To comment on Lidzie Alvisa’s artistic production (Havana, 1969) becomes an imperative when speaking of the most controversial contemporary Cuban art. It is not an apology, merely making a just and deserved analysis of one of the living Cuban creators with the most prolific work both regarding quality and quantity. Whoever knows her well discovers in her an untiring artist, always in search of something different and substantial to propose, perhaps chasing the myth of novelty understood as the gesture of boosting the symbolical dimension of daily objects, totally automated in real life. As a result of it, she possesses an attractive visual body of work, boosted by constant renewal and the urgent need to experiment with new languages that have taken her from engraving and drawing to photography and installation with an approach where the borders of those art forms dilute. In that unceasing search she has introduced conceptual proposals that allow certain hilarity throughout her entire artistic production: body, time, memory, words.
Her art goes from personal experience and invocations to the domestic space, many times combined with self-representation, starting with her initial wooden fretwork and up to her most recent series. Undoubtedly, this modus operandi has granted her a dimension within the gender theme, particularly when the feminine element has also been present as fragment and otherness. However, restricting her work to this militant feminist interpretation would be counterproductive, particularly because Alvisa assumes a more human than political standpoint. Although her starting point is the crudeness of a personal situation, her intention is to make her living experiences transcend to a universal plane.
In this type of work she has been much more productive since the opening of the 21st Century, when she started synthesizing her artistic experiences of the nineties and based on them, granting her production a more solid dimension. Those were the years –like never before– in which the metaphorical level granted high cognitive quality to her work, requiring an allegorical reception and outward reading to dialogue with the world beyond art surrounding her. In this synthesizing capacity stands out the value she grants to each one of the elements that make up her pieces, whose relation is generally given by opposition. Hence the recurrence to the contrast between the metal and the human body or between silver and gelatin, a duality of signs that, whether in confrontation or in harmony, dialogue within the space of public and private, pleasure and pain.
“The human body is nothing but appearance and hides our reality”
Lidzie makes her irruption into the 21st Century with a different visuality. It was around these years that her work showed considerable qualitative impulse when she stopped appealing to the traditional crafts like engraving and drawing and broached new languages like installation and photography. Despite the fact that she had already been working on the last one, it was then that she granted it more relevance, particularly due to the sculptural breadth she gave to it. What could have been pure tautology gradually in the beginning gained greater dimension when she linked the representation of her body to parallel experiences at world level.
Starting with small stories, she reflects on the meta-chronicle of “life.” For example, in her series Imanes (2000-2006) the body becomes support and at the same time symbolical capital. In her treatment of the mutilated corporal image she goes way beyond the represented genre, because although her first steps were given in the field of womanhood, later they moved until reaching the ontological concept of human being as foundational value. This time the body fragments emancipate themselves, gain relevance when they oppose the pins, which come to be a perfectly traceable symbol in a large part of her artistic production and which in turn stand as a repeated motif in her first works, in connection with practices inherited from the family, like sewing. Said continuity in a certain way ensures the permanence in her work of that spirit of the nineties in which the return to the pleasure of handwork in art was a permanent element. She plays with the idea of their daily role –as essential instrument for seamstresses– and de-automates them, giving them new meaning by reinserting them into black boxes, this time with a new function: instruments of aggression placed in pleasure zones momentarily turned into places of pain: depersonalized pubis, buttocks and vertebrae that have been (self) assaulted, without ignoring the erotic tint present in the series.
When insisting on the representation of the feminine body, Alvisa generally draws attention to profound issues such as the visual imagery with which women have been represented. In the background of these works is an ethic and esthetic discourse, since beyond the esthetic dimension she grants to the visual surface, far from being indulging and sweetening she shows the aggressiveness required by women to face the history largely constructed by the paradigm of the modern subject; a history in which marginalization has been a key element to define women, very much in spite of the attempts to tarnish this approach unleashed by the feminist trend since the decade of 1970.
If on one side the signs Lidzie uses to represent women are stereotypes –since she understands them under the same codes imposed by the male-centered standpoint– she appeals to them with utmost consciousness, pretending to maintain the closest analogical relation with the real reference in order to obtain a much more direct communication with the receiver and loaded with a stronger denounce element without obviating the potential of ambiguity in art. Magnets on the pubis –fatal attraction as mechanism of pain and pleasure–; pins that form a cross– the cross of being a woman–; pins that cover the winding landscape of the feminine body or form the horizon line on it speak to us next to violently silenced mouths, eyes that cannot/will not see, ears that cannot/will not listen. Lidzie widens her representation of the body from the feminine standpoint to that of the male as social being. Situations in which, as in her diptychs, she delves deeply into the crudeness of bipolar relations and insists on the staging of those metaphysical truths exercised from the power of the one who can silence or attack the other.
She insists on human conflicts in her most daily Preocupaciones (2003-2008), which gradually remain fitting tightly on the forehead and leaving indelible traces. The artist detects different degrees of concern according to the number of pins she decides to place on the forehead of the portrayed, and thus treats the body as reservoir of traces and living witness of the passing of time. Again she appeals to photography to capture one of its fragments, perhaps the one with the greatest elements of identity: the face. Although she starts out from her domestic space photographing friends and relatives, she delves into matters that exceed that framework to penetrate groups of existential problems of the universal human being in each life stage. In metaphorical form she displays the development of daily life, in which human beings experience cyclical situations of sadness and despair, but have to recover with the help of make up to cover the wounds accumulated in time and continue ahead.
Likewise, the artist also understands the body as Museo (2005), as private and public space, as exhibition place, as privileged spot that treasures valuable traces. Lidzie’s work falls within this modern concept of museum and simultaneously within the more contemporary one that conceives it as open and ideal space to represent the most diverse cultural practices, as could be tattooing in present times. In the same measure that she establishes an analogical relation between body and museum, she grants each one of these resorts the functions of the other; hence, the human body is regarded as representation place, entrusted with treasuring the historical memory, or, in this case, the personal one. The pin motif again provides pain and pleasure in her pieces, with pleasure having –or not– its ultimate end in an esthetic finishing, the tattoo. A privileged zone of the body receives the trace of the tattoo, which also creates an identity. The artist insists precisely on granting value to those cultural practices historically connected with marginality, stereotyped and consequently pigeonholed with the rest of those residual practices that have tried to reinsert themselves, making use of the favorable framework offered by the postmodern context.
But Lidzie Alvisa does not cease to experiment and place herself in the polemic crossroad of the new and different in contemporary visual arts. Over and over again she thinks of proposals that will be consistent in conceptual terms; that is why she focuses on matters to which she had never paid attention. In each one of her series she presents the human body from dissimilar points of view, from the most intimate to the most universal from a part to the whole. That is the case of Carrera de triple filo (2007-2012), where she insists in representing a part of the body to create new restlessness in the viewer, now using themes as familiar as power relations and homosexuality. Feminine legs about to start running are represented carrying the necessary spurs for their defense, as well as masculine legs showing those attributes to climb in life, the way one climbs to reach socially privileged positions. The lens focuses them in perpetual confrontation, rub or caress, mingled, entering and leaving the setting or marching in the same direction. They are legs that support the full lightness of the human being; masculine legs belonging to suggestively naked bodies that create a lustful atmosphere where pleasure and the simultaneous pain produced by more or less violent rubbing are detected. Because precisely the body’s absence contributes to the doubt, and it is with suspicion and fruitful ambiguity that the best hypotheses of meaning are born to fill in those undetermined zones of the piece.
The artist goes beyond the idea of how sharp life’s career is, where you enter and escape, sometimes you hurt and others you are hurt. Her thought penetrates more internally into the complexities of the human being, into the social constructions moving around him, and particularly around homosexuality, which is still considered by a large majority as degenerate, aberrant and many other pejorative qualities. It is true that since the decade of 1960, the so-called minorities attained recognition and a space of their own within the postmodern cultural order. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to ignore that said permissibility has always been exerted from the center, which means that we are speaking of an influenced freedom with numberless more or less flexible prerogatives depending on those with the possibility of exercising control. In this way Lidzie succeeds in exposing the profound and repressive structure hidden by power relations, detects where the authoritarian element operates and points out the need to eradicate the hierarchy of those binary oppositions.
Alvisa is fond of this motif and has kept working on it as a very important body zone since it becomes our support. There is a saying that rolling and rolling… stones meet; the truth is that rolling and going round the artist has achieved great success with her series Rodapiés (2009-2011), made up by photos printed on slabs and placed as baseboards. In each one of her series the body fragments gain a doses of symbolism and metonymies since they become part of a de-personalized whole. Based on them she employs a maximum of thought on a minimum of images. This time she offers us a repertoire of traces as metonymy of an entire cultural world of which we are part day after day, where fashions, trends and habits connected with generations and even urban groups come together. She presents us the feet with anthropological vocation, and practices with themes like multiplicity, heterogeneity and the tolerance of the other as basic requirement for coexistence. Man or woman, young or old, black or white, hippies or dancers, workers or executives –their feet meet and walk away without any dichotomy. Cultures, manners, tastes and styles come together in them, elements that make up personal identities. Therefore, Alvisa in her proposal offers us the fragment of multiple personalities, many of them linked by a homogenizing rope, as if amid such great diversity a unity would be required to eliminate the conflicts liable to appear through daily contact. But in turn she tells us about those targets that will be unattainable if our legs remain tied.
“The greatest flaw of oblivion is that sometimes it includes memory”
Jorge Luis Borges
Very close to the body as accomplice of the passing of time is memory. The purpose of preserving the latter has created new restlessness in Lidzie Alvisa, since we deposit in it everything we know and its loss would imply a totally schizophrenic condition. In connection with this matter, her work has made a turn, particularly in the visual order, leaving aside the representation of the body– which she never forsakes completely– and pointing toward new supports formed, in turn, by the appropriation of elements of reality as main resource. At one point the body became their suitable receptacle; now she replaces it by new information reservoirs in which traces and temporary accidents are likewise recorded.
I refer to her series Estado de archivo and Estado de ánimo (2009-2010), after which she has changed, from the creator who granted great relevance to the work of art as artifact and to its making as essential requirement, to choose selection as first creative exercise. Diskettes, CDs, flash memories, Beta cassettes, VHS, cell phones and other objects that have made it possible to save, circulate and visualize information, began to be part of Alvisa’s installations in a series about memory, information and the need to preserve them as basic instinct. In said installations of sculptural breadth she offers us solidly executed and above all evocative pieces where she understands space as leading experience because of the technological presence in them and of time as the line along which said transformations occur.
In these works of minimalist appearance, presented as electrocardiograms, she describes individuals with unfavorable diagnoses. Information circulates through them schizophrenically, goes through dissimilar supports, codified in indecipherable codes, filed in superimposed layers, heaped like syntaxes with no relations among themselves. We certainly do not know what information is contained in the storage devices forming the pieces; we can only venture suppositions. But we do know that said information produces tensions, ups and downs, since each electrocardiogram shows irregularities that doctors would read as valvulopaties or auricle-ventricular blockings.
Starting from this concern, the creator analyses an entire information era and the way in which the individual has created instruments to preserve it in his urge to preserve the required gigabytes. In the era when the digital image has flooded our most intimate spaces, it becomes necessary to preserve those images that make up our family memories or simply the personal ones.
Meanwhile, in Estados de ánimo she again appeals to the electrocardiogram as dominant visuality to penetrate the human beings’ groups of problems and their daily existence, which fluctuates according to the emerging situations. Lidzie displays detectors that discover our most intense sensations; she appeals to the thermometer as detector of body temperature, to effervescent water and dominoes as elements of disturbing instability, translated into strokes as unsteady as our states of mind.
“And the fact is that nature does nothing in vain, and among animals, the human being is the only one with speech”
More in the direction of that type of conceptualism in which the written word is appealed to as vehicle to materialize the work and in which the artistic content is transferred to the cognitive plane, Lidzie Alvisa has been making a number of works and projects that, without totally leaving aside her style, do grant it new aesthetic values and even of philosophical order. I refer to her most recent pieces, which demand being addressed by a receiver with a high degree of artistic competence in order for him to decipher the codes contained in them. The text in said pieces generally appears with a self-reflexive nature, drawing attention to its immanent meaning, in close relation with the rest of the formal elements that make up the works.
For example, in Vida (2008), indebted with the visuality of series like Imanes, Preocupaciones and Trampas del interior, she works with the language with words of great conceptual content, particularly if associated to the idea of a piercing, painful and long-suffering life. That is suggested by the visual representation of a blank life, pure, –according to the western reading– on relief, which tries to detach itself from that dark background full of pins trapping it. Lidzie urges us to think of her, not in black and white, but full of those shades that make her more or less aggressive, more or less capable of being considered alive.
On the other hand, in her series Espejos (2004) she continues working with pins, this time relevant bearers of meaning since they form words. The creator insists on stressing the opposition between the metal and its lightness, struggling against gravity –Gravedad (2004)– but in turn, magnetized, making up words, ideas, concepts… She focuses on matters concerning the human being, such as her Ego (2004), –associated to the super I– and her Reflejo (2004) as projection of an alienated otherness that looks at us inverted from outside. Alvisa presents to us the mirror as catalyst of the ego’s strengthening against all that may attempt against the cultural integrity of the individual appreciated in it. The mirror –truth and trap, reflex and reality– becomes a clean and changing word support constructed with pins by the artist. These are minimalist works in their composition, but dialogic in their conception because of the ability to integrate through reflexes. Works that would only be complete, if conceived as diptychs, with the presence of the receiver, who would be the reverse of the coin feeling addressed by the words written on said support. In this way she remits us to that bipolarity that may be traced throughout her work, presented either through diptychs or opposed elements.
Speaking of oppositions, it is worthwhile to refer to her work in the project called Ideas (2014), where she presents us with ideas that emerge from the wall, from the “infertile” cement, from a “closed” door. She returns to the written word, but this time detached from the black boxes, to commit herself to a new visuality that flirts with sculpture and installation. At this point she succumbs before the world of ideas and knowledge, superior to any material barrier or schematic mental construction. Alvisa grants priority to the cognitive sphere, because undoubtedly behind each door you open or close throughout life you are surprised by new ideas –fresh ideas like a newly-painted door, compact ideas like cement; in the end, ideas that emerge from the human being, this time not to be identified as physical presence but indeed as allusion.
High levels of synthesis and aesthetic value have been two constant elements characterizing Lidzie Alvisa’s artistic proposals since her first steps in the art world. I dare say that both characteristics she has been praised for have one of their best examples in her most recent work: Revolución (2014). As much a rationalist as those modern artists, she boasts of the title less is more when presenting us with said piece in which she works with a complex concept in the Cuban context, though also at world level.
With parodical spirit she exploits the connotations or linguistic meanings of the word revolution at cultural level. Because she concentrates in a REVOLUTION in capital letters, in engraving it on a support –a blackboard– that, in addition, becomes metonymy of the entire Cuban revolutionary project, one of whose main pillars is education. Nothing is to be taken for granted in that piece. The time-battered board –once more the time issue in Lidzie– that becomes a space of accumulation of knowledge, in this case is reserved entirely for one only and most important concept: Revolution. In her installation, the artist distrustfully does without an eraser to allow the elimination of the engraved content, or without chalk to facilitate overwriting. Because the Revolution is one and only, it has been understood and thus pronounced from and by the high levels as a unique, unending project, like Modernity. The blackboard as support par excellence of numberless knowledge is used to undermine the foundations of the teaching institution through which one sole concept of revolution has been promoted as anesthetic pill.
The artist deconstructs the way in which the Revolution has been presented from the power spheres as an ideal project; subverts, with the same elements that until today have contributed to its validation –education, the written word– the Manichean and stagnant forms on which it has sustained itself. But, like all human actions, schematic outlooks tend to the accumulation, as may be appreciated on the reverse of the installation, where the very word Revolution –this time, though, in nose dive as if carrying on its back the great weight that that word implies– becomes the receptacle of the dissimilar overwriting made about the same concept. Said concept, though sterile, worn out and deprived of its original content, is recycled indiscriminately in order to place it again, with the right side up, on the blackboard’s green zone. Alvisa openly exposes how the repetition wears out the myth, and simultaneously atomizes the official discourse to generate a horizontal plane of values where the sub-values existing up to now may gain value.
Undoubtedly we are in the face of an artist that delves deeply, showing off that female creator’s sixth sense she possesses. She channels her abilities in proposals that, very well placed hic et nunc, operate with the means of contemporary art and become capriciously solid proposals resulting from an unquestionable artistic maturity.
Havana, November 2014.