The art of visualising the metaphor has been practiced even before the Surrealists, before video art, and before the rise of the Internet meme. Rarely, though, does an artist convey their native environment in such a manner as to inspire dread, fascination, and empathy all at once. Born, raised, and still working in Havana, Yoan Capote has delivered the beautiful idiosyncrasies of and within Cuba to a general audience. He capably fuses objects that seemingly have no inherent relationship to one another in order to fit a psychological construct that cannot be fully imparted with speech or language. In his solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, entitled ‘Collective Unconscious’, Capote’s communicative methods are active, actualised, and ardently democratic.
Capote has already received ample recognition for his work in the contemporary arts sphere: an International Fellowship Grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, and a UNESCO Prize were awarded to him within a six-year span. In 2011, he participated alongside Alexandre Arrechea, Duvier Del Dago, and Eduardo Ponjuán (in collaboration with five additional artists) in ‘Cuba Mon Amour’, a collateral exhibition within the 54th Venice Biennale.
His solo show at Shainman retains an interest in migration, disorientation, and socio-political conflict. The exhibition is spread out over two spaces in Chelsea (one on West 20th Street and one on West 24th Street), giving Capote the opportunity to place each work in its own, self-contained “bubble”, while maintaining a coherent dialogue with other works nearby. Arguably, the strongest works in the show deal with traces of the human body and how it responds to external, often hostile, stimuli. All of the works are made from bronze, either partially or, in most cases, exclusively. ‘Paranoia (Homenaje Anonimo II)’ is the simplest of Capote’s gestures: realised as a prison bar grate, they bear the imprints of human hands that had seemingly gripped them so tightly, the metal is completely indented. A more complex, but tragic work called ‘New Man’ is the first a viewer encounters at the 20th Street space: a human spinal column dangles from an invisible wire on a stand, with each vertebral step fashioned from a pair of handcuffs. A series of hands are fastened to a nearby wall, with each hand displaying a letter from the American Sign Language (ASL) alphabet spelling the Spanish word “Libertad” (meaning “Liberty”). Each hand is coloured by a different patina, suggesting that the while the word is spelled out in a single language, its significance and the pursuit of the ideal is universal. The human body itself is as much of a prison as the one Capote illustrates in the guise of Cuba, but the artist’s imagination is unbounded and uncensored in this guise. His work is a double-defection, divorced from an oppressive national ideology and the physical place, as well.
Capote’s sculptures are meditations that surely resonate profoundly with his countrymen, as the ageing body of Communism continues to fracture and creak under the pressure of the introduction of Postmodern technology to the island and recurrent, political interventions both foreign and domestic. If ‘Collective Unconscious’ has a failing as an exhibition, it is that some of the works are too specific to Capote’s own mind (informed by past and present), and untangling that complex web would be impossible in a single viewing. The spread between two spaces, also, may prove a bit tiresome to those braving the wilds of Chelsea. To those who do dare, however, the rewards are stunningly profound.