ON/OFF Festival, Havana | Why does video hold a unique place in contemporary Cuban creation?

© Roger Herrera Gutiérrez
Video holds a prominent place in international contemporary artistic production. The success and popularity of works by Bill Viola, Félix González Torres, Ana Mendieta, Christian Marclay, Nam June Paik, and Laure Prouvost – to name but a few – is the proof of the pudding. But if there is a place where such an interest has a particular resonance, it’s Cuba.

 

Inaugurated in 2017, the ON/OFF Festival attracted 2,000 people to its first edition. Held during the French Culture Month in Havana by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) – in partnership with the Cuban Photography Library, the International Society of Arts and other French and Cuban institutions – the event sees itself as a “place for dialogue between contemporary video creation and video creation in Cuba”.

 

In the country of Alfredo Guevara, the Director Sara Alonzo Gómez has chosen to slightly change this year’s format: the event will take place over a longer period of time and is more centralised. Whilst from May 31 through July 5 an education programme and various activities will be organised, works from the MEP collection will be on display for at least six weeks at the Casa Victor Hugo.

 

The history and uniqueness of the country has pushed artists experimenting with video to integrate into their work “a social aspect, which distances Cuban creation from purely entertaining pieces by many European and North American filmmakers” – something that immediately stands out when comparing the work of Bill Viola and Naim-June Paik with that of Ana Mendieta or Félix González Torres…

 

The Director, a member of the Union des Ecrivains et Artistes de Cuba (UNEAC) – having worked for the Ludwig Foundation and the Pompidou Centre – hopes to create a platform for meeting, education, democratisation and reflection. With the pieces from the MEP collection, she hopes to develop a revolving platform with conferences, debates and projections.

 

 

Mécha, 2010, 10’08’’ © Miguel Angel Rios / Collection Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris

 

 

As Roger Herrera Gutiérrez, the festival’s Producer, explained to us: “Here, people are educated through cinema; the Havana Film Festival attracts three million viewers in one week. However, video is still seen less often in contemporary art exhibitions.” Last year, sessions were arranged with schools, retirement homes, and Havana’s old quarter. In addition to this “grand public” aspect, the festival brings in international figures too, with the Director of the Lambert collection making the trip, as well as MEP stakeholders. The latter institution had since 2002 entered video pieces by Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa into its collections.

 

For several years, spaces for the promotion of video have been set up in the country: the Camagüey Video Festival – with which ON/OFF aims to associate in the future – and the Havana Digital Art Salon. And discovery starts at a young age. The democratisation of access to new technologies is leading Cuban artists to seize the world of video. Many of them now integrate the medium into their creations, making them main players.

 

“This year, we hope to go further with the development of a workshop with Rebecca Bournigault”, represented by the Eva Hober Gallery, and a guest at the first edition. “The idea is that the artist works with teenagers to produce a video out a sequence of clips from their videos.” The idea here is therefore not to propose an alternative to the Biennale, nor to the number one video fair, LOOP, held in Spain.

 

Amongst the French artists invited this year is Guillaume de Sardes, who will be showing Bimbo, a study into the influence of pornography on contemporary society. Works from the MEP collection are also journeying over, including pieces by Elisa Florenty, Adel Abdessemed, Elena Kovylina and Edith Roux.

 

 

Guillaume de Sardes, Bimbo — photo © Roger Herrera Gutiérrez

 

 

 

Who will succeed Maikel González?

 

Winner of the first edition’s prize, Maikel Tomás González Utra was able to carry out a residency at the Cité International des Arts in Paris, with his work subsequently being included in the MEP video collection.

 

Maykel González © Roger Herrera Gutiérrez

 

 

This year, the jury chose Alejandro Alonso, a young Cuban filmmaker and director, trained at the International Cinema School of San Antonio de los Banos (EICTV).

 

 

 

What does the future hold?

 

In the future, in collaboration with the MEP, the goal would be to create an internet platform that presents Cuban video.

 

Otherwise, the difficulties encountered by the Biennial, the major international event held on the island (the 2017 edition of which had to be postponed due to financial reasons), could push the organisers into deciding on a Triennial, the next edition of which would be held next spring. The ON/OFF Festival would also adapt to this calendar, probably taking place in April 2019.

 

 

 

Henri Robert

 

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