society, but the environment where they live, that reflects their moods, psychologies, ideologies and counter-ideologies, dissatisfactions, nightmares and illusions. Other artists have chosen portrait or self-portrait, or nature, for example, to express the same problems, but cities have shown to be, beyond their real functionality, more malleable conduits of expressive possibilities. One can try to trace the presence of human representations, individuals or groups in his works and end up confirming their almost total absence. They aren’t there, but actually, they are always there; we are always there. Facing his works we are not only viewers but, momentarily, their inhabitants.

 

Of the romantic debris of old Havana of colonial and republican times, from which he once extracted fragments like a nostalgic archaeologist resolute to restore them with care, he went on to restore, by means of drawings, many of those ramshackle buildings making imaginative, imaginary reconstructions, and later on he focused on the depressing typology of the multi-family, prefabricated cities, which are the result of the Social Microbrigades. Many buildings remained unfinished for many years or have not been maintained due to lack of resources, and have become ruins. Later Garaicoa built sophisticated cities of lighted paper lamps. Or placed on a table a fragile city made of small glass objects. Or reproduced an old torched city using candles. Or conceived buildings out of books piled on shelves. Or made small replicas, in molten silver, of nefarious buildings used for repression and torture in various countries.  He has been able to say almost everything using the language of the city, architecture, urbanism and urban furniture. Even billboards (used exclusively for conveying the ideological messages of the only party of Cuba, the Communist Party) made it possible for Garaicoa to poke fun with poetry at the huge size of that monotonous propaganda, making use of the skeletons or empty structures which have been abandoned throughout the city, to place his enigmatic messages (No, no, no, I cannot go on), or to expand them in space like elegant buildings, and by doing so "transform the political word into facts, finally," like the title of that series. These and all his works show that it is possible to make a thoughtful, critical art, socially and politically committed, without giving up aesthetic and poetic sophistication and without having to resort to propagandist or barricade messages.



 

[i] The Carlos Garaicoa Studio is made up by Lillebit Fadraga (director), Victor A. Obin (model maker), Jetter González (architect), Irelio Alonso (graphic designer) and Mytil Font (general assistant and archives), Annelis Lien and Elena Zapata (assistants).

 

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