By Yolanda Wood
Contradictions are essential in the old history of antinomies. A concept that refers us to Greece in the times of the great thinkers and to the logic of understandings and knowledges that ignored the great significance of the counterposed judgements. Ernesto Benítez’ recent work is not unaware of any of these theses; rather than that -age apart– he takes possession of them as a necessary way of transit for the rediscovery of the truth from ourselves.
In this sense, the exhibition organized at the Luis de Soto Gallery in the School of Arts and Letters proved to be really interesting; even though we regret the short stay of the show.
The exhibition included a total number of eighteen pieces, all in the same size, identical alignment in the wall and the same range of neutral and homogeneous colors. Nothing by chance. In the art gallery, desks were placed in front of each drawing. The result was a work next to another one and in front of each of them a spot waiting for the audience.
Ernesto’s antinomies are shown in semantic terms as paradoxes that the artist consciously creates and as a testimony of a will that inquires and reflects on mankind and existence. The creator makes use of the broad cognitive possibilities of antinomies as a way to explore ourselves and our own reality. This is why that installation approach that accompanies the drawings in the exhibit inserts ‘ the desk ’ as a paradigm of the attention to understanding and the silence of knowledge; quoting Ernesto, to achieve a design similar to ‘ an allegory of the classroom as a learning precinct ’.
But an important detail makes Ernesto’s metaphoric classroom different. The desks are displayed one in front of each drawing in a frontal and unidirectional dialogue between the object and the subject. In this relationship without mediators the knowledge is nourished with a beneficial and stimulating promptitude. In this regard the artist has expressed: ‘the show proposes as a central thesis that the truth from the spiritual point of view is not and could not be revealed by a mediator . Reaching that truth through a unique and personal path enlarges the constructive and deconstructive capacities of human consciousness.
This philosophical and cognitional dimension in the work of Ernesto supports other multiple dimensions that his pieces propose in regards to ethical and esthetic aspects. The first ones become an ontological basis of his whole proposal projected as a search for a free exercise of existential self-recognition of the subject from the individual and collective point of view. In every work coexist a thesis and an antithesis that the author balances with an admirable structural and visual equilibrium. The judgement capacity and the location of counterweights await for the subjectivity of the receptor and his / her systems of values. It’s a work that necessarily promotes the critical judgement and the intimate perception of the individual who during the transit through the exhibition doesn’t escape from a spiritualised reflexion that will drive him to himself.
In this regard it’s important to mention the significance the artist gives to some areas of the human body; especially head and hands, expressions of identity and contact. The superposed image of the body or interpenetrated by other objects or elements such as a candle, an hourglass or a guillotine contribute to create those ambivalences typical of antinomies and those contrasts typical of paradoxes. The titles of the pieces, well thought and formed, enlarge the possibilities of penetrating the work and its interpretations. Ernesto acts with confidence and freedom in these synthetic and original images with which one surpasses all states in a mixture -with arbitrary reflexiveness- of human and animal, life and death, natural and artificial. In this sense the presence of the objects works as a factor of symbolic connotations. It’s basically about knives and scissors, used as an aggressive support or amputation sign; the crutches, prothesis of subjection; and the scales, attribute of equity and balance.
The work Seed of light is a good example of that sensorially metaphoric world of Ernesto’s antinomies. Displayed as a pearl in its shell, a skull takes the place of the precious object. It’s about a provocative emptiness and a change in the meaning to illustrate the magic wisdom with which the artist pretends to rediscover the accepted truths and to reconquer the human capacity to get to the essence of everything… If it were possible. Without a doubt the visual resources used by the artist contribute to the universal character of his speech placed at the edge of a non contemplative humanism.
The uniformity of the format used in the whole collection of pieces makes the scale of the speech standard and strengthens the homogeneity and organization of the show. The similarity in the tonal scale in a range of blacks, greys and sepias reduces all possible expressive distractions towards chromatic aspects.
The synthetic strength of every image and its own enunciation capacity: Every piece turns out to be a pastiche due to the integration of diverse images that, in their coherent incoherence, increase the discursive ambiguity. It’s also important to mention the use of a compositional structure of high redundant value in which centralism prevails.
But without a doubt, what will probably call the audience’s attention the most will be to read the references that accompany each work and realize that they are made of ashes and charcoal on cardboard. This is another unifying element in the series and the author uses it as ‘a direct tropology of the action of fire as an agent of destruction and renovation, origin and end of all material things’. Charcoal and ashes are the dialogical expression of opponents, organic materials transformed by the action of man on nature. This way every piece carries the communication of fire as a secret power that facilitates changes of state, transitions and mutations.
Nevertheless, Ernesto is not satisfied with these chains of interconnections that his work establishes with so many areas of nature and spirit. Almost at the end of our conversation he tells me: ‘the ashes I use in my work I collect them from forest fires’. With these words we were back at the beginning. In the visual context created by the artist the ashes of no longer existing trees appear like an essential part of a regenerative poetics where Ernesto’s permanent antinomies turn out to be the subterfuge and pretext for the endless exploration of human essences from the mysteries of the telluric and the paradoxes of existence itself.
(Art critic and Researcher. Dean of the Art History School at Havana University)
Published in ArteCubano, Magazine of Visual Arts. Consejo Nacional de las Artes Plásticas. Havana, Cuba. Edition No. 2/2000. Pp 40-41