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The Carletonian

Perlman exhibit “Site Specific” offers impressions of Cuba via contemporary art

The first thing that catches a visitor’s eye upon entering the Perlman Teaching Museum in the Weitz Center for Creativity is a set of couches and coffee table books in the center of the sparse space. This change from last term’s display featuring William Kentridge’s work exemplifies the shift in purpose of the new Perlman exhibit on contemporary Cuban photography and film.

The collection consists of a multitude of Cuban artists (as opposed to last term’s exhibit on just one artist), who are all focused on offering fragments of Cuba’s essence to the viewer. This exhibit is a dialogue of impressions, one in which disparate artists commune to create, as García Espinosa says, a “committed” yet also “imperfect” representation of Cuba.

The sitting room in the center of the museum’s space creates a less formal dynamic, allowing the viewer to simply absorb these intermingling impressions. Indeed, museum attendant and junior Emma Greenlee’s “favorite thing [about the exhibit] is that there’s a hangout area this term and…you’re encouraged to…spend time in [the space] rather than only look at art, walk around, and walk out.” This contributes to the more relaxed atmosphere of this exhibit, one in which students are encouraged to decompress and absorb the art at their own pace.

The style of the photographs ranges from overt realism in stark and modern architectural images to more surreal depictions of themes permeating life in Cuba. Ricardo Miguel Hernández’s From My Window series consists of twelve shots of the same cityscape in Havana at different times of the day.

This straightforward, observational piece juxtaposes an unearthly image from Hernández’s Living with the Enemy series of a living room filled with an eerie steam. This fog spills over the edge of the sofa and pools in front of a coffee table holding only an ashtray. In the background of the photograph, alcohol bottles gleam in front of a blurry window.

This rather surreal image contains significant markers of vice and joins with other similarly abstracted pieces in the exhibit to subtly unsettle the viewer. The combination of these works with the realism present in architectural photography and visual vignettes of everyday life adds undercurrents of emotion and unrest to the sensations conveyed by the exhibit as a whole.

The disparity between images depicting realist, day-to-day lives of Cubans and those devoted to imagined, surreal elements of Cuban life transcend any one piece of art to create a “specific sense of Cuba in space and time.” This is, in fact, a superb description of the purpose that unites the disparate artists within the exhibit.

Each in their own way attempts to communicate a distilled sense of Cuba, a place that contains not only a rich history, but a distinctive vibrancy and consciousness of place.

Artists in the exhibit such as Enrique Rottenberg choose to express their visions of Cuba through a defined sense of space, displaying portraits of the bedrooms of Cuban citizens or images of empty streets lined with colorful buildings.

Others, like Lissette Solórzano and Kadir López Nieves, focus on everyday objects, such as a sewing machine on train tracks, or a multimedia piece created on an old sign advertising petrol. Each disparate image contributes to the viewer’s growing perception of Cuba as a place of complication, of natural beauty and urban poverty, of both peace and unrest.

In addition to photography, the exhibit showcases a series of short films. Currently, the films exhibited are Sara Gómez’s “Iré a Santiago” (1964) and Santiago Álvarez’s Now (1965). These films are part of the RESPOND series that will play until February 9th.

Starting on February 10th, the series WORK begins, consisting of Nestor Siré’s Overwhelmed and Swan, Black Neck, White Neck, (2009) by Marcel Beltrán. Finally, the PLAY section commences on March 30 and closes on April 26.

This section features two films by Adrian Melis Sosa: The Making of Forty Rectangular Pieces for a Floor Construction (2008) and Ovation (2013).

This film collection moves through “a history of alternative filmmaking practices” in which each section represents a distinct cinematic perspective. The current films on display are overtly political, while later sequences will focus more on observation, and eventually playfulness. While the content and mood of these films vary, each upholds a “sense of the radical possibilities of imperfection for an active cinema.”

The new Perlman exhibit on contemporary Cuban photography, besides being visually stunning, offers an excellent opportunity to simply chill out and learn something new about a country with both a vibrant art scene and a multitude of interlocking cultural perspectives.

Emma Greenlee puts it best, saying this Perlman exhibit can provide “a peaceful break from your day to think about something else and appreciate art. That’s not something you get to do all the time and it’s nice to have access to that here if you want it in any significant way.”

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    Dean GladishJan 20, 2020 at 8:58 pm

    I love art, and think that the Perlman museum doesn’t get enough credit for what it does.