A man is always his multiple silences, taken one by one, and placed as a tree.
Many times I’ve been under the impression that witnessing Ernesto Rancaño’s aesthetic proposal is like awakening, slowly, with no shock, in the middle of the silence of a regular and quiet night; only that at this point you realize there is nothing beneath you. There was no bed on the floor which wasn’t there either. There was no support of any kind, no walls. And perhaps –this would be the most disturbing sensation- there never was. You are awake in a place that shelters you and holds you up without knowing how. What follows are feelings my common sense hasn’t wanted to arrange. So, this isn’t an essay. Most likely is the story of a fascination, or at least, the story of an approximation to the artist’s experience, whose complex relationship with the world compels him to a certain convalescence attitude, projected from the always broad sense of the artistic representation. This same sensibility implies a permanent state of poetic consciousness.
In the case of Ernesto Rancaño, the search for an artistic concept always comes from such poetic appropriation, which implies especially a subjective perception of the human condition as well as refounding its conventional outlines. In this direction, you clearly find several recurrent images which will allow explaining a good part of his work, particularly from his more recent years of production. I’m also referring to a common, basic origin, a thematic core that would be understood as the result of a tangency between impossibility and incompleteness, two of his great obsessions.
Let’s just say that this root aesthetic category defines the artist’s proposal and distinguishes it from the vast tendencies in today’s Cuban art scenario, though it doesn’t seem restricted to any of its constituent elements either. To the multitude of his guide-images, to the artistic effect projected from invigorating indicators of an anguishing state, to the multiple formal solutions to frustration and lack of communication, to the diminishing of the individual before the overwhelming external circumstances, to all this I will be referring to in the following lines.
There have been some key words mentioned: frustration, impossibility and incompleteness. Without any doubt, certain semiotic recurrences would allow to sketch some sort of mapmaking or conceptual map that I find inevitable to explore. You may draw a linking line from Quién me abraza a mí (Who would embrace me), 2009, to La carta que nunca te escribí (The letter I never wrote you), 2011, –two of his most representative pieces. At this point, the scrupulous work of the artist provides its greatest kindnesses when you find it to be deciphered as a whole, beyond the huge differences in terms of their formal solutions and pensive nuances. Rancaño has been consistent with himself using a multiple form of expression. I cannot think of a greater praise for an artist.
In Quién me abraza a mí, the idea of lost seems to emerge from the contrast between the thorns and the central figure’s expression of indifference. In this piece, there is an attempt to characterize the circumstance of a humanity assumed as a burden, as an adversity. The aesthetic dimensions of the anguish are enormous. The artist’s purpose doesn’t seem to refer to the representation of the pierced flesh’s pain, but to existential pain rather than physical. The work as a whole is a metaphor for spiritual suffering. The figure’s body hides in its gentle gesture the stabbing sensation of what won’t happen.
The thorns, hooks, bistouries, claws, all the cutting objects obsessively warped into the central subjects of the pieces, show us an agitation of the mind that can only be assimilated as the idea of a silent echo. The vexed bodies act as symbols of spiritual suffering and they all refer to an intimate level. This means that the outside reality motivates the search for shelter, found many times in the inner darkness, as it happens in De donde nunca para de llover (From where it never stops raining), 2012, and in Reconciliada (Reconciled), 2013. Generally speaking, one could recognize introspection to be one of the constant marks in his large series Abrazos prohibidos (Forbidden embraces).
The figures constantly appear attacked by external elements; they are defined by some suffering caused –as already said– by impossibility. Take for instance Desangelada (Disangeled), 2011, where the zipper on the side of the figure resembles an open wound, the fatal mark of wings, extirpated rather than absent. The same happens in Vuelo cerrado (Closed flight), 2013, where a tied lace restricts desire and encloses will. Frustration is the only certainty: Destino inconcluso (Incomplete destiny), 2009, Aires de jardín ajeno (Airs from someone else’s garden), 2011, and Diseño para un adiós (A farewell sketch), 2009, are some other examples. In the first one, the wings’ contour is not finished, so the antonomastic symbol for freedom remains “incomplete;” in the second case, the figure and the wings belong to dissimilar ambiances. It is the same with Diseño para un adiós, the flight’s plan that would imply an exit, the ticket out of an oppressive reality, stays just in the sketch stage, in an idea that will never become definite. Rancaño’s winged figures –I refuse to believe they are “angels”– won’t be able to fly, their aspiration is solely defined as an everlasting sense of lack. They have been, each one of them, crystallized at the maximum moment of their anguish.
On the other hand, I cannot think of a better understanding of the term incomplete that the one follows from the Sisyphus’ myth: the cycle that never ends, which by consequence has never become complete. On this point, the incompleteness’ conceptual variations, sort of an unfinished-term, branch out to unusual subtle degrees. They got confused then with the concept of tautology, in which case, the end is a new beginning. The most representative examples in this sense are La carta que nunca te escribí –the best conceived piece without question–, Gemelos (Twins), 2007, and Para leerte un beso (To read your kiss), 2011. In the mentioned works also reappears Nietzsche’s image: the snake biting its own tail. The end is the beginning and vice versa. A state of things gets perpetual in an endless cycle.
La carta que nunca te escribí is the central piece that summarizes the senses of the tautology, even though the multiple anchor’s drops of this idea acquire a tone of its own in each case, like for instance in Diálogo de paz (Peace dialogue), 2011, or in Sin palabras (Speechless), 2007. However, every piece motivates the same reflection on the lack of communication subject. The transit to a final point is never complete. It’s a perpetual flow and flow back movement. In the artist’s connoted universe, this logic rules communications and emphasizes on the useless character of any attempt to reach an understanding or solution. From a traditional point of view, a communication outline conceives three main parts: transmitter-message-receiver; well then, the mentioned works reorganize such system in a way that whether the transmitter and receiver categories are equal or the message never reaches its destination. La carta que nunca te escribí, the message simply gets cancelled. It all seems to close upon itself, therefore speech gets locked in –using Deleuze and Guattari’s terms– a “function of impotence.”1
This tautological disposition of the objects put the traditional values of utility in crisis. There is a golden rule in Engineering which postulates the utility of the designed object and the correspondence between shape and function. Here, Rancaño’s objects seem to have their own rules. They break down all traditional schemes for the benefit of what could be understood as poetic objectivity. The term itself is a contradiction, that’s what Tristeza (Sadness), 2011, and Corta viento (Wind-knife), 2011, are all about: a leaden life belt that would sink you in any case and a penknife with a feather instead a blade.
The traditional materials, which make possible the functionality of every object, that is, their use, have been changed. We are witnessing an inversion of the object’s scheme. Referring to Literature, Alfonso Reyes defines a similar reality as follows: “For the maximum literary fulfillment is expected the maximum sacrifice of anything useful, anything resembling practical, in better words, anything evoking everyday’s life.”2 By “maximum literary fulfillment” we can also understand “maximum artistic fulfillment.” In fact, the artistic value usually begins where pragmatic value ends. The sacrifice has been consummated.
In short, his objects belong to an uncommon world, an “odd” world. The artist is attempting to give a new meaning to their passive condition. Precisely, passiveness is assumed with certain nuisance or weariness; something that provokes a response, that activates a defense mechanism. The happiest examples of this are his series Noble ser (Noble being), and his works No te aguanto más (I can’t stand you any longer), 2006, and Defensa nacional (National defense), 2006. We find in each one of them that the purpose which defines them as objects is spoiled. We have seen how a sui generis universe full of pain, nails, and thorns takes shape, a universe made in proportion to his constant lacks.
Now then, at this point memory appears as a resource that allows the artist to conceive his own arid and essentially uncultivated land. There is a constant controversy between different time dimensions throughout his work. Memory is handle as the elastic resource connecting such apparently dissimilar realities; it provides a provisional character to that transit, which like a meridian cuts his existence in two halves; think of his recent series Sombras del ayer (Yesterday’s shadows), 2013, and his entire exhibition La mitad de mi vida (Half of my life), 2012.
A cut tree trunk casts in its extensive shadow the former majesty of a king. The piece shows a process occurring in two different dimensions, in two time and space circumstances perfectly split. One is the real time, that of the cut tree, the real existence; the other comes out of its shadow, a time now hypothetical and unrealizable, now past and with no chance of coming back. In either case, these two realities intersect in the aesthetic process of the two light-boxes included in his series Sombras del ayer. The magic halo of memory attends a deficient reality, and exalts it.
In an analogous way emerges Olvido (Oblivion), 2013, a piece of work which intends to portray some past family scene or merely a future projection also willing to be forgotten. By words of the artist himself, “the immediate future will be an immediate past.” Without doubt, the evocative effect of the works is reinforced by the representation of two different times. Likewise, the effect of light and the minimalistic representation emphasizes in a semiological manner the amazement accompanying a journey through memory.
However, I believe his best resource for such purpose are the mirrors. A mirror constitutes a kind of threshold; as in certain story by Eliseo Diego, where it separates two realities and represents the transit from one to the other. Well then, all the work included in La mitad de mi vida makes reference to that. Rancaño took several objects from his home life and cut them in halves. This way, the reflection completes their materiality’s speculative condition. It is then when the artist from a self-reference representation puts under question the point of existence as a temporal circumstance.
A man looks at his own image and recognizes the appearance of a stranger, of someone he was and no longer is. This ability to amaze at himself brings about a change, an invention of the man within the man. In any case, the objects are not the reflection axes in his pieces, but the multiple subjects contained within them. La mitad de mi vida is the scenario of a consciousness unfolding, caused by the profound grief of mortality.
Ernesto Rancaño assails a world in transition, therefore, a not definitive world, a world that exerts an overwhelming impulse on its different artistic voices. His sensibility leads him to invent an inner space ruled by its own laws. The persistent search for an artistic representation is the only resource he has to exorcise his innermost darkness. That is how the poetic invention has always begun, always from the art’s inevitable necessity.