Push / Pull: The Art of Negotiation
It has been a privilege to collaborate with the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in this special project in Havana at a time when the relationship between Cuba and the United States is changing. As it turned out, in the midst of planning this installation, President Obama announced a new policy of engagement between the two countries. Due to changes slowly accompanying this political conversation (of course large-scale changes never happen overnight), I was asked to extend a projected three-week stay into a two-month period. On a personal level, the time extension meant that I would have to establish deeper relationships with a wider group of possible collaborators, including architecture professors at the University of Habana, local art students, and artists, as well as architects, builders, conservators and the entire team at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Together, we have been able to complete a two-part sculpture that will not only be up through the Bienal but for some time after, used and shared by a growing list of places and people in Havana.
Pull is a Proposal
It has been a personal mission of the last few years to propose a transformation of supplies once used by the United States Army’s longest war in history into sculptures that can represent another way, and another world. The blue tubing that transfers extra water to other plants and fish is part of this proposal. Some of the fabric that covers the sphere was also once used in combat. I want Pull to ask how could resources be redistributed from the many military complexes into something that can potentially begin to re-contextualize and reverse the traumas incited through wars.
Pull is an Ecosystem
Pull is made up of many human and nonhuman networks. Inside of the spheres, plants live with birds, fish, butterflies, and other insects. Plants depend on insects like butterflies, while the birds depend on seeds from the plants, and the fish depend on the rain and nutrients from the soil, and vice versa. People use the space to learn in, create in, convene in, live in, and be in. During my first weeks in Havana, I thought I heard a child wistfully calling his mother. I thought I listened him calling her every evening as I drew in my apartment in Vedado. One day a friend came over and told me it was a bird I was hearing, not a child crying. Bird keeping in Havana is tinted with symbolist (I know why the caged bird sings) and nostalgia overtones. Being here, I have become transfixed by the parrots, hummingbirds, and especially the songbirds of Cuba. This fascination has expanded the way I’ve described the ecosystem I’m building. I now realize that this was another component that I was often leaving for last; one that addresses nostalgia, loss, and love. The birds in Pull are as central to the ecosystem that I have created as the food that will lovingly grow over the next months in old juice containers, made by architects, students, and conservators. In a poetic way, the birds are an essential part of the team, together with the staff at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana, the art students, Yoandy Rizo and Osmany Fuentes and their capable building team, and Ananda Morera and her extended team of city officials.
The Art of Bureaucratic Documents
I am aware that Pull can be seen as an absurd proposition, but my goal has been to inspire ways of being together, acting together, and with a larger world. At the core of this project is a performance in which the values of balance, strategy, and care hold central roles. Dragging large spheres full of precarious ecosystems to Havana’s Parque Central needed strategic maneuvering as well as a keen sense of bureaucratic tact. The trail of paperwork and permits necessary to allow the structure to be placed at different sites has been an important part of this process. Mirroring New York’s dizzying bureaucracy, this paperwork is the result of one attempt to navigate a Kafkaesque cyclical maze that makes up an organization, city, and country’s policies.
Pull – On Utopia
Art is a necessity. Without art there is less room for reflection and evolution. Pull takes into consideration our bodies’ spatial relations, expenditures, daily movements and chores. In a social system in which the individual lacks security or place, Pull proposes a utopian zone in which the many aren’t governed by the few, but act as interdependent agents, relating with each other and with the world. As the new policy of engagement between the United States and Cuba moves forward, there is a unique opportunity to learn from each other in many ways. With the collapse of entire cities like Detroit, which was dependent on one kind of industry, Americans could learn from Cubans about post-industrial resilience. In Cuba, when sugar factories closed, and entire towns suffered from the lack of jobs, the government subsidized adults to return to school. During the period of the Green Revolution, when industrial farming was being promoted around the world, most Cubans relied on Organopónicos, a less aggressive farming practice that only now is catching up in the United States. Other ways are possible.