By Ramon Cabrera Salort
The creative adventure of Ernesto Benítez, (1971), started its present discursive coherence at his personal exhibition El ejercicio de la sospecha, (The Exercise of Suspicion), in 1996, when some symbols and issues about man and his becoming, from a mystic and alchemistic slant bound to the anthropological, appeared at the exhibition at the L Gallery, when Benítez was still an undergraduate at the Instituto Superior de Arte (Higher Institute of the Arts). Prior to that moment, his work showed a juvenile fondness of the plastic discourse of the 80s, first because of its insertion into the Grupo Arte Calle (Street Art Group), 1986-1989, and its author’s personal exhibitions starting with his very first personal one, Criterios, (Criteria), at Academia San Alejandro, in 1988, until 1995, with Sobrevivientes (Survivors), at Domingo Ravenet Art Gallery. This was the time when Benitez entered the Instituto Superior de Arte after having served in the army for two years.
The breath of such word is embedded in the tendency of pop appropriations, and with neat allusions to the Cuban socio-political context of the time. Benítez’ works such as Cara a Cara, (Face to Face), or Epitafio para la causa Serov, (An Epithaph for the Serov Cause), clearly reveal the epoch flavor they can subscribe to, and we cannot notice the proper derivations the author himself will reach later. However, thematically speaking, in canvases such as Vestigios, (Vestiges), or in later ones such as Coronación, (Coronation), Ojos que te vieron ir, (Eyes that Saw You Depart), or De la Fe, (Of Faith), in spite of the fact that the agonizing speech about the fatherland and the downfall of the most precious values manifest, the religious meaning appears, as a cultural value rather than experience, and with a certain token of cynicism. It is some time later when the religious element, from its very etymological essence, (re-ligare –returning to unity), beings to personally structure from the very intimacy of experience. The artist’s juvenility had not propitiated the possibility of experiencing deeper and more existentially.
Ernesto Benítez, was born and grew up at El Canal, the most marginal neighborhood of Cerro municipality. His was a popular, syncretic, magic and violent surrounding where he lived until his early adolescence. El Cerro, along the 19th century, used to be a city suburb with retirement country estates and manor houses. During the 20th century it evolved into an urban, fully proletarian neighborhood. In 1983 Benítez began his studies of visual arts at the Escuela Vocacional de Arte “Paulita Concepción”, (Paulita Concepción Vocational Art School), just as any other ambitious teenager. For his secondary education he entered San Alejandro. His favorite artists at the time were the Cuban Fidelio Ponce, Amelia Pelaez, Víctor Manuel, Raul Martínez, followed by the US Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselman and Roy Lichtenstein.
The explicit violence in his works at the time, of direct political allusion and ethical criticism would re-orientate to the magic and the intimate, and progressively derive to a course early announced in the above mentioned exhibition El ejercicio de la sospecha, (The Exercise of Suspicion), 1966, closely followed, by La luz del cuerpo, (The Light of the Body), at the same art gallery, two years later. In the artist there is an increasing loathing and a committed assurance about the uselessness of protesting as well as of the vertiginous rhetorizacing reached by symbolic discourse and a growth of his self-confidence and tendency to another metaphysical, esoteric and personal dimension of stating the human crossroad. Violence then takes reflexive and conceptual roads, adopts a symbolic, different nature appearance, which heads for the undecipherable cartography of the self.
The change in question was preceded by a period of long convalescence the artist underwent until the year 1995, due to a serious medicine poisoning. Accompanied by fantasy, he would feel as if an alchemist, as an islander in search of the philosophical stone, astounded by the igneous essence and its derivations: ashes and coal. By means of spontaneous pencil sketches he outlines the simile of dealing with the jewelry tools and utensils as the expression of the animistic, and thus, during the process of elaborating a jewel, he feels the object and its pieces as part of his body. By this time the artist goes deeper into his knowledge of Fidelio Ponce and his friendship with Carmen Bermúdez, a sharp student of Ponce’s work, will make his understanding of Ponce’s mystics more penetrating from a paradoxical side of mask and disguise, where the religious element is dressed up with unpublished evidence.  Penetrating what manifests slantingly, the vision of the invisible carries him through. Before his eyes everything happens to be acquiring an order of obscure revelations.
Ernesto Benítez starts his journey at his exhibition La luz del cuerpo, (The Light of the Body), directly referring to one of the exhibits, with the intention of revealing the mystery of living. The artist aims at recuperating the sorcery of the server, who communicates with the invisible forces and finally reveals the way to take. Once on his way, treading and living: the work. His working manifests as the being, and in this working and being, he finds the way to God, a god of personal resonance, not subjected to any religion at all, just like the JuanRamonian God at the Animal de fondo, or by chance a religion of the human with anthroposophycal roots like the one Beuys found in Steiner.
At this exhibition, works such as Armas de reconquista, (reconquest weapons), Mi otra mitad, (My Other Half), Corazón suspendido, (Suspended Heart) and others refer both thematically and materially to what constitutes his work at present. Both the image of the wing at Mi otra mitad, (My Other Half) and that of the knife at Armas de reconquista, (Reconquest Weapons), prove recurring referents to the spiritual and fleet and the sacrificial elements, respectively; as well as the use of drawing techniques which hardly sketch the silhouetting of the images.
His following exhibition Para rasgar el velo del arcano, (To Tear the Arcanum´s Veil), in 1999, Benítez will continue his ideo-thematic until he reaches his singular propositional force in the context of the young Cuba visual arts at the beginning of the new century with such works of his, El dolor es la vida, (Pain Is Life) y En el camino, (On the Road); in this way he builds his imaginary from a reflexive poetic of self, aware of him self, of his goal and his visual resources with consequently will make use of. From this point on his work will insist on the sense of life as the undiscovered way and the constant company of its back, death, as the journey after another start. Such a discoursing on will prove not only an reflexion but also a spell as well, because his work will offer the access to a knowledge and the entreaty such knowing propitiates. Thus a mentally made up fervor is born and the allusion to the skull and the brain curdle and provide a straight image of spiritualistic essence. He reads himself in Steiner, whom to some extent follows: “…The whole body of man is so formed that it receives its crown in the physical organ of the spirit, the brain” .
The artist dresses up his ritual discourse with a scarcity of means and formats referring to the germinal substance of the living thing with the bare elements the same way the naturalistic philosopher of the Ancient Greece argued the composition of the world. From now on his materials will be of a strict and monotonous reiteration: charcoal, cinders; acrylic on pasteboard or cloth for his bidimensional pieces and his tridimensional works (some of them installations): wood, iron, charcoal, salt, sulphur. The list itself reveals the materials typical of an alchemistic practice and suggests a conceptualization which would erase the distinction between the worlds of the animated and the unanimated and in with a principle of transmutation would reveal the presence of qualities part of the existing world. Benítez’s pieces, both during the process of plastic realization and their results, recur to an identical paradigm of indetermination between the unanimated and the animated. Thus the figure of a knife, either drawn or carved, embodies a sense of living sacrifice, animated. This is how in Ernesto’s production the process of molding the materials becomes a magic act, a ritual potentiation later displayed by the pieces in the form of the exhibit.
Likewise, the bond with Steiner’s thought again manifests in relation to what he calls the three aspects of man’s essential nature: the body, the soul, the spirit and the way he participates with the entities: mineral, animal, vegetable, the human included. The same origin of substances he uses for his works or the images he alludes to move within this circle of reference. Again the same could be noted about his formats and the sizes of his works, especially the bidimencional ones. For instance, En el camino, (On the Road), two kinds of sizes reiterate: 75 x 55 cm. for the works within a vertical format; and the opposite for the ones on horizontal format. Here is the dictum of the ritual, the measure that norms just as the “magic pattern” on the rupestrian paintings, the magnetized, sacral space.
The works shown at his exhibition El gran vuelo, (The Great Flight), proceed with his discourse delivered at his two previous expositions and add to his plastic universe: the gold, the alchemy’s most precious matter. Later in Uno y mil ojos, (One and Thousand Eyes), photography will appear, and with the face and the body of the artist’s. Photography should be understood as an extension of the purposes developed by his former production. Rather than a free way of adding the participation of another means, the photo is utilized with the intention of insisting on the chemical recording, photographic on the print of the ego. In this exhibition, the reiteration of the eye, of gazing, of the gaze (also the blind look) reveal the spiritual from the magic and agonizing slant that is living.
Benitez’ last exhibition, made-up of installation pieces and drawings, turn the exhibition space into a temple, a sanctuary. The whole of the works operates on the gallery’s total space and transmutes it. Going through Cortina de fuego, (The Fire Screen), installation the visitor penetrates the exposition hall. The arrangement of a dangling piece El gran vuelo, (The Great Flight), from the very artist’s plaster cast of his body clearly alluding to the animistic practices of the full rites, an operation he had performed in his work En el camino, (on the road), but here displayed in his fleet dimension defying the gravitational pull. A work like Nada más, nada menos, (Nothing More, Nothing Less), intelligently located along one of the gallery’s hall, succeeds in functioning both as a physical boundary and a symbol of sacrifice of existing. Without losing its thematic connection with the artist’s previous works, each of the samples at this exhibition operate as a part of the big whole that is the exposition itself as a work. The artist himself directly alludes to this when he points out that the exhibition proposes two levels, a first one made-up by dimensional works realized as cartograms, and a second level which evokes the physical side of the purpose: the journey as the metaphor of the existence.
All these years the artist has performed the adept, in spite of his youth –the adept will be the alchemist who has progressed in knowledge and wisdom, and watches over the purity of his Work—and just like the latter, the artist attempts first of all perfecting himself and understands it is only possible in the ferment realizing his work. The artist, this way attempts at having his creation process revive all the powers held by the symbolic production in the primitive society and becoming the sorcerer who would control over communication with the surrounding, visible and invisible. Either the proportion of grays extracted from the ashes or the red, the white and the black stand out with alchemistic allusions in his works. Therefore, in Misteriosa cópula, (A Mysterious Copulation), from 2002, Benítez, as a demiurge, will assemble the principle of the masculine and the feminine, (links drawn on one of the sides of the knife’s blade, whereas on the reverse side the nascent stands out: the spike, a knife that cleaves a triangle of salt –salt is the alchemistic principle of the feminine and the masculine, the point of intersection of the active and the passive– and years later with both of his installations Cortina de fuego, (The Fire Screen) and Nada más, nada menos, (Nothing More, Nothing Less) the artist will provide us with his proposition of experimenting the symbol of existing. Such an intention of his to regain a status and a function definitely lost, just like it can be noticed on pieces by Beuys or by Hundertwasser, will be, to a certain extent, included by his ambitions and his work at all of his exhibitions, ranging from La luz del cuerpo, (The Light of the Body) to his probable most mature Exitus, Reditus: Cartografía del Yo, (Exitus, Reditus: Cartography of the Self), where curatorship operated on all the exhibition as a sample and the arrangement of each of the installations propitiated true penetrations into experiencing states. Here perhaps the artist reveals another side of his, as a healer, as a curator and art as curing, in the style of Beuys.
Such a restorative function of Cuban visual arts, which had already been shown by Bedia or by Juan Francisco Elso from a dimension closer to an imaginary African or Latin American, adopts universal identity elements together with a view more properly anthropophysical at Ernesto’s art. As he himself admits it in an interview, his work participates in religion as religion of wisdom that, more directly connected with knowledge than with faith, or reaching the latter by means of the acting knowledge during the process and crystallization of his artistic work.
Presided over by use and the constant presence of ashes, Benítez’ identity elements allude to light and fire in its constant becoming. Won’t ashes keep records of what has been burned? By means of his works you can pass through the visualized metaphor of life and death as if through an opening his transcendence. Let us recall to mind how a work such as La puerta del espíritu, (The Spirit’s Door), where the profile a face is the starting point of a growing spiral that overflows the framework of the work, while on a second level there stands a guillotine on a background of diluted ashes, the last level that presides over the complete series exhibited at the Galería de Revolución y Cultura, (Revolution and Culture Art Gallery), in the year 2000. The very referent of death, so frequently dealt with by the artist, will appear referred to in El arca de la vida, (The Ark of Life), this time as an installation that seals the sample at the exposition Exitus, Reditus, at Servando Cabrera Art Gallery, in the year 2005.
His project for the upcoming year includes the realization of a large-format installation, (about six meters long), consisting of a bellows built-up with the images of knives. Through the tuyère of such a huge bellows videotaped images of crematories, blast furnace and brick kilns are forced onto a screen. Again the unequivocal signs of wound and life are brought together; the knife that pierces and severs shapes the instrument that feeds the flames. It is the conjunction of the same and the soma.
The entire piece is conceived as a trope of breath, the magic action to puff life in. The fire is back, so is what animates it, air. And, above all, man’s myths, rites, boundaries and the everlasting, universal geography of human are given. Then, from the spectator’s perspective an invitation to proceed with the ritual and poke around the fire and the stones appears, doesn’t it?
Havana, spring 2009
 Some critics at the time would characterize the 1980 plastic arts as a response to the “ideological problems” which would be used against it as an exceptional moment of the Cuban art, as a new Cuban art, son to the Revolution, critical, ethical, and rooted in the popular culture. Cf. Gerardo Mosquera: “Trece criterios sobre el nuevo arte cubano,” en La Gaceta de Cuba Junio 1989, p. 24.
 The artist enumerates: “…jewelry tools and utensils as symbols of animistic expressions; references to the process of elaborating a jewel; its parts as allusion to fragments of the body; relationships between the whole and its parts (…) from my viewpoint jewelry and its elements constitute the support…” (a handwritten note on a loose sheet of paper)
 c.f. Carmen Paula Bermúdez: La Celosía, (the lattice) (a look at the paintings by Fidelio Ponce) Casa Editora Abril, La Habana, 1997.
 With Steiner’s words: …(The highest to which a man is able to look, he calls the Divine, and he somehow must think of the highest destiny as being in connection with this Divinity. The wisdom, therefore, that reaches out beyond the sensible and reveals to him his own being and with it his final goal, may well be called divine wisdom or theosophy). Ernesto would reach this text by Steiner and assimilate it as another possible basis for his symbolic propositions. Cf. “Theosophy, An Introduction to the Suprasensible Knowledge of the World and the Destination of Man” By Rudolf Steiner. (GA 9). (Translated by Henry B. Monges and revised for this edition by Gilbert Church, Ph.D.) In: www.RudolfStainerArkive.com
 Rudolf Steiner: Op. cit., p. 28.
 … (In this way, man is a citizen of three worlds. Through his body he belongs to the world that he also perceives through his body; through his soul he constructs for himself his own world; through his spirit a world reveals itself to him that is exalted above both the others. (Op. Cit. p.23.)
 c.f. EXITUS, REDITUS (CARTOGRAPHY OF THE SELF) (A Project of a Personal Sample). A writing by Ernesto Benítez about curatorship at Exhibitions, dated September 2004.
Published in the Monographic Catalog “Ernesto Benítez (1996-2010)“. MaTer-Contemporary Editions. Spain, 2020 ISBN