Sala de Navegación y Realidad Virtual a la Cubana (Navigation Hall and Cuban-like Virtual Reality) is in some way the updating of a project of yours of wide impact at the Havana Biennial . . .
This project was based on a piece I made for the 7th Biennial in 2000 at El Morro: Café Internet del Tercer Mundo (Third World Internet Café). I had proposed to the curators to find a café in Old Havana for the project, and we agreed to use a restaurant that would be connected to all the exhibition spaces.
In those days we had no social networks and the technology I used for my work was more primitive than now, and pretended to be even more unsophisticated. There was no access to the internet the way we know it now; only in some hotels, and it was very difficult to communicate. The installation played with all that dynamic of how to communicate from Cuba, an island, and how to connect to the internet.
Updating this project allows me to make it more contemporary and introduce other topics now integrated into the dynamic of communication and the development of access to the internet. One of the computers refers to the Wi-Fi zones, another one to the online applications to obtain a Schengen visa, to virtual banks or to the countries that depend upon the so-called remittance economy. I did research into each topic on the internet, collected different pages dealing with these matters, and created the image using Photoshop; then I printed it and installed it in those mobile screens on each machine, which the public could manipulate. Other computers dealt with the weekly package and the exchange of information on hard disks. In short, updating the Internet Café turned it into a Navigation Hall. It was possible for every person to interact with a different object, and I wanted each object to be thematic.
The subject of global and local connectivity motivates and stimulates my constant reflection. I have always been influenced by the shaping of globalization on identities, drawing a network of economic, social and political interrelationships of which we are part, whether we like it or not. Access to the internet brings us closer to or further from a virtual world. Previously with computers, and now with mobile phones, we are online in cyberspace. Cuba wants to connect to the world and the world to Cuba. We live in the era of social networks – Uber, Airbnb, Google – generating dependency in our daily lives.
On the other hand, I made my own virtual reality eyeglasses using serigraphy, inspired by the Google Cardboard design. My idea was to make them for true reality and not for virtual reality. It has always taken us longer in Cuba to update the technology. I was interested in making a joke and insist on the idea that the true reality is more important than the technological one that is manufactured.
The performance was very simple. I explained to the public the playful sense of the performance and gave them the glasses, which they could take or simply use. In this way the public had the opportunity to see the Cuban pavilion in Real Reality.
The experience, in general . . .
I had never been to Venice. I was deferring the visit for a strong, special occasion. It was an extraordinary experience. And the space of the exhibition was incredible . . . what better place than Loredan Palace, where the international public had very easy access to the exhibition! Many people were present when the exhibit was being assembled, some who discovered it by chance as well as friends who wanted to participate in the mounting process.
How did you perceive the remaining exhibitions of this 57th Biennial?
I did not spend as much time at the Biennial as I would have wanted. I saw the pavilions of Japan, the United States, Russia, Korea . . . in The Gardens. Besides having little time, it was clear we were fatigued. Sharing time between work and visits to exhibitions while discovering the city itself was exhausting. We intended to visit many places of general interest, particularly Venice’s exhibition spaces, and do it simultaneously with the work . . . because that was the moment. Everybody is present in Venice at the inauguration of the Biennial. I remember we walked through the squares and found parties, meetings, and openings of people from the art world from different places.
It is a phenomenon just like the one that the Havana Biennial has tried to create and stimulate. Works everywhere, whether or not as part of the Biennial, and the city spaces completely involved with the event, so that the entire city is part of a great exhibition. On each corner you could find a piece, from monumental sculptures to a small piece of paper on the floor with an arrow and instruction to participate in a specific project . . . or around the corner the surprise of an exhibit you didn’t even know was there. Having a pavilion and a presence in that context is very important.
What was your take on the collective perspective of the Cuban participation?
The Venice Biennial has always stimulated this practice. The public is now used to it, and I think the opinions are mainly based on what has been established by that practice. I think that an exhibition with a larger or smaller number of artists is justified according to the idea you want to transmit and the development you intend to give to the idea. I visited pavilions where several artists exhibited rather than the customary solo show. I think it was a novelty, and as valid as any other formula. What most influences the criteria in that regard are the canons established by the Venice Biennial: that each country bring an artist.
Has your participation generated any projects for you?
I was invited to an exhibition in Lille, through Galería Continua. The piece will move to another site and interact with new audiences. Everyone draws his experiences according to his expectations, and for me, the fact that it will be possible for the work to move in other spaces and interact to other viewers is super important. The playful element of my project requires in a special way such diverse and dynamic interaction with different spaces and audiences . . . that is terrific. It will be a different experience . . .