INTi Hernández Lugar de encuentro 1-8, 2006 Instalación / Installation
Liudmila y Nelson (Cuba)St (Águila y Dragones), de la serie Hotel Habana, 2008 / Fotografía, caja de luz / Dimensiones variables / From the Hotel Havana series / Photography, light box / Variable sizes
Wang Qingsong, Temporary ward, 2008 / China: Arte contemporánea revista 70 x 300 cm
Pepón Osorio (Puerto Rico) Lolo, 2008 Alfileres, imagen digital, plexiglás y sandalias / Pins, digital image, plexiglass and sandals
Space invaders, 2008-2009 / Dimensiones variables / Installation / Variable sizes / Instalación (BAGS)

It’s becoming increasingly necessary to make an analysis of the research studies channeled by the Havana Biennial in an effort to move beyond the curatorial field that apparently zeroes in on the work of art. Even though voices other than Cuba’s have recognized the role this event plays as an alternative to the First World’s biennial and mega-exhibitions, but rather a scenario for the presentation and legitimization of the art hailing from non-hegemonic countries, only in a handful of cases those voices validate the contributions this project has made to the way the arts are debated, promoted and recognized in the South’s “economic” regions. The army of researchers/curators from the Wilfredo Lam Center, a group that has come up with a critical look and thinking of these productions, relies on very limited resources in terms of access to those scenarios where theoretical, political-cultural and artistic issues are debated worldwide. In the same breath, the contributions made in each and every edition or within the research span that stretches between the previous and the next event, simply falter in the face of the Biennials that in today’s world have followed in the Havana version’s footsteps.

Names like Llilian Llanes (Cuba), Nestor Garcia Canclini (Mexico), Ticio Escobar (Paraguay), Nelly Richard (Chile), Milko Lauer (Peru), Luis Camnitzer (Uruguay/USA), Shifra Goldman (USA), Rasheed Araeen (Pakistan), Geeta Kapur (India) Gerardo Mosquera (Cuba) and Okui Enkwenson (Nigeria/USA), Desiderio Navarro (Cuba) and Yolanda Wood (Cuba), among others, have articulated from their own discourses and research areas an agenda that brought up here in Havana a number of basic problems for international insertion and the understanding of the arts from the peripheric regions trapped in circumstances ruled by the emergence of multiculturalism, postmodernism and the so-called otherness, among other terms in use today. Follow-up editions were attended by the likes of Julia Herzberg (USA), Rhana Devenport (Australia), Herve Fischer (France-Canada), Nicolas Bourriaud (France), Richard Martell (Canada), Magaly Espinosa (Cuba), Jose Luis Brea (Spain), just to name but a few of those who heard the call for the nonstop and renovating sharing of ideas and contributions. This way of thinking about the Third World pops up in every Biennial edition, likened to the topic defined as the curatorial subject matter of research. What actually calls the shots is a critical perspective –rather than theoretical– that clarifies the physical, historic and conceptual “atmospheres and circumstances” from which the artworks are made, perspectives that flow into a whole array of theoretical approaches, cultural intertwining and other processes derived from the cultural and social framework these regions and countries have to offer. We’re talking about an assortment of exhibitions, theoretical events and workshops; a body of texts, lectures, ideas and reflections that have grown into an ideological perspective of insertion, subversion and articulation of values, knowledge, discursive practices and cultural policies. Studies on identities, communication, the arts and their relationships with local cultures, or on the modern and the postmodern, tradition and modernity, or on the production conditions of the arts in a postcolonial world pounded so hard by strategies and postindustrial taxes levied on them have been carried out.

In terms of contributions –both of the Havana Biennial and its collateral theoretical events and workshops– there’s a need to point out firstly the implementation of the cultural use of the political and economic statement of “third world” 1 in order to mark off a line of action. That’s how the “Third World” as a political and economic bloc had a say for the majority of the globe population that lives under staggering poverty conditions caused by the capitalist system and the ruling conditions that dominate those countries. But it also offered a geopolitical concept whose cultural scope provided a variety of symbols that swayed to the mercy of the corresponding colonization processes they all endured as well as the countless elements of inner homogeneity found in related historic, economic and cultural processes.

These common aspects gave rise to the recognition of a situation of careless disregard –sometimes complete abandonment– of an infrastructure inherent to the Art Institution as a relatively autonomous system of production, circulation and consumption of symbolic products; and even of countries that regardless of the balance they could strike in terms of social organization, autonomy level and development of artistic structures, remain on the sidelines of the international mainstream or succumb to a level of complete underestimation of their own artistic creations. However, this concept was construed and debated from the first biennial editions as a “changing and relative notion,” no matter if it was Japan, Brazil or India the nation they were talking about. Thus, Third World countries, arts or cultures were those hailing from nations, communities or individuals from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East; marginalized cultural minorities and ethnic groups belonging to that origin and coming from developed capitalist countries, as well as creators stemming from Third World nations and living somewhere else on the face of the planet. The resiliency of this concept has been so great that each and every one of the biennials chipped in new contents of analysis as to the dynamics of immersion in the peripheric art linked to cultural internationalization processes. The contradictions triggered in the same economic territory by the different access possibilities to that territory’s mainstream have been studied, and so have been the affectations associated to the so-called “world culture” and the historic and world reordering processes. The 1990s, though, turned things around and we began talking about a reconfiguration of the Third World’s political, economic and cultural framework as more countries and new cultural practices –by similarities and contact points with the aforesaid statements- jumped on the bandwagon, most of them quite similar to those found in the so-called South and many of them hailing from the former Socialist Bloc. The Third World has turned out to be a pun or metaphor that extrapolates the conditions and problems of the so-called South to other regions or communities.

As the 1984 and 1986 Havana Biennials offered a panoramic view if the artistic orientations of the different Latin American and Caribbean nations, and the Asian, African and Middle East countries, respectively, they also provided evidence of the re-functionalizing strategy whereby –and from the times of avant-garde– our countries have made use of the Western language that contemporary artists have inherited as their own. This model of “cultural appropriation” is later on looked into from the view of tradition-contemporariness –the main theme of the Third Biennial- as “an approach more perceptive and sensitive to hybrids, to couplings, syncretism, and to the features and shades that are whipped into shape in the process of calling somebody else’s stuff our own.”2 At the same time, it shed more light –and put at a broadened practical level– a concept like “hybridity” which, even though it defines the Latin American cultural paradigm for Nestor Garcia Canclini –by affecting the modality of constituting national identities in the continent and its cultural policies- it also brings home the connection between current thinking and past thoughts, and between common cultures and those that are of a more heterogeneous nature. The model of appropriative artistic practice and its analysis, as in such concepts as “mixed race” and “hybridity” –despite their differentiations– made room for the influence of local traditions (religious, esthetic and cultural), the appraisal of the contemporary arts in Latin America, the Caribbean and the whole wide world, and later on the consideration of the Third World under the assumption of “tradition and contemporariness” as a broadened expression of the “hybrid” model of “cultural appropriation.”

In this sense, even though the 1989 Havana Biennial shifted that focus of attention on Tradition and Contemporariness as an ideological perspective, this conceptual contribution also helped close a cycle and open some new ones. It served as a wrap-up of a period in which contemporary Latin American strategies had not been sufficiently assessed or backed up beyond the boundaries of their “polarized modernity,” while on the other hand, it did bring better understanding about the particularities of a contextual relationship between “the old and the new,” the original and the copy,” the center and the periphery,” both at the level of local relations and those other relations and international confrontations for their application to the study of other subordinated cultures. Last but not least, it opened a window of opportunity for linguistic or poetic analysis derived from the own production conditions of an art still widely reserved for ethnographic museums, and it put a relocating spin on contemporariness a an artistic creation that emerged under post-colonialist conditions.3

The debates on that occasion panned out to be particularly rich as to the “center-periphery” relationship as part of a subject matter that was already inserted in the academic curricula of the 1980s both from a postmodern and multicultural perspective, and from their view as systems for difference perception.In this sense, the 4th Havana Biennial was laid out within the framework of celebrations for the centennial of the “discovery” under the title The Colonization Challenge and its Cultural Domination and Alternatives to Colonization.5 Both events brought about flak on the colonizing mindset that was still prevailing at the time whereby the recognition of the difference is submitted to the logic of subordination rather than to the sense of false harmony.

The heading Art, Society and Reflection proposed as the conceptual theme of the 5th Biennial underlined the historic ties between the non-hegemonic or subordinated art and its vital concepts, as well as between the common problems of both poor and developing nations. Particular stress on specific aspects of the human tribulations at international level was made, as well as on the level of marginalization. In terms of theoretical discussions and reviews, this approach was rendered in a return to the old tradition vs. modernization issue, the situation of the postcolonial artist and his or her struggle against the West as a defiance to neocolonialism, the center-periphery relationship and the consequent marginalization of the subordinated art; the problems of cultural identity and inter-cultural approach; the historic circumstances of the contemporary production, and the appropriations and linguistic intermingling of the Third World’s art.

Derivatively, The Individual and his Memory, the main theme of the 6th Havana Biennial (1997), was outlined on the basis of two major areas: individual memory (familiar or personal) and social memory (historic and cultural) in a bid to halt the avalanche of affectations the contemporary world exerts on our own perspectives of individual and collective identity. For its part, the 7th Biennial, featuring a title linked to communication, One Closer to the Other, attempted to make a contribution to the debate on the dialogue among human beings amid global economic projects and the resurgence of ethnic, religious and cultural particularities that paradoxically appeared to grow stronger with each passing day at that time between the variety of communities and the world’s nations. The contradictions of a world in which globalization and the internationalization of both economies and technologies were supposed to efficiently contribute to fairer relationships among individuals, communities and nations. In this respect, many doubts were cleared during the roundtable session entitled Biennials, Institutions, North-South Relations and theoretical papers that either presented or discussed such notions as multiculturalism, the artistic dialogue with the artificial systems and information technology, the media-oriented and technological art, the cross-cultural and globalizing models in their view as communication networks and flows.

This meant to be the commencement of a journey that also sought –as part of the initial program that originated the biennials– to provide a closer encounter between art, the public and the community, a move that later editions, like the one devoted to Art Like Life (2003) and Dynamics of the Urban Culture (2006) in the 7th and 8th biennials bore out. A new level of discussion from both historic and contemporary angles was added to the list of hot topics and eventually stressed on the performance character, the art-public relationship, the action art, the political art, the radio art, the new spaces of artistic cultural management and their ties to communities, institutions and curators. As time rolled on, the city as a space for representation was recovered, along with new citizenship practices, the space of the spectator in the public art, the differences between collaborative projects and social integration in the face of the so-called public art, contextual art and relational art. And the trans-migratory metropolises and the digital metropolises were equally scrutinized, and so were the electronic games, the live media and the V-jing as new art narratives, the Ram culture and so forth.

As critic, curator and researcher Jose Manuel Noceda has put it, one of the main features of the Havana Biennials has been their success in building on a discursive continuity in its different editions by setting up a certain thematic dialogue among them in such a way that anyone can often pinpoint hunched details of the previous version’s subject matter to figure out how the upcoming edition will actually be like.4 In the same breath, the theoretical events have been critical of the very conceptual constructions and have served as a beacon or launching pad for those productions.

The 10th Havana Biennial intends to provide hypotheses, coordinates and even markers for human, cultural, economic, technological or financial relations that embrace the particular contexts of today’s world and reach in art an expression of the dynamics among the local, the regional and the global. In this sense, the local-regional-global referential and conceptual framework not only speaks volumes of an obviously interconnected situation, but also of spaces or semi-isolated (nonintegrated) particles that prevail despite the mobility and transfer of information flows. We’re talking about a reflection that’s both expositional and theoretical that lets us map out our own presence in the contemporary world; a presence that still ingrains itself into the model of cultural globalization or internationalization that cannot neglect the requirements and needs of national contexts and their going in a world culture we continue being a part of with our very own dose of “resistance.”

All this much redounds to the conceptual design of the Havana Biennial’s own history –its genesis, programming and development– as a profile whereby many of the practices and today’s international art and culture were anticipated, while –based on the necessary continuity of this pathway– it fosters different levels of approach to the problems that have marked the world’s particular contexts over the past two decades and that echoed in that very biennial since its beginning back in 1984.

In the field of artistic and/or cultural development, nobody can feel aloof or constrained about this paradox of unity in a diversity that has ceased being a binary relationship to become –under the same global prism– an inclusive and rhizomatic bond. That seems to be the expanded, convulsive and explosive character that globalization lays at our feet, a character that cannot be a theme in itself, but rather a title, a scenario or backdrop landscape we are all part of as transforming agents instead of passive players or victims. I’ve insisted time and again on this idea because it leads us back to those harbingering steps when that founding team was unknowingly taking in Havana towards the outlining of a new art geopolitics.

Thus, in our perception and curatorial exercise, globalization is not a paradigm, a destiny or an end; and it’s not solely a process of direct rule applications and neo-liberal proceedings. Just as a platform for conceptual development, it allows us to visualize many other sides of a phenomenon that remains unseen from a polarized perspective. This also explains why a term so much in use today and so clarifying like global, makes way for a more many-sided variable like local, regional and global or local-regional-global dynamics. The conjunction of the global and the local as a proposal of conceptual analysis is, from my own view, a way to deliberately undercut the number of variants to be considered. On the other hand, this conception clears out why we were never interested in the theoretical or artistic practice fields as excluding and differentiating application as to such terms as “integration” or “resistance”, but as a unit with a contribution to make or a point to hinge on within the framework of our own ideological perspective.

This is a situation, a mental, physical and economic state that pertains to what has been called the new era of globalizations or world contacts. A referential structure or rhetoric figure that runs through –and is run through as well by– all possible variants of interconnectivity that imply not only our positioning ourselves in today’s local-regional-global communities, cultures and artistic productions that acquire so many differentiating matrixes within their own contextual particularities, but also our better understanding the discourses on art that they churn out as particular contributions from one context, territory, physical body or concept to another, to the definitions of the local-regional-global dynamics.

The three levels exposed here shore up one another in an effort to slough off the old essentialisms and the new fundamentalisms; but they also try, as methodological-curatorial tools, to overcome the predetermined ideas and phrases that have become slogans –and remain as simplistic as ever– like “local action, global thinking” and vice versa. Its goal is no less a chance to prove how each and every individual or group takes part in globalization through its own specific cultural identity, and what all this means, in a theoretical and practical way, a questioning of any alleged homogeneity or absolute degree of the globalizing principle.

There’s no valid global recipe for any local space. The sense of cultural trans-genesis that flies in our face today doesn’t deny the particular matter and takes us instead to the multiplicity of its original sources, to the revalorization of traditional practices that have been put to the test in their contextual competence and are now getting a new lease on life under the prism of an openness that’s becoming increasingly compulsive, strategic and sometimes overbearing as stacked up against the outer issues. But we also know that the readjustment and attention that others make or pay when addressing that difference continues to be a trap set up to keep that very difference well subordinated and under wraps. The global –this must be clear– is not an absolute space, but a spatial proportion that has been designed for very specific purposes, “a control strategy derived from the represented space, an absolute space that shows itself as neutral”. 5

However, let’s not move away too far from theorizations that eventually tell us about art in its stale subjective objectivity. When we started working, those notions were precisely the artworks that opened up new thematic and conceptual horizons for us, far more clarifying about the present that the very theories that today try to shape up and work on the globalization concept. Contrary to what some people might think and given the demand for “international” art –dislocation and deterritorialization– it turned out to be very encouraging for us to see the emergence of divergent interpretation about the global within the local-regional-global dynamics, some of them similar or attached to a same region, even to a same country, as well as different models of micropolitics and citizenship contextualization exercises.

If through esthetic homogenization of globalization there’s an attempt to reorder the controlling differences, then for us it’s more and more about showing off a global imaginary that arises from the particular and the ever-growing needs of recognition and comprehension among men. More than just a difference per se –and next to it– we’re interested in those processes that come to pass inside of it and that, regardless of their being mediated by historic, political and economic contextual reasons, the lean to internationalization. Put that way, then what are the aspects of internationalization or globalization that remain in doubt when we analyze its going into effect along the links that bind that difference together?

As a response to the contemporary landscape we work on, the 10th Havana Biennial –both the main event and the theoretical gathering– must come up with an unfolding mat for the installation of a national cultural infrastructure (local-regional) within the global historic framework. Today, the international context puts us in a one-of-a-kind situation: in addition to being an international ideological model of the rulers over the ruled ones, born out of the large-scale implementation of neo-liberal economics, the current globalization fosters levels of revalidation and interconnection within the cultural field that as seen from a world perspective, it obviously gets overlapped by the edges.