On Cuban Art: Interview with Yornel Martínez 

Part 1 / 2: Interview with Yornel Martínez 

What is Cuban art? The artist Yornel Martínez reflects on Cuban art and evaluates its potential to transcend national borders. Reflecting on the diaspora from a global perspective, he reveals ambivalent relationships between artistic practices, cultural identity as well as the international art market. 

In his works, Yornel Martínez (*1981) explores the connections between written and visual languages. He uses a variety of materials and covers a wide aesthetic spectrum ranging from objects and installations to public interventions, drawings and paintings. His artistic work also includes collaborative and participatory projects, as shown for example by his activities as a publisher.

With a subtle aesthetic sense for the uncertain and the non-obvious, the artist negotiates the interplay between presence and absence, distance, and proximity, as well as between isolation, alienation, and identity. In this play of simultaneously distant and familiar spaces, the very idea of space has dissolved, so that, according to Martínez, Cuban art can no longer exist. Instead, the artist points to the non-places that, through their negation, refer directly to places. It is this paradox that flickers in his works and which the artist always counters with irony.

Ein schwarz-weiss Porträt von dem Künstler Yornel Martínez

Portrait of Yornel Martínez, Copyright Yornel Martínez

Art and Poetry

Lena Geuer: In many of your works you use written words. What is it about the use and integration of writing that attracts you? How did your interest in language come about and who has been particularly influential for you?

Yornel Martinéz: In my work, I operate in the space between the poetic and the conceptual, with a strong interest in language. I generate poetic transformations that blur the boundaries between different media: installations, objects, calligraphy, painting, and drawing. 

I try to draw from this inexhaustible zone of symbolic linguistic production, this field of extended literature capable of incorporating the explorations initiated by the poet Stéphane Mallarme with A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance. This is followed by Apollinaire with his calligraphy and concrete poetry, the object poem, and other visual writings of the 20th century.

I also consciously incorporate methodologies used by contemporary writers such as Paul Auster. His books are about someone writing a novel, and that novel is what we end up reading. They are texts that refer to themselves. I am interested in these multiple ways of using and manipulating metalanguage.

LG: In your work Nadie puede escuchar la voz de un poeta muerto, the voices of dead poets are immortalized through sound graphics. We only see the words of the poets, we do not hear them. In this case language becomes a form of visual design.

YM: Yes, the sound graphic is generated by the computer from audio tracks recorded with the voices of dead poets. The viewer can see the movement of the graphic on a screen. Here the sound is omitted, muted even, to mark the absence of a lyrical subject. The poet, physically absent and already voiceless, tries to tell us something. With Nadie puede escuchar la voz de un poeta muerto, I am interested in challenging language to make this metaphysical desire perpetuate a visible voice. 

I want to make the abyss between language and the world visible. Thus, I try to capture images that are inexpressible, without accepting that there is a limit beyond which any attempt succumbs to silence. The theme of language becomes important precisely by its limit, in the anguish, disquiet, and despair—as Borges confesses in El Aleph, faced with the inability to express the inexpressible.

Through the language we create, or rather what we think we represent, what we want to express, silence remains ambiguous. It manifests itself before and after the word, shows itself to us at the limit. It is in language as a carrier of meaning. In any case, the word is always preceded by silence. If nothing is written, the sheet of paper remains white. This absence of signs also defines the limits of language. 

Eine Zeichnung mit schwarzer Kohle auf weißem Papier.

Lejano Oriente, ink on paper, 2016 Copyright: Yornel Martínez

LG: There are several references to Japan in your artistic practice. What role does this country play in your work?

YM: Asian culture fascinated Cuban poets. The poet Julián del Casal seemed to prefer distant horizons to the arid Cuban landscape he had to live in; he built himself an artificial paradise surrounded by Japanese screens and Hokusai engravings. In his sensibility, the East is a vast, ungraspable horizon, where Japaneseness is experienced as a spiritual landscape.

Personally, I feel very close to the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Gustavo Pita, professor of philosophy during my studies at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), and Gabriel Calaforra, professor of oriental art, had been very important influences in my training. Both are scholars of Asian culture. 

LG: Works like Iglú and piano are defined by contrasts and paradoxes. 

YM: One of the things that interests me most in this case is a quote from the Comte de Lautréamont: “Beautiful as the chance encounter of an umbrella with a sewing machine on a dissecting table”. These contrasts become a representative cliché of the unsettling. In any case, the strangeness provoked by this type of image constitutes a symbolic universe of an order of the ‘other’. It was also very important for me to approach René Magritte as a subversive observer of the everyday. In Caribbean art and culture, you find this tendency towards the accidental.

We create paradoxes when we put two things together that seem to have nothing to do with each other. It’s like explaining the world upside down. I am interested in those tautological propositions that let the mind break out of its usual logic. Paradoxes challenge our common sense; they break our common schemes and force us to think. When I use objects that seem unfamiliar through alienation, a strange sensation is created, something fictional that can disorientate the viewer.

Eine schwarz weiss Zeichnung eines Zeltes auf Papier. Das Zelt hat vorne einen dreieckigen Eingang und hinten einen runden Raum

Iglú y piano, ink on paper, 2010. Copyright Yornel Martínez

Alternative Publishing

LG: In addition to your artistic practice, you manage two publishing projects, P-350 and Ediciones*. What motivated you to start these projects?

YM: Ediciones* is a publishing platform designed to explore new typologies and independent publishing practices. As an imprint, we are interested in creating a publishing and distribution infrastructure for books and writings that do not normally find a place in the Cuban publishing industry. We make books that we would like to read and we are interested in texts of diverse categories and formats: artistic writing, fanzines, limited editions, bookmarks, postcards, artists’ books, among others.

Around 2009, I had a conversation with my friend, the poet Omar Pérez. It was during this time that the idea was born to promote an editorial project that, from a horizontal perspective, would gather a wealth of information that would amplify other voices. This is how P-350 was created. It is produced with recycled paper from cement sacks, which provided a platform to publish the proposals of graffiti artists, tattoo artists, designers, visual artists, creators, unpublished poets.

It was conceived as a place of encounter to juxtapose and to connect different artistic and literary practices. in the strict sense, it was neither a magazine nor a fanzine. P-350 created a space for creativity that challenged the importance of official editorial management. We don’t pay ISBNs and we declared ourselves anti-copyright.

Eine Fotografie auf der im Vordergrund eine sitzende Frau eine selbstproduzierte Zeitung liest. Im Hintergrund auch Zeitungen und Menschen zu sehen.

4 P-350. Independent and self-managed editorial project, 2009-2016. Copyright: Cornell Martínez

With Ediciones*, we are creating an independent publishing and distribution infrastructure for books and publications. We want it to be a flexible, plural, and sustainable project that is committed to artisanal and economic formats. We publish very small editions, between 50 and 200 copies, with personal bindings and designs. That way, we generate a circulation of texts outside the traditional circuits of the publishing industry, bringing us closer to the perception of the book as a whole, as an object and text. The paper book, as it enters the age of digitalization, begins to be an object with the ‘added value of nostalgia’.

Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Lena Geuer (2023, 6. Juni). On Cuban Art: Interview with Yornel Martínez . the ARTicle. Abgerufen am 13. April 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/uqv0

Lena Geuer

Lena Geuer is a research assistant at the Institute of Art and Musicology at the Technical University of Dresden. In her doctoral thesis she dealt with the discourse on 'arte argentino' and examined artistic works by Marta Minujín and Luis Felipe Noé in this context.

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