Monday December 11, 2017

Sandra Ceballos, Part 2: Aglutinador-Laboratory, the P.E.R.R.O. Awards, and the 1st Biennial of Porno Art

The artist and curator recalls projects and exhibitions of the late 1990s and early 2000s

A page from the catalogue for Curators Go Home, 2008

Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

In Part 1 of our 3-part interview with Sandra Ceballos—the moving force behind the pioneering independent gallery Espacio Aglutinador—she recalled the gallery’s beginnings and early years. Continuing the conversation with Rafael DiazCasas, Ceballos talks about key projects and exhibitions of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

How does a project like Aglutinador stay alive and vital? How and when does it change?

In 1998, Ezequiel and I were determined not to continue with the project, but somehow this was a reflection of our personal relationship. In 1999 we were already separated, and without time to think I got more involved with Aglutinador—this time with René Quintana (b. 1966), my new partner. I proposed that we change it, but really, we continued the same cycle of solo expos.

We wanted to show Ana Mendieta (1948–1985), and invited Eugenio Valdés to curate an exhibition on her work—Matrix (2000)—as he had enough information and material for it. Other shows followed one after the other, among them From Sierra Maestra to Havana by Chago Amada, curated by Luis Camnitzer at the Drawing Center in New York City; El Evento Suspendido, a solo exhibition by Coco Fusco (2000); my show Adorado Wölfli (2000); the double show with Virginia Fleck, Dreaming my Dreams (2002); also Ordo Amoris Cabinet by Francis Acea and Diango Hernández (2003); and Alexandre Arrechea, Dos Nuevos Espacios (2004).

Installation view of From Sierra Maestra to La Habana: The Drawings of Chago, 2001, at the Drawing Center in New York City

Courtesy the Drawing Center

We also did several group shows, like Ambiente (1999), Permanecer (2000), and ¿Qué? (2003), which focused on mass media. In March 2002, Quintana and I presented Espacio Aglutinador at FAIR, the International Fair of Alternative Spaces at the Royal College of London.

During all this time I was going through a lot of changes. I separated from Quintana, which began a new phase in my life. I made a complete turnabout, my most radical and anarchic change. I created Aglutinador-Laboratorio, and in 2004 the P. E. R. R. O. awards—Propuesta Experimental de Respuesta Rápida Organizada (Experimental Organized Rapid Response Proposal). This was an interesting project, with two experiments. It addressed the practical realm. The idea was to find financial support for grants or scholarships, so that artists could continue living and working. We got support from the HIVOS foundation and the Prince Claus Foundation of the Netherlands.

It’s important to add that the artists involved are not in the grupo escogido (“chosen ones”), and don’t have busloads of Americans cultural tourists coming to their studios to buy their work.

In this case the complex process was the selection, due to the number of artists in need of support. Those chosen in the first experiment were ones living outside Havana, with less market access. Every one of them was surprised when they were contacted, and they were thrilled. In addition to the monetary award, we published a catalogue to promote their work. This produced results for some, because their works were bought by the Rubin Collection in New York.

Poster for the film Accidente, part of the Ghost Posters project for P.E.R.R.O.

Courtesy artelista.com

One of the P.E.R.R.O scholarships was given to a curatorial project, Ghost Posters. You know that since the second half of the 20th century, the aesthetics of Cuban posters are recognized as one of the achievements of the 1959 Revolution. This project was to create and print posters of films that were never filmed, as if they had been produced. After this project, some of these “ghost” movies were actually filmed.

Aglutinador-Laboratorio was created with a focus on group exhibitions, occasionally massive ones, but with a more direct character, more frank and open. I started working around specific issues, commenting on things no one spoke about.  So new shows appeared, like 1a Bienal de Arte Porno—We are Porno (2007), Curadores Go Home (2008), La Perra Subasta (2009), Fuerte es el Moro, who I am? (2009), Torneo Audiovisual, concurso de video-arte y video-performance (2010), etc.

One of the taboo issues on the island is pornography, because it is forbidden. So the 1a Bienal de Arte Porno was something new—not the subject itself, but the act of making it. It involved 42 Cuban and foreign artists. The expo was also a petition, a claim for citizens’ right to choose, presented from a radical position.

Artists install their works in Curators Go Home, 2008

Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

Curadores Go Home was the most anarchic. The title is a parody of the familiar slogan "Yankee go home." It was conceived and structured in opposition to the elitist vision of someone making a selection of works to be exhibited. It was an open call to everyone. Anyone could come and place their work in whatever space they thought was right. Twenty-four artists took part, with no curatorship or museology. Nothing like it had occurred in the island before.

Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

Another case was Fuerte es el Morro... which takes as its title a popular phrase of the underground gay world at that moment. The exhibition had to do with the artists’ introspection, and was against the judicial system of art—by which I mean juried competitions, etc.

The crowd at the opening for Fuerte es el Morro awaits the announcement of the exhibition's award-winning artists, chosen by a raffle drawn by three children.

Courtesy Sandra Ceballos

We did it as if it were a contest. Six artists were awarded prizes, but they were chosen through a raffle on opening day. The artists’ names were put in a basket and three children came to draw the names of the winners. Everyone thought this was the fairest way to award the art.  Because no one, not even the most knowledgeable, has fair judgment and criteria about art.

Pursuing a similar objective, the exhibition Torneo Audiovisual, by Giselle Victoria, was a show of videos of less than a minute in length. Four artists received awards, without regard for the quality of the works and in the absence of a jury. Instead, at the opening the artists formed teams and competed in sports events or video games. Those who won the competitions won the art prizes. Although there was a juried prize, this was won by bribing the jury with food. The idea was to bribe them to award the worst video. Everyone wanted to be the worst video, and anxiously awaited the decision. It was funny, and in keeping with the way things are done.

As you can see, at this stage Aglutinador-Laboratorio was doing much more incisive projects, but also much more fun. Everything was very playful.

The cover of the catalogue for Perra Subasta (Dog Auction), 2009

Courtesy de Sandra Ceballos

Next: Aglutinador-Country, Curadores, come home!, and the Manic Museum of Art.

Rafael DiazCasas is an art historian and independent curator based in New York. Interested in modern and contemporary art, with a focus on Latin American art. He writes about art and culture for several publications, and is co-author of Hard Light: The Work of Emilio Sanchez. (Prestel London – New York, 2011). He is currently working on a monograph and a documentary about the history of abstraction in Cuba in the second half of the 20th century.