YOAN CAPOTE 

(Pinar del Río, Cuba, 1977)

 

 

 

Yoan Capote may be the first Cuban artist to be directly interested in artistically exploring the small physical, sensorial, emotional, psychological and even glandular or endocrine reactions that the human being experiences. For a long time the wonderful and multiple functions of our bodies were neglected as a topic or source of inspiration for the creation of artistic works. Our visual arts were devoted to superficial or mimetic explorations. Op art, for example, played with the mechanisms of our vision (as EuropeanImpressionism had done by using dots of colours which our vision joined into an image). Other artists played with our sense of touch, letting people feel and move parts of their works. Yoan Capote has not only made use of scents and flavours in some of his works, but went beyond the superficial and used the human senses to make deep links with social and political reality.

 

The optic or kinetic art by Cuban artists of earlier generations such as Sandú Darié (Rumania, 1908 - Havana, 1991) with the use of lights and sounds to activate other sensorial levels, or the sculptures by Osneldo García (Las Villas, 1931) which recreated provocative sexual movements, could be seen assome of the scant antecedents of Yoan Capote. Yet in none of these cases can we speak of a complete use of the suggestive powers that the secret functions of the human organism can provoke. In spite of their value and audacity, these previous explorations did not advance much further. Perhaps onlythe famous Detector de Ideologías (Ideology Detector), 1989 by the controversial Cuban artist Lázaro Saavedra (Havana, 1964) can be considered a reallyclose antecedent.

 

Fifty years of Marxist and socialist education made us all worryabout the anthill and not the ant, the big picture (macro) and not the little things (micro), the national economy and not issues such as the male erection, scoliosis or bruxism (disorder characterized by the grinding of the teeth). The social being stole the limelight for a long time. Mass-man, the ideological, political, historical and philosophical being, displaced and made the individual human being nearly invisible.

 

Yoan Capote had to start almost from zero to recapture the issue from its basic, primary stages. His conceptual platform can be summed up schematically as follows: what happens in society happens first in each one of our organisms, in the individual human beings and vice versa, what happens in our bodies, in our organisms, has representations at a social and political scale. The human body (that bag of bones, muscles, blood, guts, nerves, glands) has therefore been the main raw material of his art, its starting point. Yoan’s works do not wallow in physiologic, sensorial and neurological or endocrinal speculations. The results of his investigation into these responses, reactions and changes that take place at the organic level serve to reveal those manifestations or consequences that take place in social and political behaviour. His objective is to make us reflect on those equivalences, with a focus on the latter end of the relationship.

 

Despite his youth and the fact that Yoan Capote began his artistic production at the end of the 20th century (a very “special period”), the novelty of his work and having reached a great level of local and international acceptance in the last few years, have turned him into one of the most visible figures of our artistic milieu.

 

In the beginning, before his graduation from the Higher Institute of Art, Yoan made works together with his brother, artist Iván Capote, with whom he discussed many of his concerns and aesthetic visions and with whom he exhibited and performed on several occasions. Yoan also participated as a member of the Galería DUPP (DUPP Gallery), a travelling school that was organized and directed by Cuban artist René Francisco Rodríguez (Holguín, 1960). DUPP Gallery (the acronym of the title of their project Desde Una Pragmática Pedagógica (From APedagogic Pragmatics), carried out a sequence of interesting experiments with students of the Higher Institute of Art. The DUPP artists organized performances and interventions in public spaces after profound debates and collective studies with their professor.This was a critical moment in which many of the representatives of the Cuban artistic avant-garde had migrated to other countries and a kind of apathy or malfunctioning of the institutions devoted to visual arts became widespread, creating a vacuum that such collective experiences attempted to fill.But as frequently happens, the moment arrived when Yoan Capote decided to abandon collective work and continue on his own. Undoubtedly, this group training, in which analysis, discussion, criticism, self-criticism and profound sociological research about the environment in which the works were to be placed played a decisive role in the methodology that he later followed.

 

Yoan Capote’s sculptures and conceptual and minimalist installations have great doses of humour and craftiness. Although they generally stem from human behaviour or responses or are related to parts of the body (brain, noses, legs, ears, phalluses, breasts), they approach an endless number of our social and political problems in a highly expressive way. This has almost always been the final destination of his journey.

 

Let us examine the characteristics of some of the works by Yoan Capote. He comments on female prostitution in Cuba (the abundance of which was notorious and shocking during the first years of the economic crisis), by creating a park bench to be located in a public space where prostitution was habitually exercised. The arms of the bench are the bodies of kneeling women, so that those who sit down are leaning their body weight on the backs of those women, Parque Prohibido (Forbidden Park), 1999. To comment on the difficulties and limitations of travelling for Cubans, Yoan filled a suitcase with bricks, creating a wall inside to express that limitation, while making the suitcase too heavy to carry as a symbol of that difficulty (Nostalgia, 2004). To allude to mental imbalances, he placed a bubble level on a sculptural piece representing a head sustained by a rocker arm, which prevents the level from ever achieving a true balance, Locura(Madness), 2004. A column with sections separated by sets of teeth made in brass supporting the weight of each one of the blocks, refers to one of the most common ailments of our tense contemporary urban society, bruxism (Stress, 2004). To reflect political and economic power and ambition, he built a stairway supported by rockers, upon which it is difficult to keep a balance, Voluntad de poder(Will of Power),2006. The double currency circulating in our country (at the moment Cuban peso and Cuban convertible peso, but previously American dollars), is resolved by the creation of a small hybrid between the two currencies, a Cuban 20 cent coin with José Martí's effigy, and an American quarter, with George Washington's image, which once assembled exchange part of the physiognomies of both personalities and the messages inscribed on those coins, Dinero Bilingüe(Bilingual Money)2002. Economic inequality between people is expressed by means of two parallel bricks that form the sign of equality (=) which is crossed by a bundle of bills creating the sign of inequality (≠), Intrínseco (Intrinsic, 2006).

 

Although the conceptual formulations and the formal solutions of the works of Yoan Capote make him stand out as one of the few Cuban artists inclined toward a global aesthetic, capable of being assimilated in any exhibition context and market, his ingenious character, wit and interest in addressing problems in contemporary Cuban society result in his work maintaining a strongly vernacular, local tone and social commitment that is not so frequent in global art. The works of the impressive series Isla (Island), 2005-2009, for example, have been made using thousands of fishhooks to represent the sea that surrounds Cuba, with which the artist transmits a mixture of desire and a sensation of danger, a trap that the act of migrating, of abandoning one’s country represents, an adventure that has been attempted by thousands of Cubans with varying degrees of success. The sea of fishhooks also seems to express the dramatic isolation that Cubans experience, both by living surrounded by the sea and because of external and internal political situations, such as the long and absurd economic embargo imposed by the successive U.S.administrations against Cuba and the multiple prohibitive measures applied to the Cuban population by our own government.

 

Let us say lastly that a notorious characteristic of Yoan Capote is that he has absolute control of the meaning of his works, since these have been minutely planned so that those meanings are compact and offer the viewer a certain route to follow in interpretations. This planning takes place when the work is only a sketch, a project, a scale model. Yoan Capote gives long and coherent explanations about each one of his works. Curiously, our readings always end up coinciding with his.

 

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