Un Hombre que Camina 2
Un Hombre que Camina 2, by Oscar Leone

The Challenge of the (Im)possible is more than a theme, it is the hallmark of the 13th Bienal de Havana, an exhibition that returns to the art circuit after a hiatus of more than three years. The moment is special, it coincides with the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana and the 30th anniversary of the Bienal. For a week I walk about 35 kilometers through several neighborhoods that host the event, in search of the proposed challenges. After all, when we arrive at a biennial, in any country, we want to see how the event captured, reproduced and chose what is currently being done in art. There are many mediations superimposed on the Havana Biennale since its foundation in 1984: the architecture of the place, its historical burden, the local financial crisis and that of the participating countries.

Seen in the rearview mirror, by those who have been to all previous editions, this is the leanest, although it has 170 artists, and the least scenographic. The curatorship is signed by the Bienal's pool of curators, led by the critic Nelson Herrera Ysla. The moment is for reflection, there is no glitter for the eyes. Biennials make history by undoing previous achievements and meanings. The latest editions of the São Paulo, Venice and Documenta biennials in Kassel prove this thesis, all of which reveal an identity crisis in contemporary art. The thread that leads a good part of the works of this 13th edition seems bare, as well as those that connect the dialogues of this world moment.

From the Centro Wifredo Lam, the Bienal's headquarters, I leave with three works on my mind. The first of them, Verso-Recto-Recto-Verso, by the Indian multimedia artist Rena Saini Kallat, a huge installation that addresses the issue of countries divided or in conflict, such as India/Pakistan, United States/Cuba, North Korea/South Korea. , between others. Wide strips of blue silk go from ceiling to floor - they are made by weavers from Bhuj, an Indian city -, and display words in conventional writing and in Braille. The play on words becomes an unintelligible text for both the blind and the sighted. The desire to surprise is clear and succeeds. Each meaning of a word is connected by several others. The result is messy, critical, and purposeful. The artist uses blindness as a metaphor for the collective amnesia that, in her opinion, contaminates the values ​​on which these nations were built.

Upon entering the room of Oscar Leone, a young Colombian video artist, I immediately think of Pierre Restany, the iconic French critic, now dead, who said he had no patience for video art.

Right from the start I realize that images can become an acidic and critical broth. The work is long, more than an hour, and I see a good part of it. Besides, the sun burns outside like in Senegal. Sequence of a man who walks (the land) is a video performance that apparently talks about the relationship between man and the landscape, but goes further. The character carries a leg of cow on his shoulders for a long journey through hills, valleys, mountains until he arrives in Bogotá, the political and financial center of Colombia.

Visual discourse soon seems to surpass the stage of the local process and expresses the tension in which millions of people live. His journey touches on territoriality, hunger, subjective mutations and survival. Leone has already exhibited Images of Nature at Espaço das Artes ECA/USP, in 2017, and now leaves open a reflection on what constitutes the mutation that still awaits us in the future.

Finally, inside the installation Blanco by Cuban Tamara Campo, which seeks to take the viewer to various displacements through the room flanked by hundreds of thin pieces of white plastic, which form two triangles whose axes create a point of tension and meeting. The intention, although not avowed, is scenographic, but it is attenuated by the museography that “installed” it in a room that should have at least twice as much space. What remains is an antagonistic attitude, intimacy. The idea was to make the visitor multiply displacements by testing their perception in a web of delivery and reflection.
Walking around the exhibition points scattered around Havana, I remember seeing collectors, museum directors, critics, journalists and foreign artists in previous editions trying to discover Cuban production. They acted as jungle explorers when they find a lost city.

Today this is a little different, many Latin American, European and American museums already know the island's art, a fact that eventually puts Cuba on the list of some relevant exhibitions.

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