David MateoRead more
Chuli Herrera and the Socialization of the Patrimony
Chuli Herrera’s visual universe could have quietly evolved from the conventional practice of painting; he could have remained without any problem within the codes and themes preestablished by the promotional and market circles. The technical abilities and readjustment capacity he has shown when broaching traditional genres such as the landscape and portrait could be assumed as tacit evidences that he would have had a sure – and perhaps somewhat more vertiginous – rise if he had restricted himself to that sole perspective.
Aside from the interdisciplinary strategy he has been introducing in recent years and the feasibility of the artifices he employs to make it credible, any of the paintings conceived additionally within that integration process has autonomous structural values and is an easily recognizable symbolic and aesthetic entity. In fact, he already had the opportunity of verifying the favorable echo of some of those compositions in influential spaces such as the Beijing Biennial of International Art with the exhibition of his canvas Be One, from 2014, and the Art Basel Miami event in 2016, where he presented the painting Vientos helados (Frozen Winds) (2015), a collaboration with Colombian designer Mónica Cárdenas.
However, Chuli Herrera has completely avoided the conformity with representation and insists in a multipurpose conceptual discourse that although apparently prioritizing painting takes advantage of other procedures and expressive resources and projects itself from interactive and socializing levels. If we carefully examine his personal dossier we see that almost from the very beginning of his career in exhibition, from the moment he started to conceive a program of artistic insertion in his province and in the capital, when perhaps he was not all too conscious of a number of fortuitous painting resources, he was already developing that open will of focusing and was consolidating arguments restricted to a specific working profile. Although dissimilar in their content and in the way they are presented, there is a group that stands out and has developed more coherently. I refer to the reflexive debate between the condition of historical and social subjects; to the philosophical determination of categories such as substrate and nature; to the use of allegorical formulas whose deductive keys commit the distrustful attitude of the spectator with whom he sometimes has almost performatic exchanges; to the manipulation of the authors’ stigmas; to the reconsideration of the dichotomy between reality and representation, his present turns of influence in the psycho-social sphere, and the adoption of languages and communicational codes that exceed the specific knowledge in the field of art and involve a knowledge of other disciplines.
When I visited his showcase Proyecto cielo (Project Heaven) in Havana in 2015, I thought the artist was forcing all these elements of his work to extreme limits. I could not imagine at that moment another action that would reproduce with the same spontaneity and lack of prejudice the experiences of colloquium and involvement to be put in motion by this curatorship. Chuli Herrera conceived the landscapes of that exhibition from a group of photographs he had requested from some creators. They were images of the sky, captured in different places: New York, Bangladesh, Florida, Mexico, Havana…When almost everyone was taking refuge in workshops and creative studios, that showcase not only reflected the validity of an inclusive, participative methodology of creation that produced consciousness of the perception levels of the natural environment, but also recovered the functionality of a quite scorned genre and subtly committed a representative group of artists and friends with that purpose. That was how I interpreted Chuli Herrera’s unusual behavior in those days. After that exhibition I showed him my interest in keeping in permanent contact with his work, because I thought that, as in the case of other young persons from his generation I already knew, it might serve me as pretext to analyze the relocation of the landscape in Cuban painting.
However, with the showcase #cronicassentimentales he presented in Villa Manuela gallery of UNEAC in August, 2018, Chuli Herrera went ever farther in that opening and socialization urge that is present in his work. With a sudden, controversial maneuver he went from a restricted, discreet call like the one he had displayed in Proyecto cielo (Sky Project) to a much more expanded informational exploration. The artist penetrated the social networks to close a cycle of research on the public significance of emblematic works and painters in the history of art, the ones closest to his sensibility and creative procedure (Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Munch…). The search started by the selection of work titles or concepts associated to them that he later re-wrote in hash tag format. The visual results of the relational approach were used as reference material in the construction of the works in a kind of free recreation, of painting “version” of the digital photo. But when reproducing it on the canvas, the artist moved as he pleased throughout the compositional spaces of the image, and paid absolutely no respect to its structure. With gestural, expressionistic strokes he underlined the form of certain objects and figures, intensified the contrast of colors and atmospheres, and diversified the zones of symbolical impact within the represented scene.
#cronicassentimentales was a unique exhibition to be appreciated thoroughly with the usual vices of a quick or panoramic glance. Whoever did not have sufficient time to visit it surely did not understand it in its full dimension; he will obtain an ambiguous, perhaps somewhat anachronistic sensation from it. It would even be necessary to ignore the somewhat hieratic and sensationalist appearance of the museography, particularly the one produced as consequence of the relation between the works hanging from the wall and the cell phones placed on one of the extremes because of the alleged “friction” between manual and technological. One had to stop in each angle of the space to duly analyze the dialogic relation between the images represented in the paintings and the screen captures of the cell phone when imitating the exploratory tour of internet.
The exhibition at Villa Manuela again placed us with new and more sophisticated elements in the face of one of Chuli Herrera’s the prioritized lines of artistic achievements: the curatorship of lucubration and thesis. He made us participate in an ingenious attempt of research on the development and vocation of resistance of some traditional painting genres; he warned us of all that has changed or remains active in the century-old established concepts and sensibilities; and above all, he gave us some clues on the degree of functionality that those genres (or their main precepts) have gained as part of the dynamics of visual testimony of modern life… At least I clearly sensed an emphatic yes to the question contained in the words of the exhibition catalogue: Can the painting art of other centuries act as premise and interact with the dynamics of thought of the present society?
#cronicassentimentales or the Need to Rediscover Painting
Figuration is always a sort of abstract version of reality. It is the reinterpretation of a visual discourse that inevitably arrives at the support influenced by the social and emotional conditionings of the artist, even when he thinks he is making the most mimetic of portraits. Painting then becomes the ludic scenario in which the painter arms and disarms his own concept of reality, in which a pipe is never a pipe and the signifier is nothing but a door open to multiple meanings.
In #cronicassentimentales, @chuliherrera penetrates that dynamics of reinvention proper of the painting genre. He profoundly studies the environment, recognizes the references, searches into tradition… and as part of a restless and heterogeneous artistic panorama seeks to establish evident links with certain problems of contemporary society.
The fact of facing the canvas in a gestural, aggressive, and emotional way derives from the sensations left in him by the study of three great masters of universal art: Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. The technical characteristics of such geniuses, together with their special forms of granting each piece a disproportionate expressiveness (at times heartbreaking and tormented) create the need in the artist to appeal regularly to them in order to later channel his own personal creative concerns. Thus, Rembrandt’s interest in the light, Van Gogh’s gestural brush strokes, and the aggressiveness of Munch’s strokes mix in Chuli’s pieces to produce a variegated and sensitive scenario.
However, to speak of influences in artistic terms is to appeal to a constant. There are no creators without references, without inspirations to follow or patrons to admire. But can the painting art of other centuries equally act as premise, interact and influence directly on the dynamics of thought of the present society? It is precisely this question that makes Herrera penetrate one of the media with the greatest impact in contemporariness: the social networks. By investigating relational dynamics and the use of photographs in such an environment he finds the extended use of the hash tag, a novel method of cataloging images, i.e., thousands of visual reinterpretations for a specific concept.
It is then that he returns to the works of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Munch, takes the titles of those that move him the most and translates them into the native tongue of each one of the artists. He turns the resulting phrase or word into hash tags and obtains a wide and growing image bank containing thousands of contemporary revisits to the concept handled by one of these Masters centuries ago. Finally, he selects one of the photographs and reproduces it in painting with a technique of his own, ensuring measures in the canvas identical to those of the work of reference, but with a visibly different treatment of the new image from that of the original piece.
Here is then a work that acquires its essence from the very process of creation. Under the expressive filter of the painting technique the artist proposes a different reading of an idea that is constantly exploding, given the characteristics of the environment and the moment when it takes place. #cronicassentimentales mix past and present, tradition and new media, and reveal to us the conceptual wealth emerged from a great artistic tradition that permeates the visual university of society.
Apology of the Possible Flight. The Silk Route is Back
For those who do not remember the name or simply ignored it, the ancient Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arab, Greek and Roman civilizations connected economically and commercially through the Silk Route, thus enabling an ever greater enrichment of the world and the different regions. The roads that connected China with the western world were called Silk Route, becoming famous not only as a fruitful trade channel but as a relevant form of cultural exchange in those days.
With that background and the purpose of paying tribute to it, the 7th International Art Biennial of Beijing, China, proposed “The Silk Route and World Civilizations” as theme of its 2017 edition and core of the curatorship and museographic display at its venue, the National Museum of Art of Beijing. The Biennial traced the guideline of disseminating the ideas and standpoints of more than 4 000 artists from different countries, among them a strong representation from Latin America and the Caribbean.
The purpose of drawing attention to that theme was to inform on and disseminate the spirit of the Silk Route, the positive impact it had among different cultures, the exchanges favored by its opening, and the mutual knowledge that became an essential tool for the peaceful cultural EastWest integration that has remained alive in the Chinese people.
Cuba once more found its space in this international art scenario among representatives from more than 120 countries from all continents and 652 pieces in different formats ranging from the most traditional painting and sculpture to installation and video creation, with the piece Vientos helados (Frozen Winds) (2015) by the young creator Asniel Salvador Herrera (Chuli) (Camagüey, 1987), who was the only Cuban artist selected for this edition.
This creator had already initiated a direct dialogue with China when he took part in a residence program for Latin American artists in Hangzhou in 2014, followed by his selection to participate in the 6th Biennial the following year. Those moments favored a greater approach and involvement with that culture, which continued with his selection to participate in the 7th Biennial.
The majority of the pieces presented in the Biennial abound on the proposed theme, covering major issues from different optics, formats, and materials. The artistic corpus of this exhibition, which opened on September 24 and extended until last October 15 ranged from the most traditional landscapes and the impersonal and expressive faces that to some extent contextualize the journey along the Route, to works that tend more to abstraction or the vanguard in their concept, among them some installations and videos. Vientos helados was not the exception. It is a relatively recent piece that is part of a series with the same name, made in collaboration with Mónica Cárdenas Vera, graphic designer from Colombia, with whom Chuli exchanged during his stay in Medellín during the development of the project Síntesis with four other Colombian artists.
The fact that Chuli Herrera is the only Cuban who participated in the Biennial is a double achievement, both for his curriculum and artistic career and for Cuba, considering the national presence and cultural projection in a very solid and strong artistic platform such as the International Art Biennial of Beijing. The already three exchanges held by Chuli Herrera with the people, customs and culture of China have favored his concepts, maturity, and personal and creative projection.
In his piece Vientos helados he appeals to the graphic representation of the bee (although in the series he uses birds, other insects and diverse elements) continuously and serially covering the entire canvas, superimposed to the previously painted image. The clear foreshortening of a masculine body that somehow recalls the classic postures of the crucifixion paintings is flooded and at the same time uplifted by the flight of the bee above it.
The reference to the flight as natural characteristic of the bee, represented in a moment of impasse, is reflected on that body that seems to remain suspended in a state of freezing using the painting technique, and reveals an analogical and at the same time controversial discourse between both beings and their respective natural capacities. It is through the spaces of art that the creator offers them the confluence of the flight: the natural universe of the former and the utopian universe of the latter are possible for both in artistic terms. The confluence is to be understood from the technique, from art, from the imagination; and the controversy from reality, from the objectivity of the subject’s nature in the face of the different and unattainable for him.
The exchange is present in that interconnection of two different abilities, two different natural universes, two possibilities that the artist brings together in the painting with remarkable dose of aesthetic taste and a generous discourse in its conceptual decoding. “The dreamt utopia… is like searching for what you do not have… it’s like the pure air of a forest… it is generally abstract, a feeling of emotion, of being free at the expense of the wind… it is based on the ability of each person to go as far as the soul dreams it… it is going far, far, endlessly far…”
The flight is constructed in two ways: one, from the artist’s concept; two, from the creative ability for its representation. Chuli Herrera searches on the possibility of conceiving/constructing a “third nature” for that flight, in which the spectator may find a credible artistic environment just like his own objective reality, enriching precisely from that other nature that, even if not strange to him, is indeed distant from his own.
Paintings, icons of the History of Art, social networks and new media are combined in the original solo show of Camagüey artist Chuli HERRERA under the title #cronicassentimentales, open since last August 3 in Villa Manuela Gallery in the capital.
Trained as an art instructor, in recent times this young creator has been rising in the national art space, in addition to receiving numerous international awards in biennials and artistic projects. He is indeed a creator in the stage of maturing and growth, with praiseworthy results and interesting productions in contents and technical solutions.
#cronicassentimentales is an open and wide showcase, both in materials and concept. The artistic criterion is not restricted exclusively to the painting production, the classic showcase of oils in a white cube. The exhibition widens spectrum and adds to each piece an external element that is both contemporary and attractive. The meanings that each piece may evoke are complemented by a movable device whose content acts as an open door to new significances, new images and new connections.
Painting and technology are combined here, but also past and present as creative will to offer variables of meanings and current reinterpretations of the production of three great masters of the History of Art: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (Holland, 1606-1669), Vincent Willem van Gogh (Holland, 1853-1890) and Edvard Munch (Norway, 18631944).
All artists, in any of their training and creative stages, consciously or unconsciously receive artistic influences from other creators, whether from previous or contemporary generations. But it is an interesting idea to assume those influences not only to achieve a specific piece, strengthen the own language or refine and increase the mastery of a technique, but to reflect through the canvas, in combination with the social networks, the mark of master artists who left their trace in the historiography of art.
I avail myself of the canvas as the creator’s tool and personal trademark, but I also appeal to the social networks as meeting place of diverse voices, opinions and sensibilities contained under a label full of symbols and data in the cyberspace.
It is also interesting to take part in that process of updating and reinterpreting artistic icons from all over the world by writing a #hashtag followed by text. The variability saturates the digital platform, the heterogeneity of visual and text information that accumulates on it is extraordinary, and that openly widens the very personal and highly expressive exegesis that Chuli HERRERA has represented on his canvases, visual partners of the media, whose increasing relevance in space exceeds that of the canvases in terms of the museography and conceptually.
The effect of surprise, the attractive mobiles, the keenness in the museographic solution showing the entire process and results of the Internet searches all grant certain originality to this exhibition. Being in front of very famous works of art in their real dimensions produces a sensation of reunions and re-visitations, but at the same time of multiple meanings caused by a touch of contemporariness: a veil of time between the non-conformism of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Munch and the vanguard nature of the virtual platform where today we are able to appreciate, participate of and modify information at will. It is a door that opens and gives us the possibility through the Internet to coexist with those great masters and with the current virtual versions of their works.
A visual connection with the codes of expressionism, at times with an equally expressionistic abstraction; the recurrent out of focus typical of photography and a certain romantic halo in brushstrokes and some chromatic tones is perceivable in these works. The imitation in figuration is replaced by almost material brushstrokes, textures and pigments willfully produced on the canvas to capture and summarize from another optic and posture a psychological and social content in different contexts through symbols and icons, but mixed and reflected through other contexts that stamp their respective experiences, feelings and particular tastes on them.
In that way Chuli selects the visual information according to his motivation, generally distancing himself from the piece itself of one of the above-mentioned artists. This will enable him to offer a new perspective linking past and present from which to study and understand new visions of those authors and their works in the contemporary cultural imagery, transversally crossed by the social networks.
Thus, instead of facing the well-known self-portraits of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, the artist offers an ode to them through a creative process (#zelfportret) in which we face a universe of connecting references in a kind of video that informs the procedure of interconnections in the Internet. Chuli translates such process through the painting technique in an installation made up by diverse self-portraits, reinterpreted after a search of elements emerged from the link between a #hashtag and a label written in the networks. The same happens with the remaining works in Villa Manuela under curatorship of Shirley Moreira. There, in those halls, is a mess of significations, symbols and attitudes struggling in close communication with their most diverse and contemporary virtual references.
#cronicassentimentales brings together the demons and passions of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Munch, accompanied by those that live in Chuli HERRERA in his contemporariness. May this mixture of artistic periods and styles, of feelings and social concerns be a channel for the diversity of points of view, crossed references, memories and variegated criteria. In the words of their creator: