When I saw the pieces of this exhibit I couldn’t help to remember my first encounter with R10 –at least my first conversation with him. To the best of my recollection, it was 1999 and I was 22 years old. We were in a café that had opened at the Cuban Book Institute, a cybercafé or something like that, a place where you could still have a talk with someone else. R10 was the designer of a literary magazine headed by Cintio Vitier. I’d seen him a few times, yet I’d never talked to him for more than a couple of minutes.
That afternoon we were packed around a small table: R10, Pedro Marques de Armas (Diaspora), Javier Marimon, Jose Felix Leon, Rito Ramon Aroche, Odenis Bacallao and I. The conversation began to pick up steam about the Basquiat exposition being mounted at the time in the Rum Museum, detractors versus advocates. I recalled Rito said in a chuckle that his small daughter had told him she could paint much better than Basquiat. R10, who had remained silent, said that as far as contemporary art is concerned, things sometimes happen as in the story about the king and the invisible dress in which only children dared to say the king was sheer naked. He didn’t make that comment in reference to Basquiat because on the advocates’ side. The chat touched on the nature of art and beyond, the ambiguous nature of art and a discussion on whether design was art or not. Today, that discussion seems to be so absurd, reminding me of those debates in the early 20th Century on cinema or photography.
In that conversation, R10 asked a question that remained swirling around my head for at least a couple of weeks. He told us to look around and find something built by man that could be stripped of an esthetic intention –no matter how tiny or poorly accomplished it could be. I can’t remember much more about that conversation, but on my way back home I tried to find an object without that damn esthetic intention. I was almost certain I was going to find one. I decided not to open any book. I did no research somewhere around. I just wanted to work that out all by myself. I everything man has built in the field of design had an esthetic intention, what could turn something into art? What was art in the first place?
I was completely unaware of the fact that was an answered question since long ago. A week or two later, I thought I’d worked out the problem. I said “I thought” because indeed I was off the beam. I thought I’d reached a conclusion that pleased me. My answer was that an object of art had no usefulness at all. Art was good for nothing –in a practical sense of the expression.
Standing in front of the Duchamp piss pot a few years later, I remembered that conversation again. Duchamp had channeled everything in a masterful way, stripping it of its usefulness, putting it in a space-art. He’s incorporated the gesture, yet showing at the same time the object’s esthetic intention. In his effort to move beyond the boundaries of art, Duchamp has paradoxically come up with an assortment. What he’s done indeed is to open a new dimension in our esthetic consciousness. However, to him art was still the kind of stuff you put on a pedestal and not on a shelf to be sold.
Through the years, I’ve witness R10’s work, that most of the times has been tied up to somebody else’s ideas or artworks. I’ve always admired his intelligence and elegance. When I saw the pieces of this exhibit I couldn’t help to remember the first time we talked, to pay heed, above all, to the language, that thorough language, that metaphorical language seen in R10’s superb mastery, this time around free from commitments and wielding his own instruments. Everything seems to work by analogy, analogy with Rorshach in his spatial conception and in the intention of putting us to the test. As in the case of Rorshach, he appears to be asking us, what do you see? What are you seeing there? As in the case of Rorshach, with these pieces, it’s not about using your imagination, but resorting to perception.
And even though it’s entitled Rorshach –it might seem there’s an intention in making the spectator a co-interpreter, though the end result could be riddled with a multitude of readings- I know at the end of the day he just wants to say only one thing. Making an adequate reading will depend on how each and every one of us manage those codes, on what each and every one of us could make of the historic reality. “It’s crystal-clear to me” already seems to be a classic. Paradoxically, that language simplification has led him down a road of complexity and great profoundness. Can design be art? The question is too old. It’s all crystal-clear, and so is the answer. Yes, but not always, as photography and literature are not always either.