Mirada Crítica

Cuba | Cuba

Artista conceptual | Conceptual Artist

Antuán Rodriguez

An artist in continuous action

By Orlando Britto Jinorio, independent curator

 

Photographs courtesy of Antuan Rodriguez

 

Without knowing and many years after the facts, Antuan Rodriguez and the author of this text discovered that we had happened to be at the same time, just after the mid nineties, at the Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, CAAM, at the Palmas de Gran Canaria at the Canary Islands. Years in which this young cuban artist had decided to settle in these island in his stage of emerging creator, and when I still worked as a curator in that art center that developed its contemporary art program based in its historical and geostrategic situation between the Caribbean and Latin America, Europe and Africa.

 

Almost fifteen years after that, I was invited as a member of the International Jury to the Ist Caribbean Triennial in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Triennial that we enjoyed for the excellent quality of the exhibited pieces and for the fantastic opportunity of meeting among the creators and specialists of the Caribbean islands and continent. They were intense days, with plenty of dialogues and transferences, in which I would like to highlight my “reunion” with Antuan Rodriguez that we confirmed with long gatherings, one night in and the next one as well, at the unavoidable meeting point at the atelier of dominican artist Juan Mayi, with companions of the highest level such as Amable Lopez Melendez, indispensable intellectual, writer and curator at the Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno. They are long days, when I discover a person who is honest, who has strong principles and convictions that go beyond any specific political militancy. A free fighter, independent, who has had to struggle “in no mans land”, since he has not received the protection of the cultural institutions of his country of origin, or of his country of reception, the United States. This situation has not been an obstacle, but rather an incentive to develop an important body of work with a strong political and social depth of a universal span. He is an artist who believes in the human gender and in the capacities of liberation of art and culture.

 

From those unforgettable gatherings emerges our compromise to continue our professional relationship and our consolidated friendship. Since then, fall of 2010, we have established a space of continuous dialogue with a flow of emails and long phone conversations filled with ideas that we hope one day we will be able to carry out. I have to recognize that my usual enthusiasm was suddenly joined by a flood, a hurricane of enthusiasm and Antuan’s constructive and positive attitude, that is so welcomed in these difficult times that we are all living. In that sense, I present this commentary as a first approach to Antuan’s creative universe, an artist with a global project committed to his time. A compromise that becomes visible through multiple proposals that have a bearing on matters which, practically and globally, already have to do with humanity as a whole which is subject to the political, social and economical ups and downs which are conditioning our own existence as species of this planet which is so damaged and battered. A planet, which was once blue, and that today has become an absolute space for financial speculation, where thousands of millions of people live, everyday, the deterioration of its environment and its structure. Destruction caused by a speculative system without limits or controls that has overwhelmed the power structures, becoming an uncontrollable entity that being that devours and destroys everything. In the midst of this such unequal battle, religions radicalize: the other, which was once in a process of integration, becomes the enemy again: nature follows its rhythm with tsunamis and earthquakes which take by surprise societies which are highly developed economically and structurally like the Japanese as well as the most unstructured and unprotected societies in the planet like the Haitian. In parallel, hundreds, thousands of conflicts, continuous human rights’ violations, desertification and global warming, as a result of the processes of speculation and destruction of the environment and the multiple ecosystems; generalized pollution and global garbage dump in the Third World of  excessive consumption, insatiable and immoral in the programmed obsolescence production systems in the “First World”. A whole daily example of the ethics of commitment, we could say with sarcasm, bitterness and irony. We could keep on enunciating the miseries in our world, without forgetting, authoritarianism, deprivations of liberty, dictatorships and suppression of rights, aggressions to minors and gender violence…

 

In the middle of this grey universal hurricane, and from a space of commitment, construction and hope, is where the work of Antuan Rodriguez is situated, making a formal interdisciplinary display of a great level with a deep reflexive incision. Multiple formal structures at the service of the agitation of consciences, which confer a deep social dimension to his work. An authentic creator of artefacts for utopia that roam in the gaps of the system. That place where culture and art show themselves as essential elements of the spaces of freedom and which give a sense to its own existence.

 

It will be through his wall installation “La Negra” (2008), presents at the I Triennial of the Caribbean where I start to connect with his work. In the subtle language of formal contradictions the artist confronts in the same piece the effect of levitation of an enormous piece of black silk cloth, using parachute fabric, with the cylindrical image, counterweighted and volumetrical which grows in its interior as an enormous and long uterus, as a result of containing in its interior big cans, which in all aspects seem to be most probably barrels of petrol. An aesthetic and formal device which transports us referentially from its far away observation to the territories of informality or pictorial abstract expressionism, and that from a close observation becomes a contemporary totemic device with multiple echoes. The referential or evoked levels are open and multiple in his work, allowing the spectator to play or slide in amongst them.

 

I have to recognize that his social and participative work, basically in his role of activist-agent is a fundamental aspect review and highlight within his global artistic project. His international project  “Base Paint” (2010-2012), produced from Miami, had a great social and community impact. A project where a very important group of artists from the United States, Latin America and Europe is activated by the artist and builds an authentic camp of tents, with aluminum frames canvas, which in their final stage will be used in Haiti as spaces for small schools, sanitary assistance centers or as places to live. The artists who have collaborated in this project, created and directed by Antuan,  have a renowned career, and they donated their work and fantastic designs for these tents, first as small maquettes, then to be painted in a real scale to be finally installed in Haiti. Its final destination was the school a sports center founded by Boby Duval Carrie, brother of  Edouard Duval Carrie, haitian artist also committed to the project. A whole process of high complexity, it’s production, presentation, transport and final use all directed with tireless enthusiasm by Antuan Rodriguez, who not only activates the artists but also also activates a group of sponsors, corporations, companies and collectors. A final professional documentary will show this entire exemplary and incredible project.

 

 

“A izquierda y derecha” is another of the pieces I have the chance to see in Santo Domingo. On this occasion, Antuan Rodriguez creates a space full of red punching bags, which have printed on them the images of international dictators or leaders who run the structures of power. Characters who in ideological contexts, from far right or left, don’t do anything but rule and allow the despotic power or allow the most aggressive of speculative economies which cut off our freedoms, rights and destroy, at a frantic pace, the already fragile environment…Mafias, thieves and speculators with black and white gloves, inflexible ideologists. A jungle of punch bags to exorcise the demons of power. A space of frenetic therapy to allow us to face reality from the serenity of there rest of the warrior. This is an open work, which grows in characters according to the place where it will be presented. During its development, Rodriguez has been able to prove how it is, that it’s the context itself the one that demands the presence of certain local characters along with the more universal ones. The artist allows us, then, to unload our anxiety and repulsion towards them on a stroll among the bags where we can choose to hit to the left or to the right. I was before this situation, and I recognize that I did not dare hit all the punch bags. With some of them, I had no doubts, I used my fists, with others I chose to avoid them. It is clear that although we are invited to a liberating catharsis, we are still not able to become free from our ideological ties.

 

The word, how could it not be, is fundamental in our spaces for communication. What would it be of our dear Antuan without the word, in spite of being a great visual artist!  Putting it on the grand stand, as a group of sounds with sense, instead of the sounds of missiles or of intolerance. The word facing the silence of the privation of liberty. Talking and making dialogue, expressing ourselves in freedom. His work “Words that Kill” (2011), is a very eloquent piece of his impeccable formal resolution. A bullet, possibly enlarged, of a gun or mortar, in a shiny golden metal, just like the rest of the support holding it, becomes a microphone through which the spectator is invited to express himself freely. The bullet does not stop being a perturbing object for speaking into, and it is precisely there, in the spaces of contradiction, where Antuan Rodriguez places us again. Not only the bullets kill, but also “words can kill” or, if you allow me, we can be equally killed by words. Words can be skillfully or vilely manipulated, its semantic frontiers are very subtle they can cut in slowly and progressively like the drop of water that penetrates the rock until destroying it own internal structure, its most intimate memory to become an unrecognizable mud. Fortunately, words can also be associated with places for liberation, for loving and enjoying, indispensable spaces for teaching in coexistence, places for respecting others and one-self, spaces which are essential for honesty and dignity.

 

I cannot finish this text without making reference to one of Antuan Rodriguez’s most disturbing and eloquent works, from recent times. One which also arises from his reflexion about the space of abandonment of humanity, represented through the look of 25 men and women of all sorts of social backgrounds, creeds and races.   Looks which hide scared, startled behind the protective helmet of a baseball catcher. This is his impressive work “Bailout” (2011): men and women who protect themselves from the aggressions they receive throughout their lives; physical and ideological, which attempt against their basic rights and freedom. Bailout defines in a euphemistic way an “economic readjustment”, new rules of the game which are so aggressive as they are ruthless in a space of free markets without control, which is beneficial to a system of global neocons which has ended up in one of the worse economical crises that our contemporary history can remember. A spectacular great format wall video installation, with led TVs under an aluminum structure, which outlines the mask of the catcher, creates a perturbing space, of suspense and high tension. All we can do is wait, protect and defend ourselves in order to rebuild after the hurricane.

 

 

Bio: Orlando Britto Jinorio

Orlando Britto Jinorio (born in 1963 on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria , Spain ) is an independent curator . He worked as a curator , chief curator and deputy director of Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno ( Las Palmas , Canary Islands) from 1989 to 1998 , and performed as director at Espacio C  Internacional e Interdisciplinar de Arte Contemporáneo ( Cantabria, Spain ) from 2001-2007 .

He has collaborated with many international Contemporary Art biennials as a curator , associate curator or member of its international jury as Aruba Biennale (2012 ) , Biennale of Dakar , Senegal ( 1998 , 2000, 2004 , 2006, 2008 and 2010 ) , Havana Biennale , Cuba (2003 , 2006, 2009 and 2012 ) , Bamako Biennale ( Reencontres de la Photographie Africaine), Mali ( 2001, 2003 , 2005, 2007 , 2008 and 2011 ) , Biennale CERVEIRA (Portugal ) ( 2009, 2011 ) , Triennial of the Caribbean, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic ( 2010 ) , Triennial of Luanda , Angola ( 2006, 2010 ) , Canary Ilands Biennale ( 2009 ) , Cuenca Biennale, Ecuador (2009 ) , Biennial of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (2007 ) , Biennale of Uppsala , Eventa V , Sweden ( 2000 ) .

He has been curator and director of contemporary art international meetings, performance festivals and urban art or nature projects.

Recent curated works : “Guillermo Gómez- Peña retrospective “Fronterizus Homo 1492 – 2012” , CAAM (Canary Islands, Spain); The Berlin Laughter Project / Urban Meridian project. (Health projects) (In Context of Asian – Pacific International Conference), Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany (2011) ; “Horizontes Insulares” La Regenta Art Center, Canary Islands, Spain; Contemporary Art Museum Funchal, Madeira. Modern Art Museum Santo Domingo, República Dominicana; Contemporary Art Center Wifredo Lam, Havana, Cuba; Fondation Clément, Martinica (2010 – 2011); “Cartographies de la memoire. Jack Beng-Thi, retrospectiva 1990-2010″. Le Port, La Reunión Island, France (Indian Ocean) 2010…

Horizons Island . Art Center The Regent, Canary Islands , Spain . Museum of Contemporary Art in Funchal , Madeira. Museum of Modern Art in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic . Contemporary Art Center Wifredo Lam , Havana , Cuba , and Fondation Clément , Martinique , 2010 – 2011 ; Cartographies of the memoire . Jack Beng -Thi retrospect. 1990-2010. Le Port , Reunion Island , France (Indian Ocean) 2010