Judging by his last four series, Jorge Rodríguez Diez (R10) is becoming one of the Cuban visual creators with more concern on the cultural memory of our so singular past. If there is a constant possible to identify in the main body of his artistic production is that of recycling retro visualities, not precisely coming from the world of art, but from other related fields like graphic design and its tributaries: commercial advertising and political propaganda. That is, Jorge looks at the cultural heritage of the past, but not at the images legitimated as artistic and which, therefore, enjoy today some cultural authority. R10 has become interested in another type of images, perhaps with a less eminent visuality, those scattered in innumerable magazines, newspapers or newspaper serials of the times, spontaneous, modest, everyday images, but an irrefutable testimony of the way in which the cultural imaginary and the aesthetic sensitivity of a people is expressed in a specific historical moment.
And it is that art is generally looking at its own belly button: it recycles itself. Artistic traditions produce their own canon, a canon that artists, critics and historians set in the cultural heritage of a nation, when actually only a very much reduced percentage of society, an elite as it is normally called, interacts and nourishes itself with that tradition. Jorge leaves that vicious circle because of considering that this euphuistic intertextual game, that only recycles canonic images or those legitimated as artistic, is tautological; he is interested in the aesthetic, ideological and political imaginary crystalizing in that visual production spilled on the majorities through the mass media in magazines, newspapers, posters and graphic art in general. These are images that are forgotten the following day, because they have been produced with the immediacy of news, for daily consumption, without much intention to transcend circumstances. It could be said that this popular visuality, growing moldy day by day on the paper and on the collective memory, has been one of the main raw materials in his creation and, therefore, I do not hesitate in defining him as a “visual archeologist,” that is, someone with enough intellectual sensitivity to know how to recognize, in an image of the past, a cultural essence making it transcend the time and circumstance in which it was made.
Now well, what is most important is that all this “archeological” work has no more purpose than talking, reflecting and problematizing on the present. Jorge’s poetics is very far from being historicist. His great rhetorical finding is to be able to discourse on very current problems using stylistic forms and images of the mediate and immediate past. His works, therefore, are texts on which various historical horizons are superimposed, and this superimposition should be productively conciliated, in interpretative terms, in the moment of reception. That is why his art is demanding. It requires fairly informed receivers, capable of acknowledging, first of all, the cultural referents being recycled, parodied or manipulated, to be able to enjoy the intellectual subtleties intrinsic to that creative process. The great paradox, what disconcerts many, is that R10’s visual texts are more than contemporary –I would say that to a large extent experimental– and very novel from the aesthetic point of view. First, because of the way of structuring the visual discourse, a phase in which Jorge puts all his arsenal of designer skills, techniques and trade, in movement. It is almost impossible to object something in terms of composition, balance of forms, contrasts, expressive use of color, power of synthesis, articulation between text and image, and so on. My thesis is that R10’s aesthetics is the most organic conciliation in Cuba of formal procedures of design and the structural and semantic ambiguity befitting artistic creation. Second, every image Jorge appropriates turns into a text generating texts, that is, when the creator places it in a new context of enunciation (the new text created by him), this image acquires a semantic potential that it perhaps never had in the textual framework from which it was drawn. That is how we see ourselves dialoguing with works with a double historicity. We must be capable of tuning with the contents surviving in the images R10 usurps from the past to be then able to make inferences on the general semantic intention of the work that, as every discourse, is also historical, determined by interests and concerns of the present. And third, up to now Jorge has proved immune to all “procedure” idioms which supposedly connote artistic leanings (and market value), or at least that is what creators who make use of them think, even some not that young. He has not minded to print his refined visual texts on cloth or white cardboard; and now that he has taken the brush and increased the scale, the appearance of the works is still as neat and digital as it used to be. No povera manufacture, no large formats just for the sake of them, no materic or technological equipment. R10’s mark does not need it, simply because his art is of a conceptual and analytical level as few are in the present Cuban context.
In synthesis, it is a creative operation in which reviving a given cultural memory does not appear simply in the thematic or anecdotic level, as in so much nostalgic pseudo art we usually see; R10’s creative strategy is, before all, cognitive and has been able to crystalize in a very remarkable, novel and increasingly sophisticated visuality in semiotic terms. This line of work began with Los pasos perdidos (The lost steps, 2011), a series exploiting an imaginary perhaps not sufficiently visited by our artists, as were the political symbols and propaganda graphics of Soviet communist ideology, which in Cuba had its socialist version in the seventies and eighties of the last century. In three of the works in this series the main characters are: Lenin, the highest political symbol of the Russian revolution (Do Not Expose to Direct Sunlight); a Lada car, the symbol of communist industry, or at least the most popular for Cubans (Un mundo por delante –A world ahead of us), and the Sputnik, the great symbol of the beginning of the space era and, therefore, of Soviet science (We Can’t Be Wrong Again). In these works, Jorge parodies the aesthetic breath of the ideological propaganda of Soviet communism, their triumphalist slogans, their coarse demagogy, their utopian naiveté, and achieves something extremely difficult from the rhetoric point of view: these pieces function at the same time as a sham of propaganda graphics and, also, as self-subversion, ideological unmasking and critical deconstruction of this type of discourse, which still has strong remnants in Cuba. For example, the Lada propaganda selling us the beautiful dream that there is “a world before us,” disconcerts us at the same time, because this supposed world is a deep darkness and the Lada, connoting the industrial utopia of planned economy, can only light a small part of what we do not know whether it is an insurmountable wall or simply pure vacuum. For its part, the word Sputnik is almost out of the frame, as if launched into the space, while the text in English (as a slogan), while alluding the fall of that first satellite, becomes an imperative of the present: how long will we continue mistaking the path? As can be inferred from the shallow analysis of these two works, it is a discourse interrogating and questioning the present, but for that purpose it refers to the origin or the deepest causes of a given state of things.
In the two following series (Ay qué delicia… Doña (Oh! What a delight… Ma’am!), 2011, and The Dazzling Light of Freedom, 2012), Jorge drew back a little more and dipped into the Cuban commercial advertising of the fifties, practically unknown by the generations born in a country living a socialist revolution from which all the forms of advertising of material goods and symbolic of consumption had been banished. This aesthetics of abundance, allied to the capitalist market and to competitiveness, is retaken by Jorge to discourse on the inefficiency of the Cuban socialist model. Especially in Ay qué delicia… Doña, a gallery of stylized, glamorous, smiling women, questions us with enigmatic words or pose as advertising models for new contemporary products or services of doubtful quality. In The Dazzling Light of Freedom, the elegant image of the Cuban bourgeoisie of yesteryear is used to outline situations lacking concrete referents in the present, but perhaps foretelling the return of certain social classes we naively believed forever eradicated from this country –although reality has proved to be more dialectic and complex than theory. And in this series we find an oeuvre announcing R10’s most present day work. Some peasants with big straw hats impassively look at a skyscraper tower rising with phallic grandeur over the rest of the city. We do not know if the three peasants have migrated and frightfully contemplate the monumentality of development or if this is a future Cuban city when at last we reach a real economic takeoff.
It is precisely that referential indetermination what characterizes the works of Guardianes (Guardians, 2013-2014), a series in which Jorge projects the horizon of the past on the horizon of the future, creating representation shams which put in a critical state our capacity to establish correlations between these visual texts and the present reality. It is a complicated semiotic operation in which real images of social archetypes that today are symbols of the early decades of the Revolution (the rebels in the Sierra, the militia girls, the peasants, the workers, the pioneers) are digitally manipulated by Jorge and inserted in environments he creates, most of them urban. Now well, in these urban environments high buildings predominate and we experience the scale of a big city, a growing city, a highly developed city we dream with and we could have had, or that perhaps my children will have in a given moment. And those bearded men and peasants, those children with uniforms and berets of the sixties, those humble bricklayers, are like ghosts, anachronistic presences, or the ideological imaginary of a past still unable to find an arrangement in the demands of the present and the immediate future. What does a country do to conciliate the gulf that has been slowly opening under its feet, between the beautiful utopia of the glorious times of foundation and the deep crisis of the present that makes the future increasingly uncertain? How to guard, protect, maintain the achievements reached by a costly social process, without continuing mortgaging the welfare of the future generations of Cubans? Before an enemy as diffuse as development, these guardians will have to drastically change their strategies or will be buried in their ancient trenches…