Utopia Posible? The drama of a school of dramatic arts
By Bárbara Beatriz Laffita Menocal
“No other art form has maintained its conventions intact for a longer period of time than the theater, because no other genre tends to conventionalism the way it does”. In these terms wrote Arnold Hauser in “The Conventions of the Theater”. 1 It is not in our interest to start a polemic here on the opinions of the German author. We quote him because one of the keys to discover the creative process of Felipe Dulzaides (Havana, 1965) seems to lie in a sort of negation of some of the conventions Hauser granted to stage art –those referred to the artistic representation that imply a “falsification” of reality.
The reference to the theater is not accidental. In 1988 Dulzaides graduates from the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) in the specialty of dramatic arts; however, it is not that art form that presently serves him as means of expression. To Dulzaides, it is essential that life and art become completely involved so as to become one. The rules of theatrical representation –the conventions mentioned by Hauser– prevented him from accomplishing that goal to the desired extent. Thus, exploring other ways he entered San Francisco Art Institute, where he graduated in New Media in 2001. Even though the camera does not achieve total objectivity since it only captures what is determined by whoever operates it, and in addition, the filmed material is submitted to an editing process, the use of video allows him to do away with the codes of representation –an element of distancing from life– as understood by the theater.
The Faculty where he studied his first career becomes one of the protagonists of Utopía posible , a work he will present in this edition of the Havana Biennial, already exhibited last year in a similar event in Gwangiu , South Korea . Like in previous works, the trigger for the project, according to Dulzaides himself, was an “accident”, the meeting between the artist and Roberto Gottardi, architect who conceived the school of scenic arts at ISA, today still unfinished in spite of the changes made by Gottardi to the original project for the sake of concluding it. The Cuban creator admits that the fortuitous events that hinder the execution of the original idea, far from annoying him because of the certain variation they imply, become a source of inspiration for him.
After fate had put Gottardi in contact with Dulzaides, the latter begins to pose himself questions about the history of a building that is so much related to him: “Roberto designed the theater school where I studied at ISA, and many years later I became conscious that I studied in a school that was only partially constructed, in a building that is not to be understood and that has no logic but works”. 2 Besides, the need to go deeper into something that concerned him intimately in his condition of an immigrant 2 revisiting his country after several years abroad, based on his life experiences and Gottardi's would create a dialogue of a general nature between those who remained in Cuba and those who left. This was how a project was born that by telling the story of the theater school pretends to explore about distance and reflect on the present of those of us who live in Cuba .
Another consequence derived from said meeting was the exhibition Invitación (Fototeca de Cuba, 2004). Based on a model made by Gottardi at the request of Dulzaides, a wall was built on the upper floor gallery of the Fototeca, but not an ordinary one. In the first place, it was designed by the architect of the school of scenic arts, who in addition supervised the builders' work. The material (brick) and decorative elements used imitate the walls of the center where a large part of our artists is trained. Then, what could prevent us from stating that Dulzaides set up part of ISA in the white cube at the gallery? Nothing. We could even dare go farther: Dulzaides gave Gottardi the chance to build the theater that his school is missing. Precisely this was the role of the wall. Some banks were placed inside, from where the viewers could see the full documentation of the work, from the moment when the bricks were deposited at Plaza Vieja to the laying of the last one of them since to the young creator everything contributes meanings to the work.
An exhibition is generally the end of a project. In this case it has been the starting point. In the four years that followed, Dulzaides recorded forty hours of conversations with Gottardi that, according to the visual artist, gradually created a great complicity between them. The architect, through his wandering in his studio, opens for us a door to his inner world. The reduction of all that material to forty-three minutes, edited in chapters, is part of what those of us who visit La Cabaña will be able to see. This time there will not be a wall designed by Gottardi, but the bricks will indeed be present, which will be donated as symbolical contribution to the conclusion of the works at ISA, interrupted for lack of that material, which is made of Cuban soil. A panel will also take place in which Gottardi himself, Mario Coyula –also an architect– Jorge Fernández and Tony Labat 3 will participate.
The exhibition in Havana will be the final stage of the installation project that has been going on in parallel to the works, still underway, of the theater school. Roberto Gottardi is sure to attend the inauguration of Utopía possible. Will he be able to do the same thing with the work of his life, with one of the paradigms of the architecture of the Revolution? The idea of such a goal evidences the wish to provoke –a constant element in Dulzaides' artistic work, as well as humor and a poetical content inherited from his family environment–, the need of art posing questions and intervening directly in our lives.
1 Arnold Hauser. Introducción a la Historia del Arte. Havana, Instituto Cubano del Libro, 1969.
2 “El próximo tiro”. Conversation between Tony Labat and Felipe Dulzaides (Catalogue of the project).
3 His initial works, made abroad –basically in the United States– , show the impact caused on him by the confluence of diverse cultures in a single space.
Ojo Pinta, Publication edited by the Tenth Biennial of Havana