Ernesto Rancaño chose the hummingbird when he was asked to find the animal that matched his soul. By then he studied at Havana’s San Alejandro Academy, which will soon celebrate its two hundred years, and he didn’t quite know the reason for his choice. Later, as someone who is touching up the first burst of one verse, he started to discover certain affinities. The heart, for instance, with a hurried beating and always close to erupt.
In the last five years, his paintings and drawings, of which beginnings go back to the early 90’s, have evolved towards ideas, objects and sculptural constructions that suit better to his life. Experiences he never imagined –a trip to a devastated post-earthquake Haiti, the enrolment in a cultural brigade visiting prisons, a personal shattering perhaps deeper– were increasing the weight of his creations, and soon enough the redoubling sound of the tiny little bird’s wings was heard.
The curious thing about this creative cycle in which he is still involved, is its double vocation. You feel grief everywhere. You sense lost, meditation on anguish, the sadness’ monologue… you even get a sense of holding on to hedonism in the momentary raptures of pleasure. But beyond all that, the artist strives to shine sorrows as the humblest craftsman. He makes use of an exquisite rationality, a feverish rush, and a brilliant manual skill to work as a surgeon opening thoraxes and revealing hearts. He owns the preciosity of the amazed ones; he works hard in every fragment of his pieces, as if his life depended on it. And these obsessive practices of smoothing, sandpapering and polishing pain are the affirmation of the unusual beauty of his works. Has anyone noticed the hummingbird’s earnestness when sipping from a flower?
A rationality of dadaist sound, tied to objects with impractical functions, has continuously challenged Rancaño’s intellect. In recent shows we have seen seesaws we can’t use, phones with contradictory receivers, scissors impossible to handle, suitcases and shovels with thorns that paralyze their control, walking sticks with strange shapes unable to hold you up, or glasses that will never fit the anatomy of our eyes. More recently we have attended a large series of forbidden embraces, where Eros and Thanatos are absorbed in their everlasting story of rivalry and opposition.
Following that same logic arrives the exhibition La carta que nunca te escribí (The letter I never wrote you), 2011, a true visual tautology of which symbol is the homonymous piece, where a pencil fails in its writing task for having two ends identically finished with erasers. The graphite that will allow us to write to the friend, to the beloved one, to an honorable stranger is out of our reach. We don’t even know if there is any lead sleeping inside the pencil’s surrounding wooden coat.
In view of so many devices designed with the purpose of not to communicate with each other, we begin to intuit that this rational vocation for delicately dissecting objects unable to execute their tranquil and ordinary tasks is inversely proportional to the eagerness for perfecting shape, color, appearance and virtual reality of the things Rancaño creates. There is an imperious necessity of filtering the anguish, evil, oblivion, indifference, all the negative ethical and social feelings the artist senses through a sieve conceived in the sensorial perfection of the works.
This mysterious sieve, exclusive to the artist –much more pronounced since the show La mitad de mi vida (Half of my life), 2012– was possibly established to keep the precarious balance of life –of his life–, heading it to a sort of visual nirvana. A kind of magic mirror-like sieve through which he filters life’s objects and events to make us accept, against our sight sense and against our will, the amazing and anti-gravitational suspension of the hummingbird. Rancaño’s recent work drinks from this instrumental and romantic double vocation.
However, La mitad de mi vida was composed by the artist to calibrate his entire life. He split in halves certain objects of his home life and placed each one of them in front of a mirror, until occupy the whole room. The bed, the night table, the rocking chair or the bicycle, were reduced to fragments facing their own reflection. The speculative image of those halves meant the other part of his life, the part to come. The entire ancient gallery at the former Havana’s military fortress San Carlos de la Cabaña, allowed Rancaño to display all his existence as a calculated sum of the objects’ halves and their respective images. It was almost a perfect map and –once again– impeccable in its visual morphology. But also a frightening map. I sensed fear of that moment when the hummingbird wants to bury its long beak into its frail body.
The current project Sombras del ayer (Yesterday’s shadows) follows that same reflective path. In refined light-boxes we are able to distinguish shadows which at first don’t respond to the laws of Optics, nor to Quantum Physics I suppose. They are more like dark silhouettes representing venturesome projections of human existence. Projections sliding along a continuous temporality, without caring about pasts or futures, and joined to that totalized valuation of life the artist has. It turns out we can cast different shadows according to our aspirations or faults; shadows of what we were, of what we glimpsed; incarnations of the person we are or want to be; mysteries which complete us or challenge us. And that load of obsessions, whishes and ruminations thickening in these atypical shadows makes part of us. We carry it everywhere. They are not always visible nor anyone can see them, we even forget them sometimes. But some gesture, one word or thousands of little things betray us. The artist has seen them; he has clearly sensed them with the serenity of the clairvoyant who has sat down to see the world passing by.
These are the shadows he has attracted for us. He wants to insist on the halo of plans that surrounds us, as if he was making an intangible portrait of our inner self. In one light-box, a tree trunk becomes the shadow of an extraordinary timber specimen, for that’s all it has forbidden to be. In another one, some sensual red high heels project a girl’s femininity. Another shows us a man who has acquired the shadow of the chair where he meditates on. In these light-boxes there is darkness illuminating, obscurity revealing and undressing, shadows of yesterday or of all times, passing by fast and elusively, almost unnoticed, as the flight of a hummingbird.