With VERBUM (I), Iván Capote deploys his visual games with words once more in Habana Gallery. The oldest Capote brother is one of the Cuban artists who has been more constant in the use of verbal language as a starting point for the production of a visual discourse. However, Iván is far from using words as a “dematerialization” strategy of the work of art, as classic conceptualism of linguistic vocation attempted to do. On the contrary, his works explore and exploit the embodiment of words; potentiate the physical nature of significants; provide, with sensory resonance, volumetric wrapping, and perceptual atmosphere, a language that has a morphological structure that is often not visible in its everyday use.
Iván has become a sort of sculptor of verbal language. With words’ graphic structures, the artist creates a number of pictorial and sculptural visual inventions, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional. The conceptual universe that is nested in the language system is projected in space from the embodiment and the aesthetical relief of metals like iron, bronze, steel, aluminum, or more subtle chemical substances and physical elements like lights and shadows.
In this new exhibition, Iván afforded to use all the space of the first hall with only two pieces. Precisely by the entrance, a diptych receives us, Horror vacui, in which the artist saturates all the canvas’ surface with the repetition of the word “empty.” The chaotic superposition of the five letters, going in all directions, makes the term become unreadable, at the time it creates a visual setting with an abstract aspect. The final result can be defined as an operation of visual negation of the conceptual meaning of the word used to saturate the two-dimensional space of graphic marks. The material nature of the word has been utilized to negate its conceptual meaning. With this short between the always uncertain and inventive sense visual forms can generate and the profoundly conventionalized meanings of linguistic forms, Iván sets in motion a metaphor that we need to take by the hand with us through the entire exhibition.
The remaining part of the hall is divided by a long bronze chain that goes through all the space from one end to the other. The conceptual connection between both pieces here, which is fostered by museography, is essential. It is like if the meaning of the term “empty” had been embodied as an aesthetical element, as a perceptive experience, in all the space of that first hall of the gallery. The chain invites to a trip. One needs to look at it link after link, up to the point in which, to the left extreme, we start spotting some characters. A series of letter D, followed by letters E, S, E, O; and the O being multiplied functioning as the rest of the links towards the extreme right. The title of the installation is Link. One could think that the use of the term “link,” so much fashionable in the jargon generated by Internet, is remitting us to the new forms of connection, access to information, and virtual sociability. However, this would be an extremely superficial interpretative shortcut. In the journey we have had to make around this piece, the word DESIRE has been discovered, and that word is hanging chained by its first and last letters in the middle of a space that accumulates emptiness. The title of the work is literal with regards to its morphological structure. The metaphor Iván seems to be interested in has a philosophical nature. Where does desire start and end? What chains and what frees it? Where does it expand towards? Etcetera. Nevertheless, some things are missing, like including in these questions the content provided by language itself, for it is the visual material the artist avails himself of. Then, we would ask: how do we codify desire? Or, is it codified in advance in the type of culture we inherit, which is to a great extent anchored in language, of course? What is the role of the rationality structured from language in the repression of the desire fermented from the biological instinct? And so on and so forth…
In the gallery’s intermediate section, various pieces, with diverse conceptual statements and location solutions, coexist. I would highlight two of them that have morphologies and representation manners within the space that are inherent to the subtle reflexive game they propose to the receptor: No More Words and Mantra occidental (Western Mantra). The second one is the kind of work in which the way the word is installed in the space turns out to be essential for its conceptual expansion. It is about four steel letters suspended in incenses that are fixed to the wall. The letters create the English word OWN. Incenses should be lighted so that the meaning of the word is wrapped in a reflexive smoke that threatens to destabilize both its semantic value and the way it is fixed to the wall. “Own”, which means posses, is a term that is very much related, by metonymic contiguity to others like propriety, consumption, goods, desire, need, individualism, ambition… In this way, the slow process in which the incenses are consumed can be perfectly understood as miniature tale that metaphorically substitutes the hypertrophied process of consumerism current society has reached, a phenomenon that has extended beyond the western capitalism to become a global dynamics today. Once incenses are totally burned out, the word will fall to the floor. A fall, a collapse that alludes both to the psychological fracture that can result from the unmeasured anxiety to consume and posses contemporary men suffer, and to the threat that hangs over the planet due to the irrational consumption of its natural resources.
However, there is another universe of associations Iván brings into the piece by means of its title. The artist designates it as a western mantra. In Hinduism, mantras are magic phrases or sentences used to invoke deities; they are “instruments of thought” (literal translation from Sanskrit) with a spiritual purpose. For the west’s superficial perception, the sound of the syllable OM has become a sort of a sound symbol of these Hindu chants or prayers. This phonic core is equally equivalent to the pronunciation of the English term OWN. With this subtle linguistic resource, Iván creates a conceptual paradox, a confrontation between two cultural traditions. A unique sound and two very much different invocations.
No More Words (Mentiras) (Lies) is probably the only piece of the exhibition in which the letters that make up a word are piled, in this case inside a stylized glass of water that is full. Letter S has been left out. If it were not because in the title the artist ads “mentiras” (lies), it would be truly difficult to determine if the letters plunged in water could create any word. Nevertheless, with this element declared by the author’s intention, we can start to create interpretations. In the glass, it is only possible to have a word in the singular. S would spill the liquid; it would perturb a state of fulfillment and balance. The phrase in English is a claim in the negative form: no more words, which could be as well told as follows: no more lies. The substitution of one term for another, makes a judgment of language as a system up to certain extent, one that generates meanings without “real” referents, imaginary constructions, representation simulations, falsehoods, lies… With the phrase “no more words”, Iván seems to be inciting us to withdraw from the state of passivity in terms of fake discourses’ reception, those that are disconnected from reality. If we think, in this point, of the title of the exhibition, Verbum, the call to action seems evident.
The work that closes the exhibition also has the title of No More Words, reason why there should be an inner story between both pieces. In this case, the phrase is sculpturally embodied with bronze letters, but now the final S of “words” has been located inside a spherical glass bottle that functions as the O. just as it happens in the diptych that opens the exhibition, the sense generated by the purely visual items denies the linguistic, literal meaning of the phrase. Here, the aesthetical relief of the graphic forms that acquire volume in the space, the emphatic nature of their physical presence, reaffirms visually what the phrase intends to deny.
If we rethink the work of the glass of water from a new perspective, maybe the fragmented “lie” that lies inside it is sarcastically negating the literal content of the phrase or title, as well. If this hypothesis is convincing enough, both works together would be fostering a conceptual game of self-reflection on Iván Capote’s creation logic itself. The artist declares, in both titles, that (there will not be?) more words. Nevertheless, in the first case, he introduces a dissident sign in the recipient, one that questions the real content of the statement, and, lastly, he provides the phrase with a sculptural strength that ends up also denying its linguistic meaning.
Hence, what can we conclude from it all? Does Iván contradict himself? Will he continue availing himself of words in his future projects? Is he announcing, in a subliminal way, a new creative phase in his career? Or, is it simply about representational illusions, of infinite comparisons and supplementations between visual and verbal languages that can be created by art? For now, we can only speculate, time will have the last word.
–Dr. Hamlet Fernández