I recently discovered a very interesting blog by Píter Ortega—Blog de Píter Ortega, a space dedicated to criticism of Cuban and international art—and I thoroughly enjoyed his review of performance artist Carlos Martiel. Ortega’s review—“El peso de una isla en el amor de un pueblo” [the weight of an island in the love of a country]—delves into Cuban performance art and the self-sacrificing (and sometimes, dangerous) nature of the work of Carlos Martiel Delgado Sainz (Havana, 1989).
Ortega describes Martiel’s work by explaining that his actions are particularly provocative by the bold manner in which he compromises his own physical and mental health, using as a point of departure “gestures that are grounded in self-flagellation and sacrifice as producers of meaning.” He explains that there is usually a time of development of the work in which the artist loses control of his body and its immediate future, subjecting himself to the “designs” of fate, the environment, and the “other” (i.e., fellow artists, strangers, passersby). He offers as an example Martiel’s 2009 “Marea” [Tide], in which the artist remains buried up to his neck in sand on Havana’s La Concha Beach for a duration of two hours, waiting for the rising tide—which places him at risk (see photo above).
Ortega writes: “Martiel seems to remind us that our relationship with the sea is marked by tragedy, collision, loss. Waiting for the arrival of the sea in an act of suicidal nature, must be associated with the discourse on insular emigration, which today may seem to be a tired cliché but is still quite current, as many lives continue to rely on the outcome of trying to challenge [the sea]. The sea could decide in those two hours Carlos’ whole existence, as it has historically decided the fate of many Cubans who have suffered uprooting. The interesting question would be why a young man who is barely 24 decides to punish himself, to indulge in a penance that appears to be the result of the logic of the absurd, but that, in reality, becomes a conscious strategy of submission, of self-laceration, of alienation, and a lack of utopias. Maybe that is his way of protesting in the face of a society that he considers decadent or sordid.”
Ortega goes on to describe other perturbing performance pieces that refer to migration, dislocation, and discontent, such as “Adonde mis pies no lleguen” (2011), in which the performer subjects himself to anesthesia that will make his escape on a boat ineffectual; “Corpus Christi” (2009), where the naked performer shows scars that are healing all over his body and then proceeds to re-open them with a razor blade, spilling blood onto the gallery floor; “Dejarse llevar” (2009), where the artist lies on a horse and lets it take him where it will; “El cuerpo del silencio” (2009), in which the artist (naked again) walks through massive rose bushes, subjecting his body to the thorns; and “Integración” (2009), where the artist places excrement over his eyes and then begins to lick the gallery floor, as “an act of humiliation and surrender.” [He also refers to other performances that seem to stem from a more anthropological exploration, such as the 2007 “Sabiduría.”]
The critic concludes that it would be timely to keep track of this innovative creator of Cuban performance art, “someone whose loyalty to the art of process becomes doubly commendable, in these times when the market is pervasive and decides everything (or almost everything)—a creator whose ethical fiber would allow him, according to Virgilio Piñera, to shoulder the weight of his island (the weight of an island in the love of a country).”
For the original review (in Spanish), see http://piterortega.blogspot.com.ar/2013/05/el-peso-de-una-isla-en-el-amor-de-un.html?spref=fb