An exhibition by one of Cuba’s leading contemporary artists Carlos Garaicoa, whose work explores the social fabric of our cities through the examination of its architecture, opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Thursday 10 June 2010. Carlos Garaicoa brings together new and recent works comprising sculpture, installation, drawing, video and photography, which explore the themes of architecture and urbanism, politics and history, and narrative and human culture. Since the early 1990s Garaicoa has developed his multi-faceted practice as a means to critique modernist utopian architecture and the collapse of 20th-century ideologies using the city as his point of departure. Adopting the city of Havana as his laboratory, his works are charged with provocative commentaries on issues such as architecture’s ability to alter the course of history, the failure of modernism as a catalyst for social change and the frustration and decay of 20th-century utopias.
Garaicoa spends time exploring cities to discover their true meaning, he often illustrates his vision in large installations using various materials such as crystal, wax candles and rice-paper lamps. In No Way Out, 2002, a city at night is constructed through various scales of illuminated rice-paper lamps, while the materials in this work reference Japan, the uniformity of the city landscape alludes to a universal situation common to all cities worldwide. In The Crown Jewels, 2009, miniature replicas of real-life torture centres, prisons and intelligence networks are cast in silver and in Bend City (Red), 2007, a city is constructed entirely from cut cardboard.
Havana, the extraordinary city where he grew up, is a particular source of inspiration for Garaicoa’s work and it is from this city’s complicated development that his preoccupation with the detritus of the cityscape developed. After the Cuban revolution in 1959, many architectural projects and buildings were left unfinished or abandoned, in Havana and in other Cuban cities. This juxtaposition of architectural projects halted and abandoned, and the buildings of the colonial period, create a narrative of a complex political history that scars the landscape. Garaicoa refers to these as ‘ruins of the future, where ruins are proclaimed before they even get to exist’. Garaicoa addresses these collapsed buildings in his black-and-white photographs by pairing them with a second image that reconstructs the missing parts with coloured threads and pins. By illustrating the absence of these once-great structures, Garaicoa emphasises the reality of these failed utopias. His interest in urban ruins has expanded from the cities of Cuba to cities around the world from LA to Paris to Moscow.
Garaicoa directly references iconic texts and writers through the titles of his pieces as well as within the sculptural works themselves, particularly the concept of the city as a symbolic space as it appears in the work of the writers Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino. In On how my brazilian library feeds itself with fragments of a concrete reality, 2008, publications on Brazilian architecture, landscape and culture are stacked in rows interspersed with cement blocks. The front of the sculpture reveals the books spines while the back shows a number of bullets inserted into the cement. In her essay for the catalogue Sofia Hernandez Chong Cuy describes this work ‘As if it has been attacked, the sculpture sets in motion ideas of urban development and the weight and the wounds of progress’. The use of books is repeated in the works My personal Library Grows-up Together with My Political Principles, 2008, where architectural publications are assembled to form the framework of a city landscape and Monsieur Haussmann, la perfection n’existe pas, 2009, where a stack of copies of the book Paris-Haussmann are placed on a plinth with the exposed paper at the base of the books inscribed with the plan of Place de l’Etoile in Paris. Baron Haussmann was famous for his creation of modern Paris, with its boulevards and grand vistas designed for the bourgeoisie of Paris representing his ideal utopian city, but not necessarily the reality.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1967, Carlos Garaicoa trained initially as a thermodynamics engineer before his mandatory military service. While in the army he worked as a draughtsman, learning the skills the he would use later in his practice as an artist. He attended the Havana Instituto Superior de Arte in Cuba from 1989 to 1994. Garaicoa has exhibited extensively around the world, recent exhibitions include the Venice Biennale, 2009; Havana Biennale, 2009; La Caixa Cultural, Rio de Janeiro, 2008; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, 2007; the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 2006, and Documenta II, Kassel, 2002. He lives and works in Havana and Madrid.
The exhibition is curated by Seán Kissane, Acting Senior Curator: Head of Exhibitions, IMMA.
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue documenting Garaicoa’s work since 2006. It includes essays by Seán Kissane; Okwui Enwezor, curator, writer and critic; and Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, Director of the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City.