To recognize our own invisibility means finding
at last the road to visibility.
Lidzie Alvisa is one of the Cuban visual artists who, with a critical accent, has conjured up her work as a diary of life. From an autobiographical perspective, her exposition has been a contributor to redefining intimate space as a matrix of action for culture, history and society. Availing herself of approaches that move away from orthodox criteria, she connects with the tradition of women artists (such as Marina Abramovic, Ana Mendieta, Cindy Sherman and Nan Goldin), who have cultivated, in very recent history, a treatise that breaks the rules of the feminine, the body and sexuality.
In 1989, having finished studies at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts, she continued her professional education at the Higher Institute of the Arts (ISA) in Havana. There she develops a conceptual production whose challenge is based on finding an alliance between theoretical premises and the material realization of the piece. She revalidates esthetics and traditional procedures, as well as questions conventional approaches to the consumption of art by the public, attempting to involve the viewer in an intellective way. The subversion of pure retinal pleasure and the resistance to an “easy digestion” lead her progressively to establish an analytical connection with new semantic levels in her pieces.
With these premises, several moments of her career break through in the Cuban art scene of the nineties. Already since her first solo show Calar Hondo (Touch bottom, 1994) –with which she concluded her studies at ISA– she transfers to the art scene themes connected with moral authority within the family. Through “religiosity of the home” –according to her own words– she confronts daily life, articulating the vital process of work with the creative process. She generates a game of associations between the craft of an artist and that of a carpenter-cabinetmaker, or between the woman-creator and the homemaker and role of wife. But not only does she shorten the distance that circumscribes the space of art with domestic space, she challenges established norms by demystifying taboos regarding masculine supremacy, racial and sexual discrimination and the rigor of mystic imagery. This informs her entire production of wooden fretwork with a baroque air, through which she refers to religious iconography (in altars, altarpieces, crosses and reliquaries) that coexists with homemade objects. With painstaking and convincing delicacy, she prompts reflections of a cynical, allegorical penchant regarding sex, religion and consumption.
Themes such as pregnancy, motherhood, birth, innocence and the fragility of children are indistinguishably reflected in works such as Nueve meses (1996), Hecho a mano (1997), Vitrales (1998) and Del Re nacimiento a lo terrenal (1998). Noteworthy in these pieces is the incorporation of the small format color image as part of the wooden fretwork, in the form of stained-glass windows or on industrial mosaics. In them, the traditional form of exhibiting photography in search of visuality is left aside with certain nonchalance. The staging of a piece such as Imposible negar lo vivido (Impossible to deny the lived, 1997) admits to having this intention. There, photographs on mosaic revealing intimacies of the birth of her daughter are inserted into a piece of furniture of wooden fretwork, with lights inside, used as a setting. Lidzie appeals to the resource of metaphor to establish confessions between the poetry of the event and the coldness of a clinical rationality, between art and life, public and private. Thereafter she will continually turn to a three-dimensional concept for the setting of photographs, a common characteristic of her work.
In these initial series she mentions as direct influence the work of Cindy Sherman, which she learned about through exhibitions in European museums. This photographer from the United States attracts her with the expressive and dramatic content of her images, as well as by the accentuated chromatic nature of the make-up she uses in her “narrative self-stagings” of feminine stereotypes and sexual fetishes. Also for the casual way in which she works with prostheses, dolls, mannequins, masks, to recreate a grotesque world of visual paradoxes, at times violent, of horror, other times amusing or even kitsch.
In the nineties, when black and white photographs were commonly exhibited in the Island’s artistic milieu, Lidzie –characteristically– was making hers in color in formats of 5 x 6, which she developed in the usual way in commercial centers, as if they were photos for the typical family album. And although this practice was to distinguish her, it also generated questionings about her activity that required a subsequent critical revalidation, since few –such as Lupe Álvarez and Flavio Garciandía– understood her work from the start, and encouraged her to continue to go beyond the biased visions existing at the time.
From 2000 to date, one of the most outstanding moments of her career was the series Imanes (Magnets), which introduces for the first time the relationship between the feminine body, sexuality and the element of the pins (an indistinguishable call to laceration and beauty). The use of this trilogy is repeated in successive works and achieves such autonomy in her current production that it has become an author’s identifying characteristic for the creator.
Her search in apparent opposites to obtain a certain harmony is evident, as if between them the force of attraction would irreversibly do away with any absolute value or condition. This becomes evident in the series Imanes. Lidzie parts from the definition that “everything (including the human being) is magnetic (…) in some cases the magnet is the spectator, and in others it is the concept behind the piece. A duality that sometimes can be translated into aggressiveness-docility, communication-lack of communication, attraction-repulsion, not only at the personal level, but also socially.”
This suggestion of the relationship of attraction-repulsion between skin and pins may be found in conceptual projections such as the one where Nelly Richard explains:
“The female condition is the socio-biographical fact of experience on whose corporal and discursive materiality (always in process) the piece is constructed. But art must be capable of transforming that fact into a position of discourse, into a maneuver of enunciation, to activate the critical de-structuring of ideological codes of power that configure the cultural plot.”
The inclusion of pins that pierce a wall clock preventing the usual movement of its hands marks the beginning of the series Imanes. In this piece, the perpetual flow of time remains physically detained; a before and after are not defined. Is it perhaps the impossibility of the future? The piece demands a space beyond the temporal; it transcends symbolically the interval that separates the subject from the object and the individual from his or her context.
The pin takes us back to the evaluation of traditional feminine occupations (sewing, knitting, embroidering, etc.), where home knowledge combines with forms belonging to art. Thus, something ancestral such as the act of sewing is updated with the technology of digital reproduction of the image and the mounting on black boxes and boxes of light –produced with an impeccable craftsmanship but where the taste for handicraft and manual work is still present.
Interest in the feminine body is evident in Lidzie’s work, whether from the poetic, philosophical or symbolic standpoint. Through the body, concepts are re-evaluated and new meanings are created. The de-construction of “cultural artifacts” and the variation of forms representing ideas become noticeable in the attainment of results juxtaposed to those of the establishment, the source of the esthetic values recognized by social imagery.
In this regard she then introduces photographs in the form of lockets in the already mentioned black boxes (of small and medium format), uniformly penetrated by pins. The compositional balance of the pieces has been intentionally reasoned out. The contrast between the dark background and the metal fixers focuses attention on the represented image. The feminine body, from its own fragments, becomes a symbolic recipient in which conflicts, desires, pleasures and pains stir.
She places the pins in different parts of the body as an object prone to fetishist interpretations. The pins located in erogenous zones such as the pubis (Imán, 2001), in the form of a cross on the buttocks (Sin título, 2001) or describing an unlimited path of possible geopolitical territories on the back (Horizonte, 2001), are always presented under the inkling that they are going to cause a calculated offense for the subject matter. In these pieces there is a special evocation of Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres (1924), a tribute to the sensuality of the feminine body, a leit motiv she shares with this U.S. photographer.
Lidzie constructs the photographic scene, not with a theatrical atmosphere or one of affected attrezzo, but with the simplicity of elements that acquire a measured nature by establishing a tension between objectifying the body and its ambiguous perception of pleasure/pain. The performatic statement of the body as heaven, a zone of desire, of travel, of wild space also seems tolerant of the threat represented by the accumulation of pins on it. Through the body there is an understanding of freedom beyond social or religious regulations. Who has the power to decide? To the question of why sex, she answers: because it makes us free. Sexuality is a mechanism for also talking about power relations.
Psychological aggression is represented in these pieces by the pin’s proximity to the skin, combining the common uses of this ordinary instrument to suggest a (self)-flagellation, without discarding an erotic tint that is omnipresent in her entire work. She cunningly suggests the sensorial perception of repeated penetrations in Frágil, (2010). With the display of pins in different parts of the body –as in Silencio (2007); Ojos que no quieren ver and Oídos que no quieren oír, from the series Dípticos, (2003)– she likewise offers glimpses of other forms of “penetration,” those that in addition invade from the opposition of “strong” and “weak” gender. The very capacity and will to speak, listen, see, touch and, in short, to control one’s own body is subverted.
The penetration of a pin as jewel or ornament, the act of filing one’s nails (Límites, 2010), also refers to the idea of how beauty can be harmful, ignoble, invasive, establishing esthetic regulations that condition human attitudes. In this regard, the topic of physical laceration as a metaphor of the laceration of identity appears in a more abstract way in the sanitary napkin pierced by pins. She likewise makes use of fashion tattoos in the series Museo, where ambivalence pre-exists since the body is the work, and its representation serves as both performer and performance.
In her work there is always a concern regarding time and its relation with the essence of things and the individual. In Dípticos, for example, the interrelation of two moments speaks of the distorting power of the passing of time, in which the nature of the origin is altered, at times remaining as a trace in the withering of flowers (Girasoles de Van Gogh, 2008) or in the change to old age (Juego, 2006). These “diptychs” show a dialectic of life (between birth and death) rather than an establishment of binary contents or a duel of contrasting categories.
In her production Lidzie also tells us of the vulnerability of the individual to whom she gives form, taking into consideration the limits of a space outside the body that one constructs through the perspective of the “other.” This is announced in pieces that use the mirror (the reflected body) as an adulterated parable of vanity. The mirror as symbolic resource illustrates how identity cannot be conclusive or absolute, since we witness its constant axiomatic collapse. However, the search to recompose its space is essential for the renewal of who we are, despite the constant dependence of how and by whom we are perceived.
Step by step, Lidzie involves us in an anecdote about herself through the use of multiple conceptual resources and methods of representation. In her work, the feminine is expressed as a figure operating in the margins, beyond reason. She establishes an order where the minimum, the fragment, the intimate, are given not only by the condition per se of the woman-creator –as otherness– but also in the treatment of that threshold at symbolic levels (that goes beyond the hierarchy of gender). While she opens doors of critical confrontation, she cautions and materializes an intention of revealing to the audience Las trampas del interior (The traps within).
Havana, March 2014.