CUBA: Experiences of Havana, the inaugural exhibition of Studio 110 Gallery, responds to ten artists’ experiences of the 2012 Havana Biennial. The show stems from a Graduate course offered at San Francisco Art Institute titled The Habana Bienal: An Alternative from the Perspective of Difference led by Tony Labat and Jeannene Przyblyski. In May 2012, the artists spent twelve days exploring the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), Havana, and the bienal sites. The work that manifests from this communal experience highlights the personal connections that these artists developed with the complex, fragmented narrative that is Cuba.
She Does Not Forget, 2012; 40x60 inches, Digital Inkjet Print on Dibond
In Elizabeth Cunningham’s photo collage, She Does Not Forget, seamlessly layered images combine to create a haunting architecture that appears to be collapsing and expanding simultaneously. Tony Labat stands – a solitary figure – in the midst of this splintered landscape as if the layers of history and narrative are in a whirlwind around him.
Havana, Cuba, 2012; 0:32:00, Video
Laura Kim documented the trip through video, offering viewers an inside glance at the group’s experience. Havana, Cuba consists of rough cuts from her documentation intertwined with a comical narrative that speaks to the anxieties of experiencing a new place. Footage shifts from touring the ISA, an Opera rehearsal by ISA students, hanging out by the hotel pool, a visit to the beach, etc. The narrative suggests that the hotel may be haunted by figures from Cuba’s past.
The experience of the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), the country-club-turned-art-school imagined by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, is a prominent theme throughout the show. The vast architecture of the ISA recurs in the photography of Cat U-Thasoonthorn, Celia Lara, and video work by Sheeka Arbuthnot.
Manten La Calma y Sigue Adelante/Keep Calm and Carry On, 2013; Screen printed T-Shirt
Milos Maiorana observed that the Cuban people seemed to have an overwhelming sense that the collapse of Communism and their way of life is eminent. In the midst of this, they carry on with grace and an astounding resourcefulness. This prompted him to create Manten La Calma y Sigue Adelante/Maintain Calm and Carry On, a mantra for Cuba.
Bienvenidos (Welcome), 2013, Performance
The show approaches the perspective of cultural difference with sensitivity, questioning the authority of the artist as storyteller. Tina Dillman explains, “In visiting Cuba for the first time last summer, I felt like an outsider, so I acted as an observer and tried to blend into the culture. I didn’t feel comfortable making art work per se, in public, because to me that felt like I was imposing my views and beliefs on a culture that I was not familiar with.” This sense of hesitation is discernable and the resulting work functions much like a travel log, mindfully observing from the outside while being careful not to interpret a culture that is foreign.
Perhaps Elizabeth Cunningham best describes the show, “These works represent our interpretations of the experiences we had in Cuba, but are by no means comprehensive or in many cases even that linear. They are fragmented and disconnected, and encompass a wide spectrum - which seems appropriate for a story about Cuba.”
Sheeka Arbuthnot, Elizabeth Cunningham, Celia Lara, Madeline Brown, Tina Dillman, Cat U-Thasoonthorn, Pabi Chulo, Laura Kim
CUBA: Experiences of Havana is on view at Studio 110 Gallery thru March 31, 2013. Studio 110 Gallery is an experimental workspace operated out of conceptual artist, Pamela Belknap’s Sausalito-based art studio.