An American Artist in Cuba

by the-biennial-project 22. October 2016 06:57

[EDITORS NOTE: The Biennial Project is Legion we are so damned many – so of course we have a Cool Artist Correspondent reporting back from his Artist Residency in the Very HOT HOT HOT location of Havana Cuba that so many people are interested in lately. Here we are proud to present you artist Clint Imboden’s first person account of his just completed trip.]

CHAPTER ONE

I am heading to Cuba on September 30th for an 18 days artist residency at the Bustamante Studio in Havana. I will be sending regular updates for The Biennial Project to post on their website. First a little about me, Cuba, and my connection to the Biennial Project.

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I am a sculptor and installation artist out of Oakland, CA. I use repurposed materials in all of my art. My typical day includes hunting for material at local flea markets and estate sales. I exhibit regularly in the Bay Area, and have exhibited around the US as well as in South America and Europe. You can see my work at www.clintimboden.com. Cuba provides me with the opportunity to find new materials for making art and to exhibit that art in completely new venues.

Ever since president Obama relaxed travel to Cuba, I have wanted to go and see Cuba before it changes. Through a conversation with a long-time friend and artist, I found out that her daughter (a really nice painter www.erinparish.com) is married to a Cuban and has a connection to a contemporary gallery in Havana. Many phone calls, text messages and emails later, I was able to arrange this residency. It all happened within two months. There is hope that this residency will become an opportunity open to other artists.

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My connection with The Biennial Project goes back to 2012 when I found a call for entry about getting work seen during the Art Venice Biennale in 2013. I figured this was worth the entry fee! and entered and ended up winning the grand prize.

[From The Biennial Project’s review of Clint’s work: “As good red-blooded Americans, we were first seduced by his gorgeous series of resin-based pieces titled Colors of War. Luscious, candy-colored, lethal. Perfection. Can we get fries with with that?” Read more of our review here: Grand Prize Winner of The 2013 ArtVenice Biennale Announced]

So started my relationship with Anna and the rest of the crew there. For a couple years I’d read about their antics, travels and other adventures when an email would pop up in my inbox from them. I kept them on my radar and one day I got an email asking if anyone wanted to go with them to the Biennale in Venice next spring. Figuring that these insane artists would be fun to see art with, I jumped at the opportunity. But, I had to back out because of a conflict with my son’s wedding. What is a father to do, art or family? This time family won out. But this recent contact with Anna turned into a phone call and I talked to her about my upcoming trip to Cuba, and she asked me to scope out the art scene. Told her about the next Biennale in Havana in 2018 and of course she was interested in seeing it they could have the Biennial Project on the road south. So I have a few of missions while in Havana:

  • Scope out galleries for my work
  • Make connections with people connected to the Biennial in hopes of being asked to participate, and
  • See if there’s a place for the Biennial Project in Cuba.

CHAPTER TWO

Sunday night Sept 25 – will leave for Cuba Thursday afternoon. Starting to put together what I will bring to make art. Five kinds of glue: wood glue, white epoxy, clear epoxy, super glue, super glue jell. 30 lbs nylon coated stainless steel line. A variety of ceiling hardware. Now I need to think about tools. But nothing that could by itself be used to make art. I am gong to leave it to the streets and people of Havana to find my direction and scope of materials. I have already been told about a house full of wood. I have asked for more details. I have also been told about the infrequent trash pick up. I am only taking glue, hanging hardware and tools. You will see first here what I find and what I do with it. I have a couple of different directions in mind. Four days and counting. It is hard to believe that it is almost here. Means I finished my big installation at the new Hyatt Place being built in Emeryville, CA. Spent over a year working on this piece and 50 hours+ to install it. But that is a while different story, except the big opening party will be shortly after I get back from Cuba.

CHAPTER THREE

My residency in Cuba had started off on an ominous note. The suitcase that was carrying all the tools and supplies I had carefully organized was taken by another passenger and his suitcase left for me. By the time this individual realized he had taken the wrong suitcase I was on my flight to Havana. Thinking at the time not everything was lost, the staff at baggage claim assured me that my bag when returned would be on the next flight to Havana. They were wrong, because of the lingering affects of the 50 year old pissing match between the US and Cuba my bag would not be joining me. My hope ended with the prayer that my bag would be waiting for me in Miami when I next returned to the US; even that not being a sure thing in my mind. 

At first being distracted by not only being in a country where I did not speak the language and without the comfort of my own tools, I wondered the streets of Havana like any of the other aimless tourist I saw. I finally found a plaza where venders sold the remnants of Cuba's past. I immediately felt home and started to scavenge, barter and collect similar materials as I have collected for years at home. Only to realize when I got them back to the studio, I was still in the same predicament as I was when I got off the plane. Without my tools and especially without the five kinds of glue I brought, I had a great little pile of Cuban history and no way to turn it into "my art." Back to being a tourist again, I continued to eat drink and walk, without really accomplishing anything.

At the end of the first week I was really no closer than I was when I stepped off the plane to accomplishing any of the grand goals I had set for myself from the comfort of my home. During our many walks through our new neighborhood and the streets of Havana, one thing screamed at me from every where: This is a poor country. The average person here uses and reuse and then uses again everything until it is beyond use. I saw men straightening nails so they could be reused, metal frame chairs with plastic bags woven to replace lost seats, and of course the many pre-revolutionary American cars that in the states would have long ago been over grown in some abandoned junkyard. The volume of material to choose from which I was accustomed to was nowhere to be found. 

Cuba had been inching its way into my brain without me realizing it. I started to realize my American arrogance had gotten the best of me; I had planned on making my American art out of Cuban materials. To make work that was within my comfort zone. I realized the materials really did not matter; it was my process that was at the center of whatever work I have ever done.  My work has really always been about process--about finding that hidden element in a piece of material that when highlighted changed how people saw it, bringing a fresh and sometimes thought-changing experience to the viewer. I had just finished a year-long commission where I was tasked to come up with a concept for a hanging sculpture that could only be fabricated out of used bicycle which I managed to accomplish rather beautifully if I so myself. With this new found mindset and a new set of constraints, I began the real beginning of my residency in Cuba.

The next morning I began what will be my morning ritual for the remainder of my time here; going to the rocky edge of the sea which is just across the street from my temporary home for materials. Finding a new use for material beyond the use of even the average Cuban. After a couple hours I brought home the first of what I hope will be many plastic bags full of bits of broken pottery, shards of sea glass, tangled pieces of different color wire and anything else that caught my eye. I also started to soak pieces of thin wood I found while going through an abandoned house on my block in a small back wash of sea water to see if they would be soft enough to bend.

I have no idea what if anything will come out of this. Maybe just a larger pile of trash that I will leave behind. If anything, Cuba has forced me to rethink my craft, that I will take with me.

CHAPTER FOUR

Saturday 10-1-16. On our own now we went to old Havana to check out an art gallery I found online. Factoria Habana. The term gallery seems to mean museum here. It is described as: “Factoría Habana is an experimental center for present-day artistic creation. The institution, which is ascribed to the City Historian’s Office, seeks to become a bridge between Latin American and European art”. The current exhibition is titled "In the silence of Duchamp". Some images from the exhibition:

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CHAPTER FIVE

Found a flea market in Havana at plaza de Armas the other day and went back today for serious foraging for material. Came home with 5 Christs without crosses, 9 soviet era pins and 2 arm banners. Also found a couple of old shoe soles in an abandoned building. I need at least a couple more Christs. The vendor said she would have more tomorrow.

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CHAPTER SIX

While out scavenging through abandon houses around where we are staying for material to use we stopped into the local grocery story, very small, to see what we could find.
We have beer from Holland, crackers from Vietnam, water both still and carbonated from Cuba, Pepsi from Ecuador, orange sofa from Honduras, and strawberry yogurt from Spain all for $9.50 CUC almost equivalent to US $$, the yogurt was the most expensive for $2.20, followed by the crackers for $2.15.

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CHAPTER SEVEN

One of my pieces in Cuba. Now I need to figure out how to attach Christ to the discarded shoe soles. Going to the Havana Art University tomorrow to check to see if I can work there. I am hopeful I will get 3-4 other pieces made. Have the material but need tools to put it all together.

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Another piece that I completed yesterday. Beautiful weathered orange wood, found as is at an abandoned house, faucet from the ocean and the small Lenin pin from the flea market. Usually drilling the hole would have taken me less than a minute, but not here. Did have a cordless drill but the largest bit was a very worn 1/4 inch bit, so I had to carve the rest of the hole with my X-Acto knife, about an hour of work.

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CHAPTER NINE

My final of 4 pieces is almost complete. I just need to seal the top so the sea water can not leak out. The wood came from an abandoned house, it appears to have been part of a crib. The wire is from the ocean, as are all the coins in the bottle and of course the sea water. The old small medical bottle was the only piece purchased. The coins were all found this morning along about 1/4 mile of shore and about an hour and 1/2 of searching. There is no beach, it is all rocky, looks like old volcanic rock. Without shoes, your feet would be shredded. The working tittle is "success".

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CHAPTER TEN

A recap of my 18 days in Habana, Cuba. Pretty damn cool. Great people, cheap food and drink. Did get tired of little fruit, no green vegetables, and especially no salads. $1.50 beer and $2.00 Mojitos and Daiquiris. The art I saw was interesting, but nothing earth shattering. Found a very cool venue; Factoria Habana, cool old building, 3 floors contemporary work, would love to exhibit there, maybe next year. [EDITORS NOTE: This would also be a fantastic venue for the Inaugural Biennial Project ArtCuba Bienal, NO LES PARECE?]

Making art started out as a very big challenge which ultimately lead me to do four pieces of new work that I am very excited about. Exposed to new artists and gallery people, which is always good; especially when they offer to show your work and represent you in Habana.

Brought home some really nice run (4 bottles) different grades. Really good cigars at dirt cheap prices. [EDITORS NOTE: Havana Club?!?!?!?!?!?!?! OMFG, you’re killing us here. While it is true that some members of The Biennial Project do not drink, some of us most unquestionably do drink and are just extraordinarily fond of Havana Club. Just saying.]

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Very cool flea market, limited items, a little pricey at times, but I was already being know by a couple of the venders I bought more than once from, just like home. Very interesting trash, found most of my material in abandoned buildings or the ocean.

Looking forward to going back. Hopefully spend some time outside of Habana. I have been told the south shore is diving heaven.  I would love to go back to work again next year, maybe for a little longer. I am definitely going back in 2018 for the next Bienal. Hopefully with my work being exhibited somewhere.

Cuba ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ out of five.

What to know more, track me down. The more positive talk about the arts there the better. Contemporary art is only going to go in one direction there ⬆️⬆️⬆️.

Clint Imboden, October 2016 clintimboden.com

[LAST EDITORS NOTE WE PROMISE: OK dudes, we must get a group together and go down to the 2018 Bienal de La Habana! COME ON – LIFE IS SHORT!

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(If truth be told, this would reputedly not be the first trip to Cuba for some members of TBP. Some members of TBP reputedly visited Cuba several times, and mixed generous amounts of Havana Club with their Cuban coffee, long before this was a fashionable or legal thing to do. Just goes to show that TBP is always ahead of the curve on all important matters. And incapable of following our lawyers’ advice on almost any question. But back to the subject, LET’S GO TO CUBA IN 2018!!!

XXOO, The Biennial Project]

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