INTERVIEW WITH ANTUAN

“Art is meant to be utopian”

With the object and the human figure as his point of departure, ANTUAN has progressively been interested in art installations. Sculpture has been present since his early stages, the incorporation of sculpture to his artistic endeavor being a natural step in a process which has allowed him to incorporate the public as subject as well as active participant in many of his proposals. In this same way, ANTUAN, as the talented Cuban artist he is, is doted with an extraordinary sense for drawing and painting with watercolors.

            Another element that draws attention in his artistic practice is his attitude towards life and a subject which are contemporary. In a society which is increasingly more individualistic and less solidary, the artist believes in an artistic endeavor which is engaged and speaks of the human being. One which reveals that nowadays concepts such as “left” or “right” lack content, in that all ideological differences have disappeared in favor of a more practical and economics-based approach to management of the state and its citizens.

            ‘Art for art’s sake’ or ‘socially engaged art’ are the two poles which vanguardist movements of the 20th century have travelled, from futurist and dadaist movements, supremacists, letrists or the situationists, up to more contemporary artists such as Ai Wei Wei or the Russians VOINA. Should the artist be political in his art or in his life or in both? That is the eternal question which allows for different answers. Neither is better or worse. In fact, the a-political artist is taking a political stance. For ANTUAN the answer is unambiguously clear: as with all good artists, since Goya, Beckmann to Leon Golub, he also understands that the artist has to engage with the social, political and economic reality in which he happens to live and propose projects capable of transforming the world or, at least, of figuring out what a better world would look like.

 

The following is an interview with ANTUAN about his interest for installations as an artistic practice where we analyze many of his projects in this area.

 

Paco Barragan – You have always been very interested in sculpture. When do you become interested in installations? Is it that you find other mediums like sculpture, painting or drawing falling short?

 

ANTUAN – The installation is a fascinating medium of expression with infinite possibilities. Basically, there are no boundaries in that one can take control of the space with complete authority. At the beginning of my career, I worked when I was between 17 and 21 years of age as scenographer creating settings for cinema and TV. Without a doubt, this experience impacted my artistic approach in a positive way making it more interdisciplinary. Probably because of this, my work is at times small performances or ‘mises-en-scene’ – think, for example, of the work ‘Words that Kill’. This sculpture installation is essentially a microphone. That is, a metallic podium crowned by a bullet’s casket in the fashion of microphones in recording studios. The microphone, whose device is perfectly adapted to record, stands tall on a circumference of red carpet which recreates an ambience, a scenery where the spectator can approach, or take his distance, where he/she can circulate or interact with the piece. I am interested in the spectator becoming a part of the piece and, above all that he/she interact with it. The art world continues to be too unidirectional and the spectator, despite all those vague theoretical ideas about his/her ‘emancipation’, continues to be an absolutely passive entity at the mercy of the artist or curator.

I like the art installation as a discipline because it allows me to integrate sculpture with video, photography with sculpture and design, etc… all of this becomes very experimental and transforms into a sort of laboratory.

On the other hand, I also enjoy drawing and painting with watercolors. That is the basis of my installations –  I begin with a sketch or a watercolor painting and from there I approach the rest of the project.

 

P.B. – Let’s talk about ‘Left Right’, a multimedia project that incorporates a sculpture installation consisting of boxing bags with the faces of politicians, from left- or right- orientation – Castro, Chavez, Obama, Aznar, Bush… – and which requires the participation of the public. This installation was in different places, from the Metro in Chicago to Puerto Rico or Miami’s Downtown. First, how does this project originate? and , second, concepts such as ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ continue to be meaningful in your opinion nowadays?

 

A.I conceived this piece already in Cuba in 1998. As you can imagine, it was  a work too polemic and risky for the censorship of the Cuban Regime. Many times I was not allowed to show it and it brought me problems with the authorities. In fact, I am still in the ‘black’ list, but that is the price that an artist must assume to produce one’s art, and I assume it gladly. Art should move forward, evolve, not involute like the Cuban revolution.

Left Right will always be meaningful and be current because the politicians will always be there. It is an open work which with time continues to evolve, that is, a work in progress. I started it in Cuba with 5 faces and now in 2012 I have 23 already!

The project grows with the faces of local politicians in the locale where it is exhibited, in order to facilitate greater interaction with the local public. Politics and the political game occur everywhere, and the same lies and false promises which are never fulfilled repeat themselves. The politician plays with the hopes of citizens and electors, and I want to allow the citizens to reciprocate with the politician by giving the public the opportunity to express their anger against them. It becomes a therapeutic piece, I would say.

Left Right speaks about the abuse of power, injustice, the manipulation and alienation of the human being. I am a-politic. I find too much opportunism in politics and not enough desire to make a better world.

Left Right is one of the pieces that I have created that has been most exposed internationally.  It has traveled to 9 countries, sometimes as an installation, in other cases as a video. At the Metro in Chicago the installation was exceptional in that the piece hang inside the trams so that it traveled the city and the people would interact with it. It was a very gratifying experience because it brought art closer to the citizen on foot and everybody understood it immediately. That is what art should pursue. And something like this doesn’t present itself as often as one would wish.

 

PB. – Why did you decide to do the performance in Miami’s Downtown with the Homeless? The state of Florida is one of the states with most homeless people in the United States. And, on top of that, you videotaped it a few blocks away from the Miami Heat stadium. This piece that you later edited for video has very strong socio-political connotations and is a very clear criticism of capitalism.

 

A. Generally, contemporary art proposals take place in elite spaces, that is, it is uncommon to make a project for underprivileged classes – the homeless are better ignored. During a long time I brought to them food and clothes, until the Miami police told me that they would ticket me for $500 if I continued to bring them food. I don’t like to  throw things away when I know there are people that live ‘under the stars’ and do not have a piece of bread to bring to their mouth. On the other hand, I was also looking forward to give a twist to the Left Right project: since I wouldn’t be allowed to bring the homeless into a professional art space, I though I could bring my art to the space where they live, that is, under the bridges in the center of Miami’s city, in Downtown. This is how the project acquired an experimental air, of process, that is, and I received much support from a group of friends that collaborated with all the logistics. I had to pay the permit for filming and together with Jose Bedia Jr. in production, we filmed the video in about 2 hours.

It was a very intense experience. Some of them became aggressive against the faces of the politicians in the boxing bags and would scream at them; at one moment, one of them even punched the camera. They did things that you typically do not see in an art center. They would punch them all, those of the Left, those of the Right. It was a nice metaphor: in the end nobody takes care of us, neither left nor right.

I believe that my work, more than being political, in many cases has a social and human  dimension, possibly even ecological, in its preoccupation with man and his destiny. The Basepaint project is another example of this; it was created to favor the children of Haiti. It was an event where the idea was to convoke a group of artists to intervene from their respective poetics a number of tents that would later serve to shelter the people affected by the earthquake in Haiti. Each and every one of these tents which in the artistic world would be installations, were donated. It was, to an extent, an experience in applied art. An experience in applied art where art was able to render a real and proactive intervention in the socio-cultural space in benefit of a determined community.

 

P.B. Another of your more recent projects is Keep Your Life Clean in which you turn again to the iconography of political characters but now taken to the broom or mop for cleaning the floor. Is this a continuation of Left Right? It is more scatological in its literal meaning.

 

A.- This project of 2012 is part of a proposal for “healing”. It doesn’t only concern politicians, but also men and women from the economy and finance, who have taken the world towards a world crisis without precedent. And, logically, the politicians play their part. It contains an important metaphor in that the project brings into play all those people that would need to ‘clean their stains’. It is the symbol of a personal wish: many of these people should be working socially in order to clean the terrible harm their actions inflicted on large groups of human beings.

The cleaning aspect represents the connection with water; the objects were created in collaboration with the company ABCO Cleaning Products of Miami. This is one of my latest lines of work where I intend to fuse art and industry. The art piece is of an impeccable making, at the same time, it accomplishes its ultimate objective: to clean.

 

PB. Finally, we should talk about another installation named Words that Kill where you use a bullet in the shape of a microphone and you encourage people to participate.

 

A. The work Words That Kill is for me one of my best pieces. Communication is an important part of the human being, since it is the case that not only weapons destroy, but the bad use and abuse of the word can effectively do this too: we disguise evil with apparent goodness. The use of the power of speech and the desire to hurt through manipulation is another form of slowly dying in life. The use of the spoken word is like the structure of a building and language is a base that either supports or destroys you. In this work, the public is an indispensable part of it since he enters a room where he is encouraged to take the open microphone and express himself with complete freedom: through poetry, songs, shouts, sounds…an internal liberation, of his soul.

We shouldn’t forget that a microphone is a symbol of the power of communication, one of the objects most used to manipulate and numb the crowds.

In the end, this artwork created an image that encourages open microphones in town squares and cities for a true freedom of expression without restrictions or time limitations. This is an example of what a true democracy of language and of human thought would be like. I know it is utopic, but art should be utopic.

 

PB. Thank you very much for your time.

 

The end of the century brought with it the termination, or better, the disbelief in utopias. The beginning of the new century only accentuated the bad press for the utopias by the neo-conservative intelligentsia, to the point of ridiculization. In fact, that is the great challenge that awaits the human being and the intellectual in this beginning: how to reformulate the utopias so that they become viable and are able to configure a better world. Zygmunt Bauman talks about ‘private utopias’, which is a contradiction in terms in that utopias are lived in collectivity; if they are private, they are no longer utopias.

In the midst of this outlook of philosophical, political, economic and social uncertainty, ANTUAN opts for the discreet and altruistic gesture. “What is important is to propose and be utopian” he repeats. Let it be this way.

 

Bio: Paco Barragan

 

Paco Barragán (Oviedo, Spain) is independent curator,  Contributing Editor of Artpulse (Miami) and curatorial advisor of the Artist Pension Trust (APT), New York.

He served as co-curator for the International Biennale of Contemporary Art (IBCA) at the National Gallery in Prague in 2005; and the Bienal de Lanzarote in 2009.

 

Some of the shows he has curated are  “Paradox: The Limits of liberty”, Castrum Peregrini, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 2012; “The End of History-and the Return of History Painting”, Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem (MMKA), Arnhem, The Netherlands, 2011;   “Patria o libertad. The Rethorics of Patriotism” for Miami Dade College, Miami, 2010; “Cinema X: I Like to Watch” for the MoCCA in Toronto, 2010; “Drawing the Line” for Galeria EDS, Mexico City, 2010;  “When a Painting Moves… Something Must Be Rotten” for the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR), Puerto Rico, 2009, and the Stenenser Museum, Oslo, 2011;  “The Non-Age. The Rebel of Age.” for the Kunsthalle Winterthur, Wintherthur, Switzerland, and Museum voor Moderne Kunst (MMK), Arnhem, The Netherlands, 2011.

 

He is author of “The Art to come/El arte que viene”, 2002, Subastas Siglo XXI, and the “The Art Fair Age” released  by CHARTA in June 2008; and editor of “Don’t Call it Performance”(Salamanca Ciudad de Cultura), 2004; “Sustainibilities” (CHARTA), 2008; and co-editor with Selene Wendt of “When a Painting moves…Something Must be Rotten!”, May, 2011, (CHARTA).

Paco Barragán (Oviedo, Spain) es curador independente y “contributing editor” de Artpulse (Miami), y, además, asesor curatorial del Artist Pension Trust (APT) de Nueva York.

Por otro lado, Barragán ha sido uno de los co-curadores de la International Biennale of Contemporary Art (IBCA) en la Galería Nacional de Praga en 2005 y de la Bienal de Lanzarote en 2009.

Algunas de las exposiciones que ha comisariado son “Paradox: The Limits of liberty”, Castrum Peregrini, Amsterdam, Países Bajos, 2012; “The End of History-and the Return of History Painting”, Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem (MMKA), Arnhem, The Netherlands, 2011; “Patria o libertad! The Rethorics of Patriotism” Miami Dade College, Miami (2010); “Cinema X: I Like to Watch” para el MoCCA de Toronto (2010); “Drawing the Line” para la Galería EDS, México D.F. (2010);  “When a Painting Moves… Something Must Be Rotten” para el Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (MAPR), Puerto Rico (2009) y el Stenenser Museum, Oslo (2011);  “The Non-Age. The Rebel of Age.” para la Kunsthalle Winterthur, Wintherthur, Suiza (2009) y el Museum voor Moderne Kunst (MMK), Arnhem, Países Bajos (2011).

Paco Barragán es autor de “The Art to come/El arte que viene” (2002), Subastas Siglo XXI, y “The Art Fair Age/La era de las ferias” publicado por CHARTA en junio de 2008; también es editor de “Don’t Call it Performance”(Salamanca Ciudad de Cultura, 2004), “Sustainibilities” (CHARTA, 2008); y co-editor con Selene Wendt de “When a Painting moves…Something Must be Rotten!”, Mayo, 2011, (CHARTA).