Pedro Pablo OlivaEl gran viaje, from the series Navegantes, 2014
Bronze sculpture, 71 x 48 x 68.5 cm.
At the End of this Journey, Life
On the back of an umbrella navigates the population of a fantastic island. Wind ahead, restless sea and the pulse of the crew quickens. It seems that gestures and glances have been petrified just at the moment when freedom turned from utopia into experience. A braided girl as master and captain in command keeps track of the oars. Her eyes closed and her face of enjoyment indicate that the sea before her expounds with an atomized load of salt and drizzle, and the illusion of having a horizon dazzles her eyes, and the air propels the veins around in her body. Nevertheless, beyond the pleasure earned, her duty as driver and guard is imposed. To that end she abandons herself to an act of spiritual communion.
As a subject, migration issues have become a leitmotif in the work of Pedro Pablo Oliva, since within the symbolism of travel he identifies the driving forces of the Cuban cultural identity: expectations, yearnings, conquest, exile, volatility, lawlessness. It is in the parable of the journey that he suggests the imperious longing to transcend the limits; the feeling of suffocation that evokes the “damned circumstance of the water everywhere;” the conviction of inhabiting an island in midair. An endless flight that, in the proclamation of immense utopias, erects no destination or port.
As usual, he takes us by the hand to a universe in which nothing holds its conventional function: umbrella as boat, oars like wings, eyes looking inward, vaporous horizon. The most interesting thing of this process of semantic investment is the attribution of new meanings in an act of palimpsest overwrite, in which the original senses remain as a complement to the new structure. Oliva manufactures a universe, not of objects but of dubious signs of uncontrollable and irrational nature. This resource announces the advent of a simulated world, a reality transmuted into children’s game, into foregrounding, into illusion. Such an act of distancing narrative is a dramatic strategy that articulates rhetorical springs relating to anxiety, nostalgia, pathos and terribilitá in the narrative.
The implementation of a configuration of dreamlike, playful traces, with a cartoonish will of intense tenderness, severe, grandiose, entropic, almost inbred poetic turns, holds a declared deconstructive discourse. His action begins with the atomization of socially shared and affirmed truths. With each gesture he exercises a sort of generalized steatopygia on each fragment of the world, as if that could (re) naturalize it. This process of sweetened idealization is followed by the structuring of new myths, nameless, boundless and therefore not transferable to the narrative constitution of the experience of the world. He conceives new lands and new races, as one who creates a parallel universe we’re rapt on; as one who escapes from these compelling forces and sharp manipulation to peer into our eyes for a careful, rational, impressionable look; as one who casts reasonable doubts.
So this trip is no more: it is the simulacrum turned into game strategy in this sculpture. Oliva has recreated the dazzled illusion of ultimate freedom: an imaginary sea waves a still umbrella with puppets and dolls; liveliness with which the sun draws the future. Fallowing that umbrella raises the instrument of a severe and harmful containment of pulses, then transformed into a monumental frustration. The rhetorical figure of childhood innocence, employed through its symbolic image, anchored in the appeal of the game, worsens this story, definitive obituary of many redeeming utopias. “At the end of this journey in life will only remain our distended bodies chasing death, hatred, the edge of the sea, (…) our trace alluring life (…)” At the end of this journey in life the cure of love and time, a bend that wraps up the oldest of pains (…)”1
Oliva stirs up in the wound, enlarging and monumentalizing it: We experience false assumptions as truths. The freedom we’ve paid for has not yet been delivered, and stays as the illusion of a life with the same intensity of the pretend travel on the back of that wonderful umbrella.
We are also the reflection of our own defeats. These images describe more than those seeking the win. At least those are stored in a pure state, either as energy, footprint or pain. At least they have escaped from the narrative, the history, the will and the word of one he who rules with supremacy. By the end, we are also what we silence: “Here remain us, who can smile in the middle of death, at broad daylight.”
–Luis Enrique Padrón
1. Silvio Rodríguez, “Al final de este viaje en la vida,” Al final de este viaje (Madrid: Sonoland Study, 1978).