By Ernesto Benítez
I Existence: The Self as a path
Every man, by the very fact of being a man, is open to the other, the unknown and transcendent, whether it is understood as the divine, a divinity, a simple capacity of projection or whatever; it is an anthropological trait that defines him. This effort to understand his human condition; this natural curiosity, as Aristotle already assumed, All men desire by nature to know, drags him to the “eternal question”. Well, from that conscious opening to which existence itself exposes us; from that interaction with the world through my own essence reflected -externalized- in it and in which each human being -starting from the conceptual principle that the true mystery is existence itself- stipulates its own interpretative keys, is born, precisely, my artistic practice expanded towards “other” lands in a general sense and oriented towards the decoding and interpretation of the arcana of nature through myself as a container of its germs. In this sense, as I have already said, the process of creation is closely linked to my concept of freedom, emanating in turn from my spiritual self-realization and in which the starting point is the free exercise of my inner experience in terms of an introspective vocation in the first instance. It follows that my work does not intend to cover the vast field of human phenomena, but operates in that not at all limited sector of life that is accessible to our individual experience and starts from the premise that the human body is a microcosm of the universe and insists on an original, intimate and private relationship between man and God, by virtue of which the latter – the former – can ascend towards cosmogonic values. Of course, I am referring to a road that cannot be traversed before man becomes the road itself, a road that, when perceived, one is already on it and where the purpose and destiny of the traveler become his own self. A path in which the philosopher ceases to be only the philosopher to become in turn the “object” philosophized.
II Magnum Opus: The alchemical influence.
It is not difficult, I think, to perceive the defining plurality of presuppositions at the root of my work and what is certain is that, consciously – according to the demands of the proposal itself – or, as a consequence of my personal imprint (and my general philosophical and aesthetic susceptibilities) my guiding presuppositions do not reduce their horizon to a specific cultural or thought tradition, and decisively includes -among others- the self-knowledge tropologized in the Magna Obra of the alchemists, in whose proposal many contemporaries -and contemporaneity itself- would agree that there is but one object which is to transmute coarse metals into pure gold. However, beyond this interpretation, I am influenced by its symbolic meaning, the purely psychic, spiritual and transcendent, because in its superior aspect it proposes the regeneration of the Spiritual Man as an exercise of the magical power of his free will; a sublime possibility that is rooted in the interior of every human being and that can only sprout with the most intense personal effort and only leads to an approximation of the “truth” in the spiritual plane. Truth that each individual has to find by himself and in himself according to his capacity; truth that only reveals that part of himself that can be assimilated by each one of us. Certain presuppositions acquire then great importance as ethical manifestations that support the basis of the whole proposal.
This symbolic interrelation with procedures and the very purpose of Alchemy merge in my proposal with my most essential expressive and knowledge needs as well as with my most conscious personal fears and uncertainties.
III Of fire and burning: Mutatis Mutandis.
If in the universe everything is an expression of its own spirit, in this particular path of mine the main architect is the igneous element, whose use and conceptualization is not limited here -as in many great cultures- to considering it as the door to the sacred; as a bridge stretched between the world of the living and the unknown without limits. Far beyond this, in my artistic proposal the decisive premise that in order to understand and assume the existential problematic and To tear the veil of the arcane it is necessary that there is always death and new birth at every instant, finds its direct tropologization in the action of fire as an agent of destruction and renovation of all material substance, for is not a being constituted in the very act of consuming itself for its renovation? (Bachelard).
Both fire and man himself are phenomena of this nature, and the philosophy I propose begins at the very moment when the philosopher ceases to be only the philosopher and thus also becomes the philosophized object; that is, when he burns with the fire and is consumed and renewed. In this way life is but a great fire and its essence remains hidden as long as it does not burn with it and in such a case meditation leads to incandescence as a solid unity from which the universe acquires the destiny of man “unifying his morality with the majestic morality of the universe.” It follows that here the processes, transformations and mutations are more important than the final result.
Then, as well as that specific power contained in things, the ashes -the main material in my work- are assumed not only as containers in themselves of the potential forms of the burned objects, but also and fundamentally as carriers of their renewed essences; a spontaneous “effusion of life”.
IV The symbol and symbolic representation:
The language of art, as a system of codes carrying a certain aesthetic ideology, constitutes a determining factor of the artistic work; moreover, it constitutes in itself the fundamental problem of art: access to its language.
Since the passage from magical to mythical thinking, it is presupposed that reality is accessible and the order given by reality itself ceases to be only a model for its reproduction. In this case, representation accesses reality and supposedly substitutes it, orders and fixes it and implies, in fact, external elements that provide it with autonomy as it acquires symbolic value. Symbolic thought, as is known, resides in man’s capacity to originate and endow with meaning a thing, fact or phenomenon and, correspondingly, to appreciate and grasp such meaning. In this sense, it is known that the symbol is a kind of sign whose main characteristic resides internally in the close relationship that exists between symbolizing and symbolized and its dramatic character is accentuated precisely by its ambivalence; by the ability to express simultaneously the various aspects of the idea it expresses. Thus, my artistic practice that assumes as language the symbolic discourse remains consciously open to the infinity of all the possible, remaining inevitably inaccessible to the cold objectivity of rational and logical thought that can only understand those phenomena that are outside and free of contradictions and that possess consistent truths. By means of the symbolic and the metaphorical, by means of a reduction of the non-essential elements that may suggest it and realized with materials that constitute pure ideological components, this proposal is submitted to the essential absurdity of existence and evokes spiritual realities, restoring at the same time the universal identity of man above any cultural difference.
My artistic praxis does not attempt to legitimize any liturgical system or practice, but is based on an openness to the religious foundation that transcends any mere hierographic attempt and stands on a path of self-recovery, self-discovery and reconquest; a position in which, like Heraclitus, I could summarize my work in very brief words: I have sought myself.
Published in the catalog of the exhibition Pain is Life held at the Luz y Oficios Gallery (Provincial Center of Plastic Arts and Design), Havana. June 2000