By Ramón Cabrera Salort
(About two exhibitions by Ernesto Benítez)
Lezama Lima in his “Prelude to the Imaginary Eras” alludes to Roger Bacon and his experimenti sortes and of such luck, of such sortilege, causality as surprise, the experience of chance. Thus comes to us a causality of invisible, non-successive links. This causality manifests its evidences in the work of young artist Ernesto Benitez, recently exhibited in two Havana galleries in a sort of sortilege: “El dolor es la vida”, at the Luz y Oficios gallery in May, and “En el camino”, at the gallery of the magazine Revolucion y Cultura, in June. The directionality of this causality will give meaning to the artist’s personal proposal, inscribed in the fields of the restoration of the mytho-poetic, from the contemporary visual repertoire of the ethnographic and the anthropological.
Ernesto is a young artist who since the mid 90’s has been building a solid visual proposal based on human ontological concerns of universal bias. Far, far away in time and spirit are his initial incursions as part of the group “Arte Calle”, in his student stage at the Academia San Alejandro. From the ashes of those corrosive plastic actions what has remained is the lesson that the artist has to go (as in a priesthood), in search of values that can become the deepest and most transcendental cardinal points of man.
The exhibition “La luz del cuerpo” (The light of the body) that he made in 1998, in the L Gallery, constitutes the most immediate reference that we can cite in relation to his current plastic production. Already on that occasion, works such as “Armas de reconquista”, “Mi otra mitad”, “Corazón suspendido” and others allude both thematically and materially to what constitutes his work today. The image of the wing in “My other half”, the knife in “Weapons of reconquest”, both are recurrent references to the spiritual and aligero the one and the sacrifice, the other; likewise, the use of drawing resources that barely sketch the silhouette of the images. His next personal exhibition “Para rasgar el velo del arcano” (To tear the veil of the arcane), in 1999, will continue this ideo-thematic direction that will end up obtaining, with the last two exhibitions, a singular propositional solidity in the field of young Cuban plastic arts at the beginning of the new century, to the extent that he builds his imaginary from a reflexive poetics of the self, conscious of himself, of his purpose and of the plastic resources he will use as a consequence.
The materials with which Ernesto crystallizes his proposals in the last two exhibitions are of a strict and monotonous reiteration: charcoal; ash; acrylic on cardboard for his two-dimensional pieces (Revolución y Cultura gallery) and in his three-dimensional works (some of them installations) wood; iron; charcoal; salt and sulfur (Luz y Oficios gallery). From the enumeration, materials typical of the alchemical procedure and its conceptualization in which the distinction between the animate and the inanimate world was erased and in which a principle of transmutation highlighted the presence of qualities in which all existing things participated. His pieces resort, both in the process of their plastic realization and in their results, to the same paradigm of indeterminacy between the inanimate and the animate. Thus, both the figure of the drawn knife and the sculpted knife embody a sense of living, animated sacrifice. This is how in Ernesto’s work the process of working with the materials becomes a magical act, a ritual empowerment that the pieces will later exhibit. From the viewer’s perception, is it not an invitation to continue the ritual?
The artist acts like the adept, despite his youth – the adept will be the alchemist who, advanced in knowledge and wisdom, watches over the purity of his work -, just as he seeks, above all, the perfection of himself, and conceives that this will be possible only in the very ferment of the realization of his work, by his means. In this way, he intends the process of his creation to revive the powers that symbolic production had in the agraphic or traditional societies and to be that shaman who gathered in himself the communication with all that exists, visible or invisible. That is why in “Mysterious copulation” he will gather as a demiurge the principle of the masculine and the feminine (links drawn on one of the faces on the blade of the knife, on its reverse side the nascent: the spike), a knife that cleaves a triangle of salt. Salt is the alchemical principle of the feminine and the masculine, crossroads of the active and the passive. This intention to return the artist to recover a status and function definitively lost, as exemplarily observed in a Beuys or Hundertwasser, will be to a certain extent in the aspirations and in the work that Ernesto exhibits in his two exhibitions.
That restorative function that had been previously evidenced in our plastic production in a Bedia or a Juan Francisco Elso, but in a dimension closer to an African or Latin American imaginary, assumes in Ernesto universal identity elements, linked to a more properly theosophical vision. As himself alludes to in an interview when he admits that his work participates in religion as a religion of wisdom, more directly linked to knowledge than to faith or reaching the latter by the operation of knowledge acting in the process and in the crystallization of his plastic work.
His identity elements, presided by the use and constant presence of ash, allude to light and fire in the resulting evolution of this. Won’t the ash preserve the history of what has been burned? With her two exhibitions, she travels through the visualized metaphor of life and death as its opening, its transcendence. Let us recall a work like “La puerta del espíritu”, where from a face in profile starts the drawing of a growing spiral that overflows the frame of the work, while in a second plane rests the image of a guillotine with a background of melted ashes, the last plane that presides over the entire series of the group exhibited in the gallery of Revolución y Cultura. The same reference to death will be alluded to in the guillotine, this time as an installation, in the exhibition at Luz y Oficios. There are the myths and rites of man, above all change, the constant and universal geography of the human.
Ramón Cabrera Salort
(Dean of the Faculty of Plastic Arts of the Higher Institute of Art).
About two exhibitions of Ernesto Benitez shown at Espacio Abierto Gallery (Revolution and Culture Magazine), National Council of Plastic Arts CNAP and at Luz y Oficios Gallery (Provincial Center of Plastic Arts and Design).