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About print

Adrián Fernández Milanés
from the project Estilo de vida [2007 - 2011]
 
The syndrome of concealment
 
During the photographic act, everyone is being fooled or may be fooled: the photographed subject, the photographer and the person looking at the photograph. We all think that it is proof of the real when it is nothing more than an indication of a performance. An eternal fiction is produced that uses the imaginary and the invented in that eternal search or approximation to the truth. Just like in the theatre, the reference is not where you think or where you are or where you feel it to be. It has the capacity of concealment, of simulation, affirming its imminent presence.
 
The subversive nature of photography is precisely due to its reflexive nature. It can frighten, confuse and even stigmatize, but subconsciously it surprises us when it makes what it photographs to be noteworthy. In this sense, ambivalence and estrangement manifest themselves in a daring and even suspiciously manner in the artwork of the Cuban Adrián Fernández Milanés, from the project Estilo de vida (Life Style). Faced with these, the coil of mistrust springs out at us and, given the uncertainty, doubt appears.
 
The project attempts to decipher some of the characteristics forming the material and personal world of a “comfortably well-off class” sector in today’s Havana, while moving some distance away from the iconic image conveyed by the official line on the island. The artist is interested in piercing a fragmented and dispersed reality that exists or survives within the macrostructure where the Cuban society’s conflicts and problematic issues converge. For this purpose, he produced three sets of photographs, which from a general-concrete sense to a particular-abstract one agglutinate different key elements for the understanding of the social and aesthetic dynamics governing that sector. The study is formed by the facades of the houses, the interiors and some decorative objects that co-exist in the domestic space and which are photographed separately.
 
The first part of this work is composed by a series also entitled Estilo de vida (Life Style), where dwellings mostly located in areas built in the forties and fifties of the twentieth century are represented. Beneath the stylistic motives of the Modernist Movement in architecture prevailing at that time, housing was designed to have a free and fluid relationship with the parcel or plot of land stretching around it. For that reason, gardens, alleyways and porches were easily discerned from the sidewalk. The need to mark out the boundaries between private and public properties relied on the complicity of classes and common status shared within the social environment.
Today, fences, walls and railings separate the domestic micro-world from what is going on outdoors. This occurs no longer for aesthetic reasons, but is associated with the idea of the house as a refuge for the human being, as a space of retreat from the appearances, conventions and obligations of public life. Not to see and not to be seen, or to be seen the least as possible, seems to be the guiding principle from which the new architectonic and visual perspectives of the urban environment are planned.
 
The use of black and white in the photographs implies, by its very nature, the shortage of available information about what is happening inside the house –from which people can only speculate–, since the neutral tones brandish less data with regard to reality. The series is formally attached to photo-registry precepts, influenced by the tradition of Cuban photography. The artist keeps some distance in the same way he builds a discourse that creates an uninterrupted timely line. Organicity, rhythm, sobriety, exquisite care about composition and synthesis on detail are all notions resulted from a very specific sense of taste which find its origins within the family’s cradle.
 
The second phase is the series Retrato (Portrait), on which the artist runs his gaze over the interior of the dwelling, a space which occasionally cancels out the contextual references, where the prevailing selection criterion follows the symbolic patterns of comfort and status. The house can be the theatre of memory, and its pieces, fragments of personal biography, in the same way as parts of the city are chapters of social history.
 
Adrián seeks to recompose staging for the first time. The images attempt to bring together, in a same shot, the sequence of textures and objects that lies in the portrayed space. Everything is carefully arranged for the photograph, including lights and flashes according to the different lighting effects. Each element has been settled for creating tension points, even though from the forms point of view there is a deep respect to the composition rules.
 
The use of colour this time extends the wide range of visual effects and reflects the intrinsic variety of symbolic/decorative elements of the interiors. The co-existence of components of different natures and periods provokes a feeling of estrangement in the audience. The amalgam of references in the set denounces again the coexistence of the past and the present without subterfuge. Time becomes a trace in the bipolarity of yesterday and today, in the inexorable cycle of concealment-disclosure revealed through depicted bodies.
 
 
A third stage concentrates on the protagonist in the Cuban interior decoration: the centrepiece of the table, zenith of aesthetical pretensions and hallmark of homely identity. It forms the epistemic axis around which the values less evident in other ornamental features gravitate. In Del Ser o el Parecer (To Be or To Pretend), performing is manifested in a substantially baroque gesture: objects, represented as still-life, are a metonymy of a human group’s expectations and tastes.
 
The photos pass through the infinite space that opens up between the oblique nature and fictitious character of representation, in a fantasized, crazy and absurd game, which attains profoundly surreal limits. They connote a sign in this eagerness to reveal the fragility of life to us in that permanent date with the ubiquitous and the ephemeral. Staging is crucial: the tablecloth, the dish, the bowl or the vase, accompanying generally artificial fruits or flowers, contribute an accumulation of visual textures that synthesizes in a unique experience, not by default but by excess.
 
Giving them such a peculiar plasticity, falseness is exacerbated increasing the sense of simulation. The important thing now is the preservation of the inherited or assumed values; thus the artifice instead of the natural. The artist dismantles this phenomenon to talk us about appearances and man’s needs to project an image of himself as a way to be accepted within norms and social groups which modulate the guidelines of what is correct, successful and beautiful. For him, “we would be nothing without attributes; without them we would be unrecognizable as individuals. Objects are above, their functional characteristic, elements that express our identity; they differentiate and legitimize us. They are symbols of our existence, status and power”. In short, to be perceived means to exist.
 
As it is an anthropologically new medium, photography can provide a myriad of approaches on the same topic. Adrián is playing with our traditional perception. He uses gadgets to bring us closer to the desire of deciphering the labyrinthine truth of his work. Punctum1 becomes a kind of subtle beyond-the-image, as if the mystery would turn into the protagonist of the representation and were to awaken the wish for discovering what the photo itself reveals. So, the existence of a stigma different from the detail and the mark appears. This one is no longer in the form but in the intensity.
 
Sara Alonso Gómez
Curator and Art Critic
Havana, October 11th, 2011
 
 
 
1 Punctum is that randomness which inspires in the photo; the “wound” it leaves in our memories. It is a supplement that gets added in the process in its decodification and which nevertheless was already in it. This concept was drawn from the book La chambre claire (1980), by the French theoretician and critic, Roland Barthes.
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