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Wilfredo Prieto is an artist living in Havana, Cuba. He has shown his work at PSI MoMA, the Louvre Museum, the VII Havana Biennial and the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. He recently won the 2008 Cartier Foundation Award (Frieze Foundation/Gasworks Residency in London), and was also selected for the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in 2002. Amidst a hectic European travel schedule, I had the opportunity to converse with Wilfredo about his work.
Carla Acevedo: Inspiration often stems from political climates, the everyday or key references in art history. You live in Cuba, but your work is very universal. How important is Havana in your creative process?
Wilfredo Prieto: Havana is obviously a platform in my process of creation, not only for its political, social and cultural particularities, that definitely have influenced me and that I have lived in a very natural way. But also due to the creative energy that is constantly flowing in the island and the critical exchange between artists. I think that the fact of residing in a particular country has ceased to be a significant format of the creative process as an artist, because today with global communciations through the internet and low-cost airfare, you get to live in a globalized and more generalized coexistence that definitely feeds our creative and communicational experience.
CA: Obstaculo and Limonada con dos pares de cojones are two installations that you carried out in Lennon Park in Havana. Both could go completely unnoticed by passserbys, but taken into an artistic context they take a comedic air, transforming the park into a type of stage. Do you have a story related to the park that you could tell me?
WP: There are a thousand extra-artistic anecdotes that arise from public art, but this is something I always leave on that plane even if they are frequently entertaining. My intention is not to suggest a stage and much less take it to comedy, although these are readings that I never rule out. I think of it more as a reflection on the casual from the ordinary, taken from the real setting. For me experimentation is the most important in the work or in the communication structures that pass by unnoticed, subtle. Interpreting art is at times much like CSI where you tie up and discover codes. It also seems interesting to me the invisibility of the work from a formal point of view, because definitely reality is shown to us a lot in this way.
CA: Personally, I am very drawn to your work Sin título (Biblioteca blanca) where you created 6,000 books void of texts or images. Although the books are completely blank, each one is different in its characteristics like the paper or binding. From the colorless flags in Apolítico to the blank books in Sin título, at first glance, it seems like you have stripped each of them of their own identity. What is your intention in eliminating these characteristics of individuality? Is it perhaps a comment on globalization?
WP: Yes, these observations are possible as well in relation to these works.
CA: As a Puerto Rican, I understand the importance that a great part of Caribbean society bestows upon identity. What is your opinion regarding insular identity and its cultural and political repercussions?
WP: Every identity has an universal weight in its particularities, of course Caribbean identity has its own spice and a very rich background that enlivens very much the thinking of other places and this is very important, the problem is when boundaries are transgressed towards the slogan, the cliché and this is a problem we encounter quite often.
CA: In the performance Huella you walked through Basel, Switzerland with the soles of your shoes inverted, leaving footprints in the opposite sense of your path. Leaving deceptive footprints has been used frequently as a strategy in war to confuse and distract the enemy. Is this what you are trying to propose? Who are your trying to confuse and why?
WP: This is a piece I conceived in 2000 for a performance festival in Cali (Colombia). But at the end, the Consulate of Colombia did not give me the visa, so I had to store it until last year where I walked with them for the first time during a performance program for the Liste fair in Basel. The fact is I don’t do it to confuse anyone, I simply do it in an attempt to communicate social subjects of our own reality. Huella is an action that interacts with its surrounding context, it is not the type of work that changes the context, but rather one that symbolically feeds off the place where it is carried out. The purpose in Colombia was within the context of a trip that took as a starting point a flight from HAB-CALI CALI-HAB and of a journey within a political situation that is completely different, and in Basel the journey happened to be within the conflict between art and the market, in the midst of the vitality of a commercial fair.
CA: What are the themes that interest you right now? Are you working on a specific project?
WP: I would like to dedicate more time to the studio space, that is, to search for the maximum amount of time for experimentation in the creative terrain. It is always an important experience to show the work in communication with the public, but there are times when much more meditation is needed, a merging of ideas and a more paused digestion of experience that I have more or less comprehended. And in that sense, I will continue working with the diverse experiences and themes that we accumulate on a daily basis.
This interview was conducted by Carla Acevedo exclusively for DaWire. It cannot be reproduced without prior consent.
Images courtesy of the artist