By Arianna Covas Alemán
[…] When and under what circumstances does the exercise of authority degenerate into authoritarianism? What leads us, once in power, to confuse discipline and obedience to rules with blind meekness? How do we overcome consensus to end up in imposition, exclusion, scorn, denigration of the different and the dissenting or the repudiation of the dissident? On what arguments is violence justified by those who only seek to cling to power? […].
These questions, of a profound ontological nature, suggest the investigative paths taken by the recent artistic production of Ernesto Benitez (Havana, 1971), who assumes the creative process as a potential channel for his intellectual concerns.
As a Cuban artist trained in the past generation of the 1980s and a member of Arte Calle -a group that at the time stood out in the Cuban cultural scene for its rebellious and rebellious stance against the art institution- the critical vocation is intrinsically incorporated into his artistic discourse; it is organically manifested in it.
From irreverence and satire, Benitez enunciates his theses, of great tropological density and solid conceptual foundation. His artistic proposals are the tip of the iceberg of a whole research process in which philosophical, socio-historical and anthropological knowledge are interconnected. Thus, approaching his work is an intellectual exercise in which any interpretative naivety is discarded. There is nothing puerile and fortuitous in his creative work, but rather a skein of signifiers that the receiver must unravel with perspicacity.
This can be seen in his most recent exhibition proposal developed on the island, “The Abode of Leviathan”, a personal show resulting from an investigative process whose coordinates were insinuated at the beginning of this article with the artist’s own words.
From a single ephemeral installation piece, made up of dozens of inflated garbage bags, stacked and registered with a single numerical code, Benitez manages to articulate a whole metaphysical discourse that goes to the seed of the State -in a generic sense-. His sharp critical eye penetrates the matter of this political organization starting from the postulates of the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes collected in his book Leviathan, or The Matter, Form and Power of an Ecclesiastical and Civil Republic (1951) -conceptual basis of the exhibition-. In this sense, the commentary on the work flees from localisms; it transcends any landing in a specific political-social experience, even though certain analogies and exemplary reminiscences may emerge in the receptive process.
“The Abode of Leviathan” interprets from the artistic praxis the Hobbesian theory that defines the State as res publica founded on the sum of individual wills that, from the social pact or contract, annul their particular judgments and appetites and confer all their power and strength to a man or an assembly of men. Each garbage bag in the artistic text proposed by the author thus alludes to that gregarious subject that, stripped of identity, with its disciplined will and, therefore, reduced individual freedom, is condemned to anonymity. And in this uniform collectivism, its dispensability is emphasized. The same numerical code in all the bags insists on this idea of the being annulled in the abstract and nebulous bosom of a great amorphous whole; a subject that is no longer being, devalued, neutralized, substitutable, recyclable: a being that is no longer….
In the face of this identity metastasis, the subject becomes part of that greater gear called the State; a great Leviathan – necessary for Hobbes – that centralizes power. But, to what extent is this hegemonic authority convenient for the administered human mass, insofar as it guarantees -or tries to do so- its good coexistence? what does this absolute power lead to? how does the homogenization of individuals within the process of conformation of the State become fertile ground for authoritarianism?
Of that fragile line that separates a State project from a totalitarian regime, of the constitution of that great Leviathan, whose artificer and matter are nothing but man; the artist warns us of all this in his exhibition proposal. While speaking of the formidable power of the biblical monster -a metaphor for political structures based on an oppressive social order-, he hints at its perishable nature. And the fact is that the state of the garbage bags that make up “La morada de Leviatán” has been changing since the exhibition was inaugurated; they have been gradually losing their air. With this kind of processuality, marked by the deflation of the matter from which Benítez composes his Leviathan, the omnipotent character of the latter is dismantled.
In this way, this Cuban artist reflects, putting his finger on the sore spot -as he usually does- on existential issues that concern us all; he shakes the solid ground under our feet as a warning shock in the midst of a polarized and increasingly liquid world. And with this reflective proposal, he also reaffirms his creative operation and his particular style, biting and questioning to the core.
 Ernesto Benítez, in a press release for the exhibition ” The Abode of Leviathan”.
 The personal exhibition “The Abode of Leviathan” opened on January 13, 2023 at the Zambrano Hall of the Hispano-American Center of Culture in Havana and was open to the public until February.
  Ídem
 Yenny Hernández Valdés. “Ernesto Benítez, regurgitador de incomodidades”, CdeCuba Art Magazine No.31. Pages 4-11.
n.d. Ernesto Benítez
Benítez, Ernesto. 2023. “Press release ‘Leviathan’ exhibition” January 13.
Bravo, Abram. 2022. “Ernesto Benítez: the most rebellious of all them“. Hypermedia Magazine. December 15.
Correa, Antonio. 2023. “Ernesto Benítez: exhumation of breath.” AICA Caraibe du Sud. January 12.
Valdés, Yenny Hernández. 2023. “Ernesto Benítez and The Abode of Leviathan.” Hypermedia Magazine. February 8.
Hobbes, Thomas. 1951. Leviathan.
Valdés, Yenny Hernández. n.d. “Ernesto Benítez, regurgitator of discomfort.” CdeCuba Art Magazine.
Published in PAC Plataforma de Arte Contemporáneo: