«The Image as Epicenter» by Shirley Moreira. Art critic and editor of Artecubano Editions

Adrián Fernández (La Habana, 1984) is one of those artists of restless intellect. The image is not only visual support for him but becomes alive in each one of his proposals and is the essence of his creative condition. Even surrounded by the most dissimilar environments, Adrián does not feel that everything can be an efficient reason to issue a coherent discourse using photography. He analyzes the environment, the impulses and ideas with mistrust; he struggles to select an original and sufficiently versatile topic that, even emerging from the context in which he develops, may be capable of connecting with a broader universe of meanings.

In his work, the artist penetrates the visual sphere. He is interested in exploiting to the utmost the possibilities of the photographic means and achieving a formal result that will dialogue about the individual and identity without having to appeal to trite codes. He is seldom satisfied with the initial results of the creative process; each idea must be a challenge, each work must go beyond the searches of the one that preceded it. However, contrary to his anxious inventive, he carries out the work in an extremely organized way. His work has been characterized by the presentation of photographic series that many times derive from one another based on common concepts, but which nevertheless stand as independent works with a life of their own.

In his initial works, still as a student of the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), the young photographer focused his glance on the problems of urban environment. He was interested in presenting the city, only that he was not attracted by the visual aesthetics of the decayed Havana, of popular atmosphere and sheets hanging from the balconies. In search of new images he discovered variables in a different, silent and neutral Havana, distant from all that decadent picturesqueness. Then he went to the capital’s residential neighborhoods, those that still conserved the essence of a certain bourgeois level of pre-revolutionary years. Standing before those houses, feeling overwhelmed by their human dimensions, Adrián began to conceive his only documentary series: Life Style (2007-2009).

Half a century later the houses remain unharmed, showing the remains of a high living standard. But something has changed. Now the inhabitants do not consider important to show the opulence of the façades in the fashionable architectonic style, but hide it from curious and ill-intentioned eyes by means of iron grates, fences or plants. The photographs taken by the artist (black and white panoramic views) were like questionings and analyses of that other visible but not so disseminated reality of a sector of Cuban society. The houses became symbols of the nostalgia of an ideal way of life, of a status reached in other times from which they tried to maintain at least the essence.

Once he had started to work, the theme in question began to show the artist other interesting roads. Thus, he did not restrict himself to document the exterior spaces of the houses, but, with the vocation of a sociologist, succeeded in penetrating the intimacy of those places and confirm the conclusion he arrived at when studying the façades. Overwhelmed by the grandiloquence and eclectic decorations, Adrián began to work on the series Portrait (2008-2011). This time it was not the inhabitants who posed for the photos, but the elements in the homes, which, captured in the way they had been displayed by their owners, offered the vision of a certain longing for the past and the idea of crowded as metaphor of opulence. Under certain circumstances we know people through the objects; this is the maxim that the artist seems to contribute. In these works he drives away from black and white and begins to grant importance to color. The perfectly structured compositions, the coldness and lack of temporality of the spaces, the accumulation and coexistence of dissimilar objects are some of the keys that enable us to produce a discourse connected with the ways in which material elements end by forming the identity of individuals.

After such analyses it would have been coherent to photograph the families and present the study at a different visual level. That had been expected: a more solvent end; only that this type of solution was not made for Adrián’s lens. As usual, he chose the challenge, and transforming himself into a sort of collector he began to create scenarios with the objects taken from those houses. That is how artificial flowers and fruits have full leadership in the series To be or to pretend (2009-2012).

In these works the creator looks for greater synthesis, and even without depriving the work of contextual limits he succeeds in endowing it with a high degree of universality. In the quietness of his loneliness he carefully composes the scenes. Without wanting to boost front planes or to establish distinctions between framing elements, flowers and fruits with similar backgrounds become metaphors of the individual and his relation to society. Against all basic rules of composition, the artist creates an illusory atmosphere; he plays with our perception and makes us recall that chameleonic ability of the human being under certain circumstances, in the constant game of appearance and hiding in the face of daily realities.

Always ready to go beyond the explored, Adrián abandons the baroque aesthetics in his next series with the intention of achieving visual cleanliness in the details of the objects. The concept of appearance shows new nuances in About the Aesthetical Possibility of Emptiness (2010-2011). The details make us become aware of the materials the objects are made of, their artificiality, the deceitful view we obtain from them when observing them from other angles or at greater distance. The photographer returns to the idea of the postures of the individual with regard to his environment, the falsehood, the dynamic of kitsch, the dangerous standardization and boosting of material elements in contemporary society.

Being ever more interested in the way in which the image is capable of presenting the identity concepts of individuals, the invitation he received to make advertising photographs in Tropicana triggered the development of two new series. The artist, closely experiencing the paraphernalia of show business, begins to question the pertinence of associating the idiosyncrasy of the Cuban to that concept. The exuberant mulatto, the rumba, cigar and rum are signs that have erroneously created the concept of “Cubanness” abroad. Contrary to imposed concepts and pre-established recipes, Adrian uses the elements that make up the space to question it from inside.

In Epilogue I (2012- 2013), the artist approaches his lens to the dancers’ costumes. Feathers, fabrics, fake diamonds and spangles become the essence of images that appear ambiguous. The de-contextualization, the richness of textures and vibrant colors make us perceive these pieces as abstract scenes. Thus, while he reproduces a visual fantasy of lights and colors that connect with certain sensations, he shows at close distance the material, the DNA of the show, and the resulting beauty makes his questions even more incisive.

With the passing of time, this cartography of textures required a certain contextualization from the artist in order to boost the discourse. Thus, he began to photograph the models to produce the series Epilogue II (2012-2013). The dancers, dressed in their costumes, with imposed poses and perfect bodies resulting from the post-production digital process, this time are the object of analysis of Adrián’s work. He creates characters that struggle between reality and fiction to question the icon that attracts and sells, that damages the global image of an entire culture and fully disrespects individualities.

If we follow closely this photographer’s work we find that his creative concerns have remained steady around a common theme: the force of images to discourse on the individual’s identity or a specific contextual reality. However, the visual result varies considerably from one series to another. Adrián is not searching creative individuality in a formal way; he is not even interested in boosting this concept. The result should be in accordance with the need of expression in question; hence his appearing as a different artist in each one of his works.

The Requiem series, which after some time for rehearsals and technical and theoretical preparations was definitely completed in 2014, corroborates the idea that there are no pre-established formulas or visible limits for this creator; just a studio, a camera and a creative restlessness that knows no frontiers when it comes to expressing himself. This time the artist focuses his work on a wide collection of postage stamps from different moments of the twentieth century. He returns to the theme of identity, but from a different point of view where photography becomes “the document’s document”.

Adrián photographs postage stamps. When conceiving the pieces, the zoom reaches unsuspected limits to capture the real textures of the paper and the original print. As a result there are images that resemble a sort of pointillist paintings, colored and diffuse, that oblige the spectator to take a distance in order to fully understand the work’s composition.

The themes are diverse, and he presents them in the way they were conceived on the stamps: botany, industry, sports, Cuban art… Adrián tries to give an overview of the Cuban image, of a particular vision that has been printed, published, endorsed by the media and that today is an example from the historical point of view. The artist establishes connections between the identity of contemporary Cuban society and the paradigms of the past, attempting to conform our reality with what has been visually disseminated about it.

However, the images have not been conserved in its fullness. His will is not to reproduce the postage stamp exactly the way it was. The essence lies in taking some details in which he focuses the discourse. The fact that he only shows a fragment of the original document takes us to the kind of structure in which we sometimes perceive the past. It’s like evoking memories that do not complete their form, moments that we do not succeed in reviving because of oblivion, sometimes sad and inevitable, others necessary and induced.

The diffuse look, the obliged distancing, the impossibility of perceiving the complete image makes us appeal to the memory’s visual structure. The artist’s ultimate intention does not lie in exaggerating the past or giving a nostalgic and evoking vision of it; each one of these pieces is a questioning study of the present and the definition of the identity of the present Cuban society.

In the exhibition entitled Requiem, presented collaterally to the Twelfth Havana Biennial at the Fortress San Carlos de la Cabaña, the artist for the first time presented to the public a group of these pieces with curatorial structure. On four walls he presents his interpretation of the past and present of Cuban reality. The works handle specific aspects of the national identity, while at the same time establish a dialogue among them by comparison. In front of a multitude of persons who sing and dance in an evidently popular festivity during colonial times, the artist places the image of a cosmonaut gravitating in space. He compares the action of the Cuban popular festivity with a state of suspense and levitation, thus pointing at a certain dichotomy that defines us: the capacity of living each instant fully, of having the gift to draw the positive from the milieu even when the circumstances are difficult and daily life may be in a permanent stand by.

Later, in front of a group of six royal palms he presents the image of a bourgeois gentleman with a parrot in the hand. Again he makes use of opposed concepts to become sharp in the analysis on identity concepts, “Cubanness” and social classes. How are we? How do we live? How do we think? How do we define our identity? These are some of the questions posed to us by the artist, which we will try to answer after emerging from the visual impact provoked by some of the pieces, given their large dimensions and the meticulous achievement.

The work of this creator does not indulge in anecdotes. Each one of his proposals represents, highly and clearly, his position in the face of specific social and cultural processes of the contemporary world. His distinctive form of conceiving art creates expectation among the public on which will be the next step he will develop. But responsibility does not intimidate him. Making the work a constant creative challenge has been the essence of his action. And there, camera in hand, driving away from the daily hustle and bustle of his studio, Adrián Fernández does not cease in the purpose of giving us reasons to prefer and favor contemporary Cuban photography.