Thursday, January 17, 2008

Garaicoa's Palimpsests

Carlos Garaicoa

Sometimes strangers seem to live with you, to follow you through their ideas, their art, their writing. You've never met, yet they seem to creep back into your life somehow, and they become familiar old friends.

Five years ago, in an issue of Bomb magazine, I read an article about the work of Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa and I saw images from his exhibition called Now Let's Play to Disappear. The installation, pictured below, stuck with me and over the years, the artist's work seems to crop up in surprising settings.

Ahora juguemos a desaparecer I (Now Let’s Play to Disappear I), 2001, metal table, candles. Installation view, Sonsbeek 9, Arnhem, The Netherlands. Courtesy of the Giuliana and Tomaso Setari Collection, France-Italy.

Garaicoa uses architecture and environment to inform his art, which is a mix of sculpture, installation, photography and digital imagery. His subject is most often Havana. In Now Let's Play to Disappear, he created elaborate cities out of wax and then he lit the wicks so that the cities slowly consumed themselves. He explained it as "a response to the progressive violence that contemporary cities have to endure."

In that article he told the writer:

"I tried to understand architecture as a discipline that has played one of the most important roles in society and that has inflected politically, ideologically and socially all the changes and events that have marked the course of our lifetimes."

He also said that despite his work focusing on Cuban architecture of the last 25 years, he believes that his art has a universal appeal: "The phenomenon of modernity in its incompleteness and the correlating frustration and decay of twentieth-century utopias and social dreams; the rethinking of the urban environment as a necessity for human beings," he said.

In more recent work, Garaicoa walked the streets of Havana and imagined a life for the decaying buildings. He created new visions of the cityscape through sculpture, drawing, and photography:

Walking through the Centre Canadien d'Architecture in Montreal last summer, I again came across Garaicoa's work, this time in a critique written in a publication there. It compared his art to a palimpsest:

"Like a palimpsest, when seen as a whole, Garaicoa's layered and textured practice covers and reveals, erases and builds up, deftly evolving parallel time zones, levels of reality and planes of representation. However, his interests are not nostalgic; rather than recover failed or Utopian projects, he engages with a continual reappraisal of the present."

His new work was exhibited this past fall in New York.
I hoped to go to the city and see the show and, perhaps, finally meet the artist whose work continually crosses my path. But Garaicoa was not there. Under our current administration, he was not allowed a visa into the country.