07 Untitled No 3. Portrait series

“Zoom in, Zoom out. The Illusion of Being” by Chrislie Pérez Pérez

If it were necessary to make generalizations on the work of young creator Adrián Fernández (Havana, 1984), we could say that his modus operandi is characterized by the constant movement, not only of his lens – since in each series he seems to require to continue searching for the expressiveness of the image – but also of his restless intellect. What started as a panoramic view has become a detailed plane, from a standpoint that pretends to permanently examine certain zones of our reality.

Scene 1 “The Gate”

The man is standing on the sidewalk. He knows this is the street, but he’s not sure whether that is the house. He tries to see the house number. He peeks through a crack in the wall covering the entire front, but cannot get a view of the inside. When did they build such high walls?

In Havana’s bourgeois neighborhoods of the 1940’s and 1950’s the houses, in addition to evidencing the families’ economic power, followed the most novel architectonic trends of the period. Modernism was the prevailing style in those years, with the balance of residences where gardens, galleries or porches were easily seen from the sidewalk. Today, however, a brief tour of any of these zones shows a change in the public-private space relation, exemplified in remarkable changes that have directly influenced the urban space. The open, welcoming but at the same time imposing house has been isolated by the incorporation of fences, walls and railings, isolating elements and, above all, elements to protect a privacy that needs to be safeguarded from external glances.

But how are these dwellings related with Adrián’s work? Many of these façades are represented in his series Life Style, as the result of a search process that responded to the need of giving an image of the other city, distant from the stereotypes and clichés identifying the capital’s urban space.

In my opinion, even art has repeatedly presented the aesthetics of decadence, which in terms of urban photography has emphasized on the least “cared for” zones of the city. This artist, however, did not choose for his lens the old zone of Havana and its decayed architecture, endlessly modified to adapt it to the needs of numberless groups of individuals. His glance turned to other no less important spaces less visualized by the artistic discourse, to create a group of black and white photographs of marked documentary nature. The point of view is frontal and panoramic, without prioritizing elements within the framing but rather including them harmonically. This vision and his inquiring attitude connect him with the activity of vigilance cameras, which grants other possible perspectives to these images.

His purpose was to give a more plural overview, and naturally he appealed to what most calls his attention: the taste for hiding. The protection fences are the materialization of the adaptation to the new situation, of the need to protect the integrity of the home, and therefore they have a specific functional character. But at symbolical level one could say that these fences are the result of a deeply-rooted culture of vigilance.

In like manner, the once bourgeois house – whose typology could have been stigmatized as part of the emancipation project because of the social connotations of its architecture – continues to be the model of the “ideal” way of life and indicative of social status in our days. This symbolical recycling, in my opinion, is also signed by the absence of “new” aesthetic paradigms to counteract the hegemony of those of the pre-revolutionary bourgeois class, due to another element of undoubtedly extensive incidence in social issues: migration. The exodus and particularly its sentimental implications have endowed with a certain melancholy any sign of those days and more specifically the family histories.

Scene 2 “Horror vacui”

He is now inside. He starts looking at everything that surrounds him. Suddenly it would seem as if all those objects would start jumping on him.

Of course Adrián did not content himself with the methodic and superficial glance at the façades and penetrated those spaces with the vocation of an antiquarian. It was thus that the series Portrait emerged, attempting to capture the distinctive elements of those spaces.

Retrato employs a very specific typology with a less restricted intention. Some, the more conventional, might question the validity of the title, since none of the photographs shows a portrait. And they are right; Adrián’s works are certainly impersonal in that sense, because in his photographs the so-called “personalization” is structured by the objects themselves.

The term portrait is used here not as a literal allusion to the genre but as synonym of group and individual identity. Even though the photos, seen altogether, show the existence of an aesthetic model inside these residences evidenced in the accumulation and “horror vacui”, it is also true that each one of them is conformed as an individualized whole. The home becomes the place where the selection and display of each artifact expresses the need to identify the peculiarities of those who inhabit it. They are spaces in which past and present coexist, which results from the emotional way in which objects are interpreted in our context. The permanent idea of obsolete has not had the same implication in our circumstances; that is why the Cuban is characterized by the culture of accumulation, but not as part of the consumer ideology but on the contrary, rather as a form of illustrating the saying “save today to have tomorrow”.

In visual terms it comprises a radical rupture. He disregards black and white in order to show these motley environments in their full dimension. Color becomes an inevitable need. The point of view and the framing denote a certain circumspection that suggests a museum atmosphere and the sense of a certain lack of temporality.

From this series on, there is a more evident raise of awareness about the functionality of the object in contemporary society, expressed with greater emphasis in the experience of a certain sector of our society.

Scene 3 “Cacophony”    

It is impossible to distinguish one thing from another; everything seems so confusing.

 

After these two series of works in which his role was more that of the photographer who captures naturally what appears before his lens, he began to think of reaching a higher level of synthesis when presenting his ideas.

Adrián then became a studio photographer. He moved to a “neutral” space all the objects that now appear as arbitrarily combined fragments of reality. However, that neutrality of the space turns deceitful, since the display of each element on the set according to his intellect and looking after the tiniest detail speak of the doubtless ambiguous and difficult relation between the ideas of appearance and reality, where they contaminate in permanent flirt. The title of this series: To be or to pretend is therefore not for granted.

What began as a reflection very much set in the context of certain urban environments gained a more universal tint from that moment on. His postulates became radical and focused on determining which objects might be used as “summary” of a trend of thought.

The individual needs to create for himself an ego to show to others. We are constantly debating ourselves in the duality of being the object of the other’s glance; seeing and being seen become actions that structure our system of thought. This construction of the so-called “image” is nothing but the adoption of certain standards establishing the acceptance or not by a homologue. Certain “truths” are then fabricated as paradigmatic ideals that provide certain homogeneity to society.

The artistic image is presented to us in its full illusive dimension. His intention is to confound the spectator and involve him in that psychedelic world of consumerist standardization, expressed at formal level in the repetition of the compositional structure tending to the vertical format with one or another horizontal exception. Although apparently calm and harmless, they are works that attack the process of perception by altering one of the basic principles of the Gestalt: the figure-background relation. It intentionally becomes confusing, and both are interwoven in the whole. The so-called ornaments – whether vase, flowers or fruits – become icons of an aesthetics that gloats on the object and its ambiguous context. He also exploits the front plane resource, which makes it possible to recognize the represented objects and examine them in detail, while at the same time he reinforces the difficulty in the perception.

In like manner they act as a return to the still life genre, where the idea of the illusory appears doubly. According to a statement by Baudrillard, they would also be the expression of two levels of simulation: the one understood as imitation of reality – of which the genre “still life” would be representative – and the one understood as hyper-reality, which “is not what can be reproduced, but what is constantly reproduced”.[1]

Scene 4 “Real World”

There are two worlds.

One of them exists without ever talking about it:

it is called the real world, because it is not necessary to talk about it to see it.

The other one is the world of art:

about this one, it is necessary to talk; otherwise it would not exist:

Reality should be nothing but a back drop.

Oscar Wilde

Consumption has become a duty and a form of understanding the world. We live in an era that exalts the value of the illusory, where everything resembles the original, where authenticity has been replaced by the copy. Contemporariness is characterized by a de-materialization process of reality, and the human glance is no longer cast on nature but on the TV screen; communication has become an end in itself and an absolute value.

In addition to their values of use and exchange, assets have a symbolical value that places them in a certain place of the social hierarchy. With this premise, the hegemonic centers instill values, tastes and privileges. Following Baudrillard’s trend of thought, life in consumer society goes by in the hyper-reality, since these signs and forms of representation are the ones that make up the “reality”; they obtain autonomy and, when interacting with others, establish a new type of social order in which the signs and codes themselves determine “the real”.

With these purposes, Adrián began to create his series About the Aesthetical Possibility of Emptiness, where he presents everything that seems to be but is not. They are “portraits” of plastic fruits and flowers frequently used as decoration in the houses that were the object of his initial artistic concerns. These works do not try to hide the imitation. The scene brings the concept of kitsch, which appears as a result of the concern for the apparentness in the human being. Kitsch that is nothing but the penetration into the world of the apparent, imitation and standardization of any object, as a result of the widespread idea that an individual can only be measured by his possessions. “I am what I own” has become the obsession that generates the ideology of the aesthetic lie. The credible is imposed in the face of the truthful.

His photographs inherit from pop that excessive renaming of the object; however, his target is to expose the simulation. With a formal treatment of planes with details, he calls the attention to these elements that betray the lack of reality. The images are likewise constructed with disturbing effect. They are only allusions, since the object is not shown in its entirety, but he stops at certain crucial zones of the ornament, particularly those that confirm their own imitative nature. The visual result is connected with the advertising language to make the quality of the object appear more incisively, as form of the human identity, while he makes more evident the notion of appearance.

The post-production process is of vital importance for this creator but not in the sense of manipulated photography understood as the use of digital techniques for the subsequent intervention as photo montage. In this case, the concept of manipulation is extended, since the simulation is carried out from the tangible and not from the virtual. The manipulation is an operation prior to the shutting. Unlike the first two series, where the spaces exist and are only modified by the point of view, in To be or toand About the Aesthetical… the idea of the stage decoration as form of expression of the simulacrum becomes more evident.

Epilogue

 

Mulattos, rum, tobacco, beaches and palm trees – those are the images assumed as identity of our island. Paradigms that result from the stereotypes established in the hegemonic centers as a form of standardizing certain popular forms. The exoticism of the otherness was exploited by the cultural industry of the first half of the twentieth century as part of a marketing strategy.

The fact that the photographs were taken specifically in Tropicana is only an additional data, since it is not customary in Adrián to put his images in context. Here he refers to the typology of the night club show, which, regardless of certain elements it contains that are cultural expressions of our nation, the very fact that it was conceived for the entertainment of a foreign public (not only with regard to the nationality but to its implication with these practices of popular origin) already tells us of an idea that was altered from the media content of identity.

The interest in this case is not to judge the genuine nature of the show, but rather to question the pertinence or not of further assuming certain cultural icons as conformers of the Cuban identity in present times.

Thus emerged, responding to the demands of the moment, the series Epilogue I and Epilogue II as a kind of intellectual answer when he was requested to make advertising photographs in Tropicana. Fascinated by the expressiveness of the dancers as well as by the apparel, Adrián took this as raw material and pretext at the same time to give his own, different point of view to broach this cultural zone.

With a vocation for establishing the difference, he penetrates to explore this universe and starts by the costumes. From excessive nearness he takes images using color filters to achieve different visual effects. The materials of these clothes offered him multiple textures that became protagonists of a kind of typology of abstract landscapes. In this case the work process took place inversely to the evolution of his preceding series. With the same strategy used in De la posibilidad estética del vacío – the detail plane – he refers to the idea of the illusory, now seen from the world of show business.

The zoom then reaches its utmost consequences, and the artist needs to breathe, take distance and drive away in zoom out to stop at the individuals who enliven the clothes. This is the first time that Adrian included the human figure as part of his work. However, this fact should not be regarded as a trend to humanization, but rather the opposite. The persons are treated with the criterion of the object. They are like a kind of mannequins. The poses, the make-up, the wardrobe, everything alludes to this kind of constant transvestite identity, disguised by external and unifying elements.

 

Epilogue 1 and II might be understood as the synthesis of the work process developed in previous works. It evidences a ripening process through the widening of his theme’s scopes, and undoubtedly opens new perspectives for his work.

Adrián’s work began with his concern of what image of the city do we have. He took the place of the passer-by offended by the excessive limits, and with the photo camera replaced the curious, meddling eye. Today, after several series and years of work, he has broached dissimilar local and universal problems, exploring at the same time other ways of assuming photography.

His creative process has been characterized by the scrutiny with anthropological and sociological vocation. He has broached matters related with the construction of aesthetic paradigms that reproduce at personal and social level as expression of a self-affirmation need, as well as other matters related to the elements with incidence on the process of constructing identity and the leading role of objects as enunciation of symbolical patterns of welfare and social status. Phenomena of the contemporary and global world such as consumption, simulacrum, mass media and the relations between global and local are questioned with the sharpness of his lens as a way of showing his standpoint before a certain “reality”.

 

[1] Jean Baudrillard. El intercambio simbólico y la muerte (The Symbolical Exchange and Death). Monte Ávila Latin American Editors, Caracas, 1992 (digital text) p. 87.

[2] Jean Baudrillard. El intercambio simbólico y la muerte. Monte Ávila editores latinoamericana, Caracas, 1992 (texto digital) p. 87.

[1] Jean Baudrillard. El intercambio simbólico y la muerte. Monte Ávila editores latinoamericana, Caracas 1992 (texto digital) p. 87.