by D. Eric Bookhardt, GAMBIT WEEKLY
In French they are called objets trouvets, or found objects. In Europe and America, they are those quaint, poetic and typically vintage little things that some people collect as curiosities. Artists incorporate them into sculpture, or sometimes into paintings. But in Cuba, where most people missed the last half-century of Western consumerism, the vintage castoffs that became found objects in the West were never cast off in the first place. In Cuba, many things are vintage but almost everything is still in use. This creates a different mindset for Cuban artists, a different vocabulary of symbols in a land where almost everything is recycled, no matter how humble. Places that remain insular contain a kind of silence no matter how loud the music or speeches. Cuban artist Damian Aquiles works with found objects that are mere echoes of their former lives, incorporating their mute presence into the more dynamic silences of his own creative process. From afar, Construyendo mi Silencio, or Building My Silence, suggests a multicolored Mondrian painting reborn as a chaotic Rubik’s Cube, or maybe a modernist patchwork quilt. Up close, it turns out to be many old industrial paint cans cut up and cobbled into a grid. Nascent crusts of rust lend texture as traces of institutional symbols and officious warnings remind us of their former roles, only here the writing and symbols hark to the nations of the old Soviet bloc.
He also makes colorful paintings that echo the scrawled and printed exhortations on the walls of old Havana yet somehow his scrap metal pieces resonate most eloquently. Infinito Camino, or Infinite Walk, is a series of orderly rows of tin men. Chiseled from the metal skins of Cuban, Russian and Chinese appliances, they march uniformly on the wall toward destinations unknown like the worker drones of all highly organized economies. Originally created to leave rusty outlines on paintings, they have taken on a militant life of their own. Aquilles says his materials have ”a concentrated energy and light a previous history” and that his art extends their life ”by recycling it, by using its previous life, energy, and history to tell my own story.”
Of course, a leading Cuban-American master of a similar process is our own Luis Cruz Azaceta, a New Orleanian since 1992. As a child, Azaceta fled Havana to New York in 1960 after Fidel Castro’s rise to power. This Local Anesthesia expo includes work made in response to Hurricane Katrina along with examples from a separate series of his ”museum plans” based on the whimsical notion of museums that are actually fantastical ”containers of ideas.” If they sound totally unrelated, both series are actually museum-like because many of his pieces include artifacts, debris left in the storm’s wake.
Cascade is in fact a gusher of junk of the sort that floodwaters wash up ” old plastic bottles, children’s toys, crutches, tourist souvenirs, a veritable waterfall of refuse pouring from an old bicycle wheel mounted like a portal on the wall. Photographs also play a big role, especially in collages incorporated into found object sculpture, perhaps most notably on the bottoms of pots and pans hanging on the gallery wall. But Emeril probably never touched these relics, and each doubles as a portal into the recent past, as flashbacks to flooding, desperation and the damage we know so well. The museum plan drawings are very different, however, a colorfully complex series of designs that suggest museums of the mind, improbable parabolas of imaginary space where ideas are free to wander. Perhaps Azaceta”s most aesthetic creations to date, their nautiluslike forms evoke nature’s own spirals, the signature shape of hurricanes, and perhaps too, those storms of the mind that can also reshape landscapes for ages thereafter.