Yoan CapoteDemagogia, 2011
Bronze sculpture, faucets and washbasin accesories, 60 x 56 x 39 cm.
Demagogia at Avistamientos Art Gallery
When we enter one of the most glamorous art galleries in Havana City –Avistamientos, located on the 6th floor of one of the beautiful rationalistic towers on the Vedado coastline’s neighborhood–, we are actually attending a unique artistic experience: a bronze ear-like shape washbowl, installed on the wall, welcomes us at the entrance door offering running water and soap, so visitors can wash their face and hands with fresh water. Then, with the face still soaking wet, we ask ourselves: Have we used a work of art? Or is it just an original, creative and beautiful washbowl? From my point of view, I have no doubts that we are witnessing a beautiful, creative, original, and also useful work of art.
Yoan Capote, creator of this unique artifact, has tried to use the phonic matter (sound) as an essential component in his most recent installations. He works the acoustic element either as sound or as absence of it. Such absence can be interpreted as an evocation or embodied by means of substituting sound for another physical element. This last variant is the case of Demagogia, the title used for the washbowl. In this piece, the sound that we relate automatically to the outer ear is substituted for the water element. The ear, an iconic symbol, is transformed into another symbol (the washbowl) because of the change with respect to function made by the artist. Such function is materialized in the practical use the public provides to the masterpiece. So that, when the ear organ begins to play the role of the washbowl utensil, its reference is also activated. Therefore, we perceive the ear as an artifact by which contaminated sewage resulted from our personal hygiene trickles. On that point, the title of the masterpiece plays a decisive role in the crystallization of the sense. Replacing one symbol with another brings about an unavoidable metaphor. The same way dirty water drains through the washbowl, contaminated phonic matter of demagogy in any of its variants drains through our ears. If we extended the metaphor by use of metonymic closeness, then we can associate sewerage, to where washbowls drain, with our psychic systems: a receiving place of all the lexical filth that society as a whole produces.
In a Cuban society that is highly politicized such work of art encourages us to make other associations. An electrical appliance, like the television set, can be compared to Yoan Copote’s ear-washbowl, because it is through the television set that all the ideological rhetoric in our homes implodes. Therefore, it becomes also a demagogic rhetoric used by different powers to legitimize their system of government. Being that way, we are witnessing a masterpiece that has a great conceptual level, which implies the number of metaphoric associations we are prone to make. Nevertheless, in the formal order, the masterpiece also introduces other very interesting theoretical debates. Yoan not only builds an installation, but also an object, which can be enjoyed in the simplest sensorial sense thanks to its aesthetic qualities and at the same time, be useful. So, the traditional status of the work of art as a unique object with a “limitless aim” leads to a crisis when the aim is enjoying the senses and intellect. If you buy Demagogia, you can install it in your home bathroom, then literally wash your hands and face every day of your lifetime in a work of art.
For instance, for Mr. José Busto –director of Avistamientos Art Gallery–, art is a passion similar to religious mystic. Every morning when he arrives at his art gallery, he performs the netilat yadáyim (according to Jewish tradition: ritual of washing hands). By this ritual, Mr. Busto is redefining the work of art with this spiritual act. Meanwhile, Demagogia has a symbolical meaning with the function of natlá (a container for the ablution of hands used by the Jewish people).
I invite all lovers of contemporary art, either Cubans or foreigners, to visit Avistamientos Art Gallery, and wash their hands in Demagogia at the entrance. Then, you can make a tour around the exhibit rooms, get out, and feel the sea breeze at the splendid balcony, where you can enjoy one of the most beautiful views of Havana. In short, José Busto and his Avistamientos Art Gallery offer you a pure aesthetic experience.