Apertura: Photography in Cuba Today - Page 17

incompatible elements. In this regard, the new photography seems like a particularly appropriate medium to help convey Cuba’s recent history. Carlos Garaicoa’s Open Wound What has come to define Carlos Garaicoa’s (b. 1967) prolific career is his preoccupation with the vulnerability of cities, beginning with the city of Havana. In the 1990s, after years of neglect, crowded housing, and acute economic crisis, the once elegant city of Havana looked like it had lived through a war. In his first works, Garaicoa treated Havana like a body in distress, and the peeling surfaces of the old buildings as troubled skin. This was the concept guiding Garaicoa’s early installations, which paired photographs of a collapsing Havana building with architectural drawings of an imaginary classical structure in the same place. In Garaicoa’s more-recent photographs (p. 34) he uses a non-traditional material (gelatin-coated cow bone) to print images of Havana in ruins. By pairing up a material so basic as bone with images of the devastated city, Garaicoa invites us to think about what keeps a city in place, and about the metaphorical implications of a city’s remains. Even though Garaicoa has at times shifted his attention to places other than Havana and to media other than photography, his work has retained his original sensibility. Even his most futuristic installations distill the sense that there is something structurally wrong below the glossy surface. Garaicoa’s treatment of Havana as a city ravaged by an invisible war led to an invitation to deal with the traces of a real war. During the Cold War, acting as a proxy for the Soviet Union, Cuba participated in a war in Angola that killed over 2,000 Cuban troops. When Angolan artist Fernando Alvim (b. 1963) invited Garaicoa to participate in a project on war and memory in 1996-97, the Cuban artist made close-ups of the impact of bullets on the walls of hospitals, schools, and other buildings in the town of Cuito Cuanavale, where the final battle had taken place (figure 1, p. 37). In Garaicoa’s large color photographs, wall textures suggest human skin, and the traces of bullets on the walls look like illegible writing. Even though the marks are concrete testimonials of the war, the pieces are decontextualized and abstract. Entitled Abstractions, the works in the series invite emotional detachment in the viewer by testing the limits of our empathy. Garaicoa’s images make us reflect on the relationship between art, the experience of war, and memory. When contrasted with the images of Havana, Abstractions simultaneously reinforces and questions the view of Havana as a survivor of an economic crisis of warlike proportions.12 While war remains a subject in Garaicoa’s diptych Noticias recientes (Brasil)/Recent News (Brazil), (p. 36) included in this exhibition, it takes the concept to a more abstract level. The diptych consists of two large, frameless photographs positioned at a 90-degree angle to each other, and depicts a street corner in a large, non-specified South American city. The composition in each of the two images is similar and almost symmetrical: the corner of each building rises towards the upper central corner of the photographic frame, giving the impression of being one building. Furthermore, the perspective of the diptych suggests the corner is coming toward the center of the room, when in fact the two images are meeting away from the spectator. 11