Articles

At the Havana Biennial, a Project Reflects on the Legacy of US Sanctions

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Didier Faustino’s “Exploring Dead Buildings 2.0” at the Havana Biennal (image courtesy Didier Faustino)
Numerous articles and books have been written about the effect of the United States’ embargo against Cuba, and as the two countries begin repairing diplomatic relations, there will likely be many more to come. Amid those academic treatises, French artist Didier Faustino offers a more poetic reflection at this year’s Havana Biennial on how five decades of sanctions have impacted Cuban youth.

Faustino’s “Exploring Dead Buildings 2.0” centers on the Modernist School of Ballet, commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara after the Cuban Revolution as one of five art schools they hoped would give Cuba “the most beautiful academy of arts in the world.”

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Havana’s School of Modernist Ballet (image courtesy Didier Faustino) (click to enlarge)
Italian architect Vittorio Garatti designed the school as a cluster of red brick and terra-cotta tile pavilions with ballooning domes, representative of Cuban optimism. Construction began in 1961, but the blockade that followed during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 had dire economic implications for the project. By 1965, the unfinished building was abandoned.

For the past month, however, a young man has been wandering through the ruins. He wears a wire cage around his upper body, symbolic of how travel and trade bans have restricted the mobility and potential of Cuba’s youth. “I wanted to portray a Cuban youth, captive of the island and trapped by the historic failures of the utopian models,” Faustino told Hyperallergic.

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Didier Faustino’s “Exploring Dead Buildings 2.0” at the Havana Biennal (image courtesy Didier Faustino)
Mounted on the rig is a camera that records the man’s peripatetic exploration for use in a future film. “The performers that wear the cameras are like ‘operators,'” Faustino said. “They capture their trajectories and the information of a society in disrepair.” The landscape before them becomes a manifestation of the disillusionment that has settled over the younger generation.

While the Havana project captures that defining mood, it may not reflect the school’s future. In 2012, Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta partnered with British architect Norman Foster to conduct a feasibility design study for restoring the structure. Though the plan was somewhat controversial, it showed that Cubans have not forgotten about the school. There may yet be pirouetting one day in its halls.

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Didier Faustino’s “Exploring Dead Buildings 2.0” at the Havana Biennal (image courtesy Didier Faustino)
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Didier Faustino’s “Exploring Dead Buildings 2.0” at the Havana Biennal (image courtesy Didier Faustino)
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Didier Faustino’s “Exploring Dead Buildings 2.0” at the Havana Biennal (image courtesy Didier Faustino)
The 2015 Havana Biennial continues at sites around Havana, Cuba, through today, June 22.

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