The Farber Collection
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Yoan Capote

About Yoan Capote

b. 1977, resides in Cuba

From his first exhibition, Yoan Capote has shown a peculiar sensitivity toward everyday objects. This is not an “archeological” interest in the improvised technologies of a Cuba in the midst of an epic shortage of supplies and spare parts (as practiced by the artist collective Ordo Amoris). Nor does it follow the type of elevated design concept elaborated by artists and architects in limited editions for clients whose mantra is “small is beautiful.” Instead, Capote strives to reveal the metaphorical facets of objects and to make certain interpretations about the people who consume or modify them through use.

In that sense, the use of everyday objects as a self-imposed choice makes Capote a peculiar type of sculptor: one who remains alien to the traditional methods of his art. The roots of his attitude may be found in Duchamp and in the analytical traditions of Conceptualism and Minimalism, but he does not focus on deconstructing the linguistic foundation of art. Capote’s method of creating pieces is extremely intellectual—a sort of ping-pong game between an abstract concept and the different ways in which it can be expressed. Consequently, his pieces assume a variety of appearances: engravings, sculptures, assemblages, and drawings. They are surprisingly witty, gazing with a certain aloofness on obviously social subjects.

Matrimonio (Matrimony) is Capote’s ironic take on one of the unresolved enigmas in the history of humanity: the conjugal union. To tackle this subject, he appropriates the craft of shoemaking. He remakes two pairs or shoes, one men’s and the other women’s, one shoe from each joined by an extended piece of leather. The result is a vision of heterosexual coupling as hilarious as it is absurd. The spouses will have a close relationship, but will never be able to consummate the marriage. The disposition of the shoes condemns them to circle eternally around each other, as if the impossibility of the union—even at such short distance—were a proverbial Sword of Damocles irrevocably hanging over the lovers’ heads.

References: Heartney, Eleanor, “Yoan Capote at George Adams Gallery,” Art in America, June-July, 2005. Martell, Marisol, “Yoan Capote at George Adams Gallery,” ArtNexus, No. 56, Volume 3, 2005, pp. 154-155. Prisant, Carol, “Lounging at Longhouse: Carol Prisant Visits a Benchmark Exhibition,” The World of Interiors, September 2004, p. 106.

The formation of creative collectives was a logical outgrowth of the developments of the 1980s. By the end of the decade, the phenomenon had taken on a variety of incarnations: publishing projects, such as Grupo Ph, Banco de Ideas Z, Memorias de la Postguerra, and Loquevenga; spaces for the promotion of artists, including Aglutinador and La Huella Múltiple; and artist collectives such as Los Carpinteros, Ordo Amoris, Enema, Edgar and David, and Fabián and Soca.

The burden of continuing—and revising—teaching methodologies for artists was taken up by René Francisco as a member of the Visual Arts Faculty at the Superior Institute of Art (ISA). Francisco’s art has since achieved international recognition; in 1989-90, he started a project known as DUPP (De Una Pragmática Pedagógica, For a Pragmatic Pedagogy), which was reinstated in 1992. Through ventures such as La Casa Nacional (National House), DUPP profoundly influenced the “cambio de bola” (in sports, a turnover of the ball; more broadly, a change of approach) of a new generation of artists such as Los Carpinteros and Fernando Rodríguez. With students at ISA, in 1997 Francisco started the DUPP Virtual Gallery to promote creativity in the visual arts, and to reflect on artistic practices that were being marginalized by the trans-nationalization and standardization of Cuban art, its rhetorical strategies and expectations. Until its dissolution in 2001, DUPP organized several group exhibitions and installations in urban public spaces, and stimulated the creation of performance works. It was the only Cuban group that was invited as such to the Havana Biennial in 2000.

As a member of DUPP, Yoan Capote presented 1… 2... 3… Probando as a collective work at the Seventh Havana Biennial. The title refers to the first words that are generally spoken when testing audio equipment or microphones, as is the case here. Capote’s proposal consisted of an installation in a public space: namely, the placement of multiple microphones along the wall of the Malecón, Havana’s seaside promenade. The devices would face not only inward from the shoreline but also out toward the sea, the open space. Capote’s subtle drawing traced a perspective of the possible installation of the microphones, and included an anonymous figure that seemed to make use of them.

The piece implicitly paid homage to one of Havana’s main thoroughfares, which runs along the city’s northern border. The Malecón had been built gradually, between 1900 and 1958, in the tradition of grand seaside promenades intended to sanitize and beautify insalubrious cities; it is the most expansive recreational space enjoyed by Habaneros, and has been a witness to important historical events. Praised in the early 20th century by poets and painters alike, from the writer Santos Chocano to artists Blay Oliva and Vila y Prades, the Malecón was given new meaning by the aesthetic consciousness of the 1990s, driven by the diaspora: as an insurmountable border, limit, or rim, and revealed in works by Manuel Piña, Sandra Ramos, Edgar and David, and in such films as Enrique Alvarez’s La ola (The Wave) and Fernando Pérez’s La vida es silbar (Life is to Whistle). Capote’s intervention was a reincarnation of those meanings, underscoring the character of the place as a utopian space for social communication. During the Biennial, however, the iron microphones were not installed along the Malecón, but at the fortress of La Cabaña, where the exhibition took place. Standing tall on the cracked 18th-century walls of the castle, the long curved staffs seemed to capture of the uneasy mutterings of the city, while the sea and salty air took their inevitable corrosive toll.

References: Catalogue, Seventh Havana Biennial, p. 166. UNESCO Award for the Promotion of the Arts (with Los Carpinteros, Jean Pierre Raynaud), Seventh Havana Biennial. ArteCubano, 2-3/2003, cover. Levin, Kim, “Cuba Libre, Art and Contradiction at The Havana Bienal,” The Village Voice, 26 December 2000, Vol. XLV No.5, p. 130. Robinson, Walter, “Havana, Art Capital,”. Bousteau, Fabrice, “Cuba la Belle Américaine,” Beaux Arts, No. 200, January 2001, p. 77. Cembalest, Robin, “Where Rube Goldberg Meets Kafka,” Art News, February 2001, p. 151. Turner, Grady, “Cuba II, Sweet Dreams,” Art in America, October 2001, pp. 72-75.

Completed after 1…2...3… Probando, Protocolo (Protocol) was created as part of an installation consisting of two similar chairs, a long aluminum-and-glass table placed between them, and a soundtrack of mumbled, unintelligible phrases. It was not the first time that Capote had built furniture; he had previously made metal and wood park benches infused with a strange, expressionistic quality. But this time, the piece of furniture loses all suggestion of functionality to venture into the field of the purely symbolic.

The term “protocol” alludes to the ceremonial rules established between heads of state or between officials of a similar rank, which control movements, phrases, and gestures by means of an established code that is taught in foreign relations institutes. The artist expresses the relative power of the officials whose presence is implied by the work, by means of a metaphor as simple as it is effective—a metaphor inspired by the devices that Capote had proposed placing along the Malecón in 1…2...3… Probando. Though the red velvet cushions refer to the presumed distinction of the individuals involved, these are, in fact, microphone-chairs. Their peculiar design expresses a truth about negotiations—not only on the diplomatic, but also on the day-to-day level—which at their heart are based on a verbal pact between individuals who, using the voice as their primary instrument, attempt to convince or best their opponents according to their own interests.

Moving from 1... 2... 3… Probando to Protocolo, Capote’s meaning became more allusive and obscure, and infused with a deeper ambiguity. In this piece, the metaphor is nurtured or even generated by a contradiction between the function of the object being portrayed and its structure, or the materials from which it has been made. It is a proposal that does not want to be classified by local cultural contexts, but rather by the universal scope of its mise-en-scène.

References: Bomin, Amalia, “Ivan and Yoan Capote at Galeria Habana,” Art Nexus, No. 44, Volume 2, 2002, p. 109. Noticias de Arte Cubano (Cuban Art News), No. 7, Year 2, 2001, cover illust. Vázquez, Darys, “Yoan Capote: La constante mutación de los objetos” (Yoan Capote: The Constant Mutation of Objects), unpublished article, May-June 2005.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri