Inside Installations: Mapping the Studio II

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Carlos Garaicoa

Carlos Garaicoa was born in Havana, Cuba in 1967. He trained initially as a thermodynamics engineer before his mandatory military service. While in the army he worked as a draughtsman, learning the skills that he would use later in his practice as an artist. In an interview with conservators at Tate, Carlos speaks about having spent many hours working in the draughtsman’s office of the army producing maps and other dry technical drawings by hand, as at this time computers were not widely available. This was the first time he had come across the draughtsman’s tools and here he learnt the skills he would use later in his work.

Carlos inspecting the work after its arrival at Tate

The artist inspecting the work after its
arrival at Tate
© Photo: Tate Conservation
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At twenty-two he enrolled at the Havana Instituto Supierior de Arte where he studied from 1989 to 1994. He commented:

The programs at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) Cuba are quite open, so I could approach any field I was interested in. They are closer to open studio programs than to traditional academies; hence the diversity and plural nature of the work that comes out of Cuban art schools.
Block, Holly, 'Carlos Garaicoa',
BOMB Magazine 2002

The idea of the itinerant artist

Carlos Garaicoa has exhibited extensively around the world, his works having been included in major exhibitions such as the Kwanju Biennale, Korea (1997), the Biennale of Sao Paolo and Documenta XI (2002). Although based in Havana in Cuba, Garaicoa encapsulates the very contemporary phenomena of the itinerate artist, constantly travelling for the circuit of Biennale’s and commissions. As Miwon Kwon has noted today we see the ‘intensive physical mobilisation of the artist to create works in various cities throughout the cosmopolitan art world’.
(Miwon Kwon: One Place After Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity, 2000, p. 46).
Garaicoa relates this not only to the culture of the Biennale but also his experience as a Latin American artist who is part of a globalised art world.

The experience of
"Biennale Culture"

Carlos Garaicoa
4 mins 26 seconds

Read Transcript

Garaicoa has been described as a great urbanist and much of his work involves responding to cities. ‘Everyday I walk through the city and feel its intensity’, he has said. ‘For my work to progress, I need to experience that contradiction between the city’s beauty and its terrible realities.’ Carlos Garaicoa quoted by Marc Spiegler in Artnews, March 2005, p.99

Garaicoa acknowledges a powerful relationship between his work and literary models of the city, particularly the concept of city as a symbolic space as it appears in the work of the writers Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino. In her book The Future of Nostalgia Svetlana Boym explores the symbolic potential of the city as ‘an alternative cosmos for collective identification, recovery of other temporalities and reinvention of tradition’.
Svetlana Boym The Future of Nostalgia, 2001, p. 76

The urban renewal taking place in the present is no longer futuristic but nostalgic; the city imagines its future by improvising on its past. The time of progress and modern efficiency embodied in clock towers and television towers is not the defining temporality of the contemporary city. Instead there is a pervasive longing for the visible and invisible cities of the past, cities of dreams and memories that influence both the new projects of urban reconstruction and the informal grassroots urban rituals that help us to imagine a more humane public sphere. Boym 2001, p. 75

Untitled, L.A 2004 Diptych, b/w photographs and drawings with thread

Carlos Garaicao
Untitled, (L.A) 2004
Black and white photographs, threads, pins
Diptych
1500 x 1200 mm each
© Carlos Gariacoa, from MOMA’s collection, courtesy Lombard-Freid Projects, New York
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[Untitled], L.A 2004 Diptych, b/w photographs and drawings with thread

Carlos Garaicao
Untitled
, (L.A) 2004
Black and white photographs, threads, pins
Diptych
1500 x 1200 mm each
© Carlos Gariacoa, from MOMA’s collection, courtesy Lombard-Freid Projects, New York
enlarge


Garaicoa’s work is often concerned with urban ruins, not only in Havana but from cities around the world. The popular image of Havana is one of a picturesque but decaying city where historical time has been halted. Garaicoa both draws on and is critical of such nostalgic associations.

Carlos Garaicoa’s work for example the series of black and photographs Arquitectura ajeba (Somebody’s Architecture), 2002, and the architectural models Campus o la Babel Conocimento (Campus or the Babel of Knowledge), 2002, shown in Documenta 11 addresses failed utopian schemes. Underlying this is a critique of the utopian project that began with the Cuban revolution, the subsequent absence of critical histories and ultimately the erasure of history.

Regarding the notion of utopia, I would like to define the context of the piece shown in Documenta 11 in opposition to it. I think the term has been abused, especially in the worlds of contemporary art and architecture, where there seems to be an urgent desire to catalogue as a utopia anything an artist does in the context of art that takes its point of departure from the discourse of architecture. It’s almost impossible to embark on a project or a reflection concerning architecture and the city without the term ‘utopia’ appearing.

In the specific case of these works and the context that they remit us to, Cuba, it is expected that what they manifest about the incompleteness of a social project, the broken promises of a system and the historical objectives of an ideology makes one think of utopia at every second. I'd like to make clear, however, that the underlying assumptions and the conceptual mechanisms of this project do not seek to ramify the tired propositions of the ‘incomplete dream’, of the ‘country in which we'd like to live’, but rather seek to be viable solutions to a particular reality.

Despite the utopian charge of the socialist project, and specifically of the dreams that arose from the practical development of the socialist society, I would like my work in Documenta 11 to be understood not as a dream for the future but rather as an immediate action on reality - a lucid and conscious gesture concerning the collapsed present and the urban and political fabric of contemporary society. I don't think my works should be seen as impossible dreams; rather they are the result of a profoundly aware and critical reflection on my surrounding reality. They are gestures that point to and somehow want to solve and give continuity to projects that were never fully developed due to the state’s political and economic circumstances. I want to respond to history and the path traced by politics from the realm of thought and the imagination. Carlos Garaicoa by Holly Block, BOMB Magazine 2002

With Letter to the Censors Garaicoa builds on the idea of architecture as a symbolic site, in this case in his exploration of censorship and self-censorship.