Una identità in movimento

Digital Art, Communication Design / Bets on Imagination and Beauty

Víctor Casaus

We have also received, during these years, the pressing call of that image that was shouting at us a while ago from the screen. We have had the disturbing privilege of seeing a new art being born before our eyes: digital art in Cuba.

This presentation intends to share with you the wonder of this collective discovery that has found its space, to stay, in the vast and diverse territories of Cuban culture and to share, at the same time, some urgent comments on the living relationship emerging between digital art, communication design and other related areas in these times when frontiers between genres and languages tend to fade. We celebrate this creative strength that dismantles the watertight compartments and prearranged views of the academia while we yearn for other larger frontiers to disappear when their time comes so as to find once again human beings in their integrating and truly universal calling.

The enlightening and tense moments of irruption and rupture in the field of artistic creation always arouse diverse opinions and positions that fluctuate between uncritical acceptance and prejudiced rejection. Thus happened with photography, silent films, talkies, video, but in our days the dazzling pace of the technological advances on which the new expressive paths are based is hallucinating and at times overpowering.

That is why in 1999, when we embarked upon the sweet adventure of holding exhibitions and colloquiums on digital art in Havana, we suggested this daring and hopeful slogan: a bet on imagination and beauty. These concepts, categories and sensations have always been essential for human existence; all the more so in the uncertain times the world is going through. That fruitful slogan was based on the conviction that it was necessary to call on all the possible talents and open new spaces — as we had already done in other areas of artistic creation, such as the music, with the nueva trova — from the indispensable premises of freedom and participation.

Colloquiums and exhibitions have grown in the years elapsed since their creation: from some thirty national participants in 1999 to more than 140 in various categories this year. The international call first made at the fifth exhibition has drawn together more than 400 artists from 42 countries.

We have done all this from our condition as a cultural center with very modest resources, trying to honor a saying born out of our daily cultural struggle: "we are a poor but honest center" searching in daily cultural creation for the mysteries of this "radiant poverty" the great poet José Lezama Lima talked about. We have fortunately had the help of friendly institutions and, especially, the backing of a growing community of digital artists in Cuba and abroad.

Obsessed by the topic of memory in these times of imperious (and imperial) calls for generalized amnesia through the superficiality in the media, very early in our country's chronology we began to travel the highways of new technologies to offer cultural results in these digital exhibitions and other projects by the Centro Pablo to internauts in many corners of the world. Publications, exhibitions, documentary films and other audiovisual works have accompanied this strategy which rebels itself against the fatalism of insularity and confronts the almost fifty years old blockade imposed on Cuba from abroad and the mental blockades that the overwhelming presence and incessant development of these new technologies at times create.

To express this idea in the poetic terms I will repeatedly resort to in other moments of this presentation, "oblivion is full of memories," as Uruguayan writer and beloved friend Mario Benedetti reminded us. Digital art also comes, with its surprising dynamism, to define and show the universes of our times which will undoubtedly be tomorrow's memory.

Exhibitions, colloquiums and new expressions in communication design emerging with renewed strength in our times contributed and are still contributing to create among us a digital culture including, beyond question, that "culture of design" that the present Chairman of ICOGRADA, Jacques Lange, mentioned in his opening words for this Congress.

A numerous, increasingly skilled and attractive participation of young creators is evident in both artistic expressions in our country. We believe that the future novel and attractive cultural actions that are taking place will continue to show this wealth, indisputably a product of the cultural level attained in our country through social achievements such as free education, which includes artistic teaching in all its expressions. It is important to acknowledge as well the vanguard function these forms of artistic creation using digital tools can play against instances of banality and bad taste in our various mass media, in clear antagonism to efforts to maintain and develop the general educational levels reached in the four previous decades.

This endows with a greater significance, in the context of Cuban culture today, the major presence of younger artists in the area of digital creation. Among various examples, I would like to mention an exhibition which we opened in the framework of the activities for this Congress: the sample of posters Pablo and the Spanish Civil War, which can be visited at the Sala Majadahonda of the Centro Cultural Pablo de la Torriente Brau until the middle of November and which gathers the works sent last year to the contest with the same title where all those awarded were young designers.

Apart from sharing convictions, questions and possible answers on the relationship between digital art and communication design, now in the field of complicity suggested by that initial declaration of principles, a bet on imagination and beauty, I would like to add that we also share dreams, as is right and proper, as it should always be. And as a comment on these shared dreams I would like to invite you to see these images by artist and designer Eduardo Molto

Video Compartiendo sueños 4 / Sharing Dreams 4, by Eduardo Moltó

"Once again, leaving behind the various frontiers separating our two countries, we have before us these works created under the common mark of imagination and beauty by sixteen graphic designers from Cuba and the United States," announces the catalogue in the exhibition Compartiendo sueños / Sharing Dreams held, with this ICOGRADA Congress in mind, at the Centro Hispanoamericano de Cultura, next to the Havana seafront.

For four years we have been calling on talents and vocations in both shores for this project of friendship and collaboration. The Center for Cross Cultural Design (XCD) from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Centro Cultural Pablo de la Torriente Brau and the Comité Prográfica Cubana have all been the enthusiastic promoters of this new exchange meeting in these days of October, when Havana has become the world capital of graphic design.

Together, with the participation of designers from Cuba and the United States and the support of fraternal institutions, the organizers of this project — our friend, American designer Toni O'Bryan; Hector Villaverde, Chairman of the Comité Prográfica Cubana and I, the director of the Centro Pablo — began to plan our complicity in this dream of erecting cultural and professional bridges, to start and maintain mutual exchange and understanding. To the works, which grew in number year after year, we added a creative and inquiring dialogue appealing to another accomplice of our times: the new communication technologies. We demonstrated that this exchange and the paths we followed were useful — indeed, necessary — for the desire inspiring us to search for imagination and beauty and for the topics with which we called on the creators every year: friendship, peace, love…

Compartiendo Sueños / Sharing Dreams began in 2004 at the 6th International Exhibition and Colloquium suggesting a new path for cultural dialogue and human communication. At the time, five Cuban and five American designers participated.

The following year, at the 7th Exhibition and Colloquium, we had two more artists, one more from each country, who brought their Sueños por la paz / Sharing Dreams for Peace.

In 2006 the creativity of seven Cuban and seven American graphic designers was mobilized and they proclaimed with their works this truth that can be shared: El amor lo conquista todo / Love Conquers All, that poet Jose Marti had announced in a poem written in his youth: "Only love breeds melody." The retrospective exhibition accompanying this sample had as audiovisual documentation videos by Eduardo Molto (Cuba) and Jesse Rankin (USA), who had respectively participated in the first and second Sharing Dreams and, from their individual points of view, summarized their impressions on both exhibitions.

This year, as we have seen, it was the ICOGRADA Congress that set the topic: Design/Culture, design in culture, design is culture, different ways of suggesting creative views and practices in this trade of our times and of stressing the need for graphic design, communication design — or whatever name we give to it in this changing and complex world we live in, irreversibly marked too by the increasing and overpowering presence of audiovisuals — to offer its quota of human sensitivity, intelligence and capacity for communication to the universe of culture we would always like to see growing in every region of this unequal planet.

We have dreamed with freedom and enthusiasm, as we should always dream, identified with the common philosophy of creating and sharing. Various generations of Cuban graphic designers have been with us in these four years. Designers from the United States have answered Toni O'Bryan's call and many times accompanied the showing of their graphic works. This time we have with us eight American participants — who are a partial sample of the melting pot of ethnic groups and cultures in that country — together with designers who dreamed together with us in former gatherings.

We have always been grateful for the multiplying presence of those voices wanting to share dreams, friendship, questions, doubts and certainties. Together we may be able to reach a higher dimension, more distant and different regions, new friendly hands continuing the desire for cultural diversity we share, as we share our dreams.

During these years, the accomplices of Sharing Dreams have extended their scope and taken retrospective samples to various cities: Chicago, Vancouver, Venice (California), New Jersey and, very recently, New York, where Queens University showed Cuban and American graphic posters in its Godwin-Ternbach Museum. The possibility of continuing the exchange in vivo right there, through meetings, lectures and debates, as we do every summer in Havana in our International Digital Art Exhibition, was thwarted by the denial of visas by the American authorities to two Cuban artists who were to attend this university artistic gatherings.

On behalf of Cuban graphic design, we thank the board of Queens College and our friends from ICOGRADA, specifically our friend Brenda Sanderson, its director general, who went through all the formalities required for that moment of cultural, professional and human exchange among colleagues from our two nations to take place.

We also share with them the dream that these arbitrary and unfair decisions will lose prevalence in a not too distant date so this call for the ceaseless search for imagination and beauty continues to develop happily in every possible area.

I would also like to thank those who brought their images and ideas to this space of Sharing Dreams and turned it into a memorable experience. They have opened a window or a door for this exchange which has allowed Cuban designers to learn about the work of their American colleagues while permitting the American designers who have visited us every year to learn about the level of Cuban design and enter into direct contact with our reality, something that is always more useful and enriching than passively receiving what the international media broadcasts.

We then suggest socializing the goal in our dreams: that with every passing day there is an increase in the number of those in a position to make from design and digital art — those neighboring/fraternal spaces — the points of departure to learn and sensitize, to feel and to think on the great topics that should concern us as human bugs we are — in the words of Eduardo Galeano, another poet of our times. These great topics would be the salvation of our planet and the struggle for equality, justice and freedom.

Some will say this is a goal for dreamers. That is true. That is why we call this space Compartiendo sueños /Sharing Dreams.

And to finish (and continuing) we may listen to the voice of another poet of our times and of a rather long future time.

Cuba. Una identità in movimento

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