Monday March 2, 2015

In Conversation: Caridad Blanco on Las otras narraciones, Part 1

The curator reflects on Cuban animation as an expressive medium

Installation view, Fernando Rodríguez, Reflexiones visuales, 2009

Photo: Manuel Larrañé, courtesy Caridad Blanco

This past fall, one of the highlights of the 6th Salon of Contemporary Cuban Art was Caridad Blanco’s exhibition Las otras narraciones: Una década de animación independiente (The Other Narrations: A Decade of Independent Animation). In a conversation with Abelardo Mena, the curator talks about the show and animation as a medium in Cuban art and culture.

How did the exhibition come about?

The idea of Las otras narraciones is related to different stages of research I was doing about media in art. As a curator, my first experience with animation came with the show Ciertas Historias de Humor (Certain Histories of Humor) in 1991, which was exhibited as The Unknown Face of Cuban Art in the Northern Centre of Contemporary Art (NCCA) in the UK in 1992. It reclaims the comic strip as a language—one of the most underrated genres of visual arts in this country—reframing it as a concept covering various moments in narrative drawing in Cuba.

That show extended from the characters Sabino and Salomón, made in the 1960s by Rafael Fornes and Santiago Armada (Chago) for the newspaper Rotograbado de Revolución, to works by Lázaro Saavedra, Ciro Quintana, Sandra Ceballos, and Reynerio Tamayo, exponents of the so-called New Cuban Art. A segment of that show included animations, a creative field that maintained, and maintains, links with the graphic mode.

Some of the artists in the show drew comic strips. Then I also wanted to highlight works by Jesús González de Armas, Tulio Raggi, Hernán Enríquez, and other artists who worked in ICAIC´s Animation Department, which in the early 1960s was oriented towards adult audiences, the presence of humor, and the experimental image.

Within the audiovisual production of the last decade, I saw how animation had carved out a space for itself in the field of video creation. This was evident since 2007, with the exhibition Espacios Multiplicados (Multiplied Spaces), presented at the Centro de Dewarrollo de las Artes Visuales (Center for the Development of the Visual Arts, or CDAV). Works such as Ludoterapia del poderoso by Lázaro Saavedra, Translation by Luis Gómez, or the virtual house armed by Fernando Rodríguez and Intercambio by Antonio Gómez Margolles were as different as if they were made of each artist’s own spoken words, but they had one thing in common: the animation.

The 5th Salon of Contemporary Cuban Art, presented in 2008, devoted one of its segments to this genre. In the idea I conceived then—which could not be brought to completion—was a considerable part of Las otras narraciones. Then, in two curatorial projects I did for MAPRI (the Museum of Art in Pinar del Rio) in November 2012, animation took a leading role.

At the end of that experience, the project Las otras narraciones was definitively shaped, with an interpretation of today´s visual culture in which the visual arts, television, and film coexist without any visual hierarchy. That reading of audiovisual elements, of the animated image, of mobilizing information, and its effect on communication with the public, the circuits and forms of consumption through which it travels, earned it a place in the 6th Salon of Contemporary Cuban Art—an event designed around communication, information, and channels of circulation in the Cuban context.

Video still, Yamil Garrote, Reforma Agraria, 2012

Courtesy Caridad Blanco

How do you define the concept of animation?

Animation is defined as the process used to create the sensation of motion in drawings, images, or inanimate objects. If we analyze its etimology, the word comes from the Latin, and means giving "soul" to the immobile—constructing movements that do not exist in reality. Today, it is possible to define as animation any method that’s capable of creating that illusion—even editing-room effects, actions that accelerate or slow motion, digital effects (geometric, abstract, or graphic), to give a few examples.

Animation techniques are manifold. Among the best known are: drawings or cartoons; stop-motion and puppet animation,  animation using objects, cut paper, and moldable materials like clay, as well as painting-in-process, performances with sand, and pixilation.

There is also rotoscoping, which has certain prejudices associated with it. Then, there is 2D and 3D digital animation, and the formats supporting animation: GIF, SWF (or Flash) files, and also, data visualizations and visual manifestations—achieved by a multi-disciplinary integration—associated with different events that are linked, or not, to musical expression.

Today all animation processes involve the computer, using different software programs.

Video still, Lázaro Saavedra, Nunca digas que el dolor te mata, 2014

Courtesy Art on Cuba

Which techniques were most widely used by the artists in the exhibition?

The most commonly used techniques were cartoons, stop-motion, and 2D and 3D animation. But we weren’t interested in highlighting those techniques in particular, or any other programs that were used. What matters are the ideas that the artists worked with, the chronicle of their time that the works created—the reflections on social, political, and existential problems; the possibility of articulating concepts, of telling other stories outside the usual run of mass media and the industry; and mobilizing public support for the sake of culture.

The works of the 103 arrtists who participated in La otra narrativa—and even more others—are part of a significant segment of the contemporary Cuban audiovisual field; otherwise it would not be possible to tell the story of animation in Cuba. In Las otras narraciones, animation was presented as an expressive medium. A medium that results from the confluence of other media: drawing, painting, photography, modeling, collage, design, to mention a few, together with various multimedia and digital techniques.

The exhibition was thus a record of what has been created on the island. A visual record: art, television, film, advertising, virtual experiments, all of which are part of the visual culture of the present moment. One way to view animation is as a vehicle for ideas, with the possibility of telling other types of stories and partaking of different sensory states. It’s an unorthodox proposal arising from the multiple forms of expression that are possible today: video art, commercials, public service ads, animated cartoons, documentaries, music videos, video installation works, net art, interactive works, video games, fiction films, and also, visual effects, mapping, and audiovisual performance. These are artistic practices that have been tasked with redefining the extent and significance of animation in the present moment.

Las otras narraciones installation view: the gallery displaying advertising spots, public service announcements, and music videos

Photo: Manuel Larrañé, courtesy Caridad Blanco

 

How do performance practices like VJ-ing, mapping, etc. enter into this concept?

There is an important relationship between electronic music, expressive researches, and experimentation. That connection has generated visual effects that I recognize as animation, from the use of new media and emerging media and in particular, thanks to their tools. That is to say, digital programs that play a decisive role in shaping screenings and visual presentations. I refer to the search for certain sonorities, creating particular effects in spaces where communication with the public takes place. 

In this interactive totality of sounds, sensations and images, animations are generated in different ways. Something similar also happens with other types of "espectáculos” and their visuality. That’s the case with mapping, which is sometimes explained as projections on everyday backgrounds: buildings, walls, a hallway, a tree, a person. The intervention made for Las otras narrativas on the facade of the Museum of Colonial Art by the group IMG (Mauricio Abad and Marcel Marquez) incorporated images created with stop-motion and clay modeling, using them to reconfigure the identity of the building and activate the connection of its history to the present.

Iliam Suárez and Alexis de la O (the duo I.A), I.A. vs. I.A. audiovisual concert performance in Plaza Vieja, Havana, 2014

Courtesy I.A.

The concert “I.A. vs I.A.” in the Plaza Vieja, by the electronic music duo Ilian Suárez and Alexis de la O, was one of the works in the exhibition that, as an audiovisual performance, confirmed this route of interdisciplinary convergence between visuality and music.

Iliam Suárez and Alexis de la O (the duo I.A), Mapping for I.A. vs. I.A. audiovisual concert performance in Plaza Vieja, Havana, 2014

Courtesy I.A.

Las otras narraciones: Una dédada de animación independiente was curated by Caridad Blanco de la Cruz and presented at the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art in Havana from September 13 through October 18, 2014 as part of CDAV’s Sixth Salon of Cuban Contemporary Art.

Next: Organizing the show, finding the audience, and understanding animation in both the Cuban and international contexts.

Abelardo G. Mena Chicuri (b. La Habana, 1962) served as a contemporary art curator at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) in Havana for 20 years before becoming an independent curator and art consultant. He is the curator of the Farber Collection, a U.S.-based private collection of contemporary Cuban art, and co-founder of Photography-Cuba, an organization dedicated to promoting Cuban photography. He is the Havana editor of Cuban Art News and author of the book Cuba Avant-Garde (2007).