(About the title)
Since approximately 1997 or 1998 we have been feeling a process of minimalization in the production of visual Art that has been in accordance with certain reactions to the cultural excesses of identity order characteristic of a part of Cuban Art since the end of the eighties and during a good part of the nineties. This “saying” more with less, seeking moderation in order to strip ourselves of unnecessary elements in the expressive sense, contains, like that reaction I mentioned, a sort of dissent with a cultural pillar that is supposedly part of the identifying ingredients of “the Cuban”: a horror of the objectual void as a symptom of a horror of the spiritual void. Because, believing in the western axis, we are prone to objectify, to make physical, measurable, what we think as an extension of our spirit.
But the process of minimalization leads us to that great truth that the essential is invisible to the eye, it seems a cliché truth, but it has not really been understood by the cultural media, even by part of our intelligentsia and the artistic field, which to a large extent continues to trap itself in naming things in the face of an ontological and anthropological fear, but above all, it continues to cram its symbolic production without need, adding unnecessary elements to the conception of a work within what we call Art.
There are symptomatic cases of this process of expressive and morphological purification, and it would be a list not very extensive but harmoniously connected with key creators within the process of our contemporary Art. In this perspective Ernesto Benitez has developed a poetics where the syntactic levels acquire great height: Samsāra is an agasajo as a sculptural work that imbricates the New Media with the installation and the environment.
Absolutely, his Samsāra has nothing to do with a proposal by Zaida del Río under the same title. Because in fact Benítez is a researcher, an artist who experiments and does not embellish his work, who transcends the formalist value of a part of the artistic production, more retinal and even hedonistic, to return us to the pillars of the “being” and its journey through life.
This recent work, exhibited in one of the cloisters of the CENCREM in the context of the 10th Havana Biennial, I raise it -together with others that could be perceived in the Mega Event- as a subtle vehicle of meditation on everything that implies wandering through a plagued world, affected in its bases of all kinds. The work exudes that chtonic sense that has characterized Ernesto’s research since the late nineties to the present. An evolution that cries out for the split and the morbid, caused by a human condition when it becomes pedestrian, unable to perceive beyond, lost in his walk because he has lost his telos, or end, the ultimate model of everything. And in this sense Samsāra is a silent, meditative and philosophical song, also of eschatological order, insofar as it proposes us to enter into that ultimate end as a transit from one state to another, where death and life are united from the very implication of the meaning of the term, as a fundamental concept of the doctrines that include in their systems reincarnation, the cycle of lives, deaths and rebirths experienced by sentient beings as a result of their good and bad actions in the course of their existences.
This kind of sculpture that culminates in environment, since one morphology has been deriving into another and so on, confirms Benitez’s pantheistic vocation by establishing itself as another symbolic expression where everything can be contained: from the so-called gods to the most insignificant beings. Being part of a symbolic process, Benítez places us before a cipo or funerary stele of sober elegance that not only registers programmed numerical data but part of it alludes to a cycle that does not end, that is virtually ad infinitum.
Hinduism, Buddhism and other “non-Western” ways of thinking, which have been taking hold as antidotes to the axiological and cultural mismatches of this split West, acquire a poetic nuance for some, and a truthful one for the artist, in that it evokes transcendence over the insignificant by means of a definitive liberation from an existence based on suffering, pain, agony and entropic character, in the Heideggerian perspective of Dasein, which also implies “Being for death”.
In this creation, the artist remarks again his sense of how he “feels” Time, a temporality marked by that notion that the most permanent thing is the impermanence of everything, from that also Heraclitean perspective -allusion to his truth about the river: everything comes and goes… eternally. With Samsāra it seems that Benítez continues to delve into the keys to his transcendence, which is not the one that seems to be granted by vanity, fame, the powers created by modernity and contemporaneity. It is the transcendence sought by those alchemists whom this creator investigates and invokes -not as a religion, that would be a total contradiction- as masters of a path not lost or extinct but resting, waiting for sensitive beings to oxygenate it.
The work, after several imponderables in relation to the organization of the Biennial, was able to find a special shelter in that cloister. The space itself is a container of past energies, with an evident destruction that reveals the power of Time. Samsāra met and was not engulfed by space, it looked at her like a “Time Machine”, with agonizing eyes and she remained, paradoxically, as something alive. And it was an encounter that apparently invited to breathe, to inhale a more impure air in the midst of the spatial chaos of the whole context and of the neighboring works: variegated, chaotic, unbalanced. Interestingly, the chaos surrounding Benítez’s Samsāra is a larger celebration of life and, the Samsāra itself, refers to a dramatic commentary on the order of everything after the ultimate enlightenment, that of a final rebirth that propitiates vital succession after countless transits and transformations because, I repeat, we are never the same.
At other times it has been written that Ernesto has not been an artist with a look towards the social, as it is ostensible in other creators -except, according to those texts to which I allude, of his experiences when Arte Calle. But Samsāra orients us, with his contained dramatism, to a highly tormented expression of our condition. It is an invitation to the silent act of thinking about our resignations and uncertainties. It is a medium to meditate on the amnesia of the reality in which we live, an exercise from the powers of Reason and the apparent Truth to manipulate History and reproduce the convenient forgetfulness of common beings. It is a “musical note” for that chorus that sings to us about the need to flee, to be sweetly nihilistic, to seek in the emptying of everything that threatens us: to find in detachment the way to re-emerge.
Because, I repeat, we are living a loss of paradigms, the absence of a telos or model state, we do not have a carrot in front of our nose to walk along the roads. Benítez has also been formed within a saturation that today has turned into collapse: his is also the weariness of many who live a disorder about themselves -therefore an anthropological maladjustment, because what was true is no longer true. It is a spatial, objectual and almost all measurable dispossession -thus an ontological trauma, because more and more we are convinced that nothing belongs to us.
Ernesto knows well that space has been arcanely understood as refuge, defense, existential shield. And what is unknowable to us, as a remedy, we move it to the realm of the metaphysical or the mystical. But sadly, not feeling ourselves in our space creates an almost total uncertainty. Therefore, it is better to create our personal dimensions, antidotes against what threatens us as beings.
These personal dimensions in Benítez come from a mystical notion that translates representationally, materially, energetically, in symbolic, iconic activations, derived from that alchemical, liturgical and cosmogonic world that can be reactivated in contemporaneity. Therefore, all his work, more successful or not, has at its core the empowerment of the unknown, the unrevealed of the Self. Gradually he has been transcending those western ways of seeing things dually, in harmonic oppositions. He has realized that those alleged dualities that mark Western Cartesianism are part of the same entity that the power of Reason, due to its inability to feel in the face of such a great need to “reason” everything, has had to separate in order to be able to study the world. And with it leads us to that trap at the beginning: it makes it impossible for us to feel and perceive that “essential” invisible to the eyes.
Samsāra places us in the dilemma of returning or not returning to the place where dreams are born. For some, not to return is to become entrenched in a present life, illusively “escaping” from what is inevitable. To return for others is to escape from the morass that prepares you for some unimportant death. It is to walk to return, to regress, to reach the genetic navel -and there they return with Samsāra to evoke all the symbols that its author has manipulated… until reaching the Ojo-Udja that intermediates in the assumption of the mytho-poetic illumination; and perhaps plausible.
With this work Benítez affirms many paths of his work for years, and increases the sociological one, even in the complex field of ideas, in relation to the annihilation of the spirit by the reality that surrounds and affects us, from which we must escape. Samsāra invites us to think about how to resist by “letting ourselves go,” but away from those long shadows of the dead god who makes our space a ghostly world. For both of them, God is an entelechy, a way of naming something unnamable, which is perhaps everywhere, and there Pantheism always is.
The fields of science and belief have coexisted and interacted historically to explain those unknown phenomena. The shelter offered by the gods has been a palliative to our insecurity in the face of uncertainty. But for some, knowledge offers another safeguard: that any determination, like saying “God” in this case, is negation. And Benítez knows this well, coming from Kabbalistic studies and also in Spinoza’s thought.
So it is his position as an artist, as a being, that of the disbeliever of what has been shown as Truth to the spiritually dumbed down beings, numb in life, walking steles that are not safe in a world so reified and “named”, unable to perceive by the design of society that physical death is faster, spiritual death is gradual, acquires more effective social dimensions to the extent that it is invisible and unmeasurable, because it is contained in each being but does not evidence its lacerations at first sight.
At the same time, he meditates on himself, reminding us of Martin Buber in his anthropological-philosophical perspective of focusing on himself in order to activate in him what comes from the Universe, and isn’t Benitez part of it, without being interested in using other tools of cultural anthropology within art, which is always trapped in an externalist and colonialist translation of studying an “other”. Samsāra establishes glimpses of a center in the personal. A self-recognition from what its author feels, does or has believed to be his own.
Interdisciplinarity has been key in the methodology with which Benitez works, expanding into fields that at times, although it has been a terrain of interconnections gained in Cuban Art since the eighties, have been considered as “extra-artistic”. Thanks to this, the investigation of the inner and spiritual world has been able to provide itself with epistemic, methodological and practical principles of anthropological knowledge, ultimately ample tools that without breath, or pneuma, are impossible to employ.
This is clear in several artists, and in Benítez it is clear, the propensity to scrutinize the individual, the intimate, questioning the old hegemony of the collective and massive discourse that the official still maintains. For years, this artist has made use of practices considered pre-scientific: esotericism, superstition or magic. I prefer to think of all these practices as one of the few communicating vessels that have survived from human culture, cemented for centuries, that break with the distinction made between East, West -and let us add the Non-West- resisting the excessive power of that Reason that has taken root in the cultural West through the empire of Logic, Rationalism and Cartesianism.
As an antidote Benítez exercises in his art his sense of Freedom. Expressive, symbolic liberation. He knows the transcendental importance that symbols have in the life of culture by promoting communication, conservation and the succession of knowledge. He knows that the power of the symbolic field is so great that it has become a “reality” that replaces the everyday world. I return to something that is important from the representational point of view: the drawing of an animal made by a child is the animal for that child, not its mental representation of a physical representation that is the animal itself. It is a set of representational levels where lies a symbolic knowledge of that representation as Truth. Truth transmitted by Culture, aware of the power of the Symbol as an arcane, archetypal construction. That has managed to transmit to society that “the eye does not see what it sees but what it knows”. Then, symbols are part of the vocabulary and the elementary imaginary with which the individual faces the world; they are a double-edged sword: because they seem to help us in that understanding but they trap us in their language.
Delving into the information and works of Ernesto Benítez, I found a dismantling of his work in terms of the materials and energies with which he has been creating for almost ten years. And gladly I found clearly the idea of his dismal palimpsestic sense, not only because it refers to death, but also because it literally “buries” the symbols.
In previous works this operation has been expensive for him. Offering and hiding clues and secrets from us -something the Egyptians were very clear about: you cannot give all your knowledge to someone all at once, because this could kill them instantly. In many of these creations, almost all of them through installations and drawings, Benítez showed us a face of the complex face of death, with its drama, yes, but also with its “regenerating” power. And there the ashes, an ingredient he has used in many previous works.
Now Ernesto returns to literally “bury” the symbols in a cloister that encloses the ashes of time, that dust scattered everywhere, stardust too, but vulgarized by the common mind. Samsāra then leads us to a space, to a path, that may remind us of that Lezamian idea of “ashing” everything with that eagerness to conceptualize and name what is unnamable.
Buenos Aires del Vedado. April-May 2009.
 This text on Ernesto Benítez I was working together with another one on the latest works of Lien Carrazana and Lindomar Placencia, recently exhibited in Madrid. The three artists share very subtle points of contact, not at all evident in the way they each make their works. Even the “conceptual” interests of each are not analogous. However, due to certain links in philosophical and hermeneutic concepts, mainly, in both texts there are ideas that may be similar, but lead to different results given the characteristics of the poetics of each creator.
 I will refer as examples of this “list”, incomplete because it is not my interest to affirm that they are these and not others, to artists who have been progressing in this sense of the minimalization process of contemporary Cuban Art: among others, this can be seen in Eduardo Ponjuán, Luis Gómez, Fernando Rodríguez, Los Carpinteros, Carlos Garaicoa, Alexandre Arrechea, Osvaldo Yero, Raul Cordero, René Peña, Sandra Ramos, Ernesto Leal, Antonio Margolles, Carlos A. Montes de Oca, Walter Velásquez, Eric García, Tania Bruguera, Andrés Montalván, Lindomar Placencia, Glenda León, Inti Hernández, Wilfredo Prieto, the Capote brothers, Jorge Wellesley, Humberto Díaz, Analía Amaya, Ulises Urra, Dalvis Tuya, T-10, Diana Fonseca… I am mentioning some of those I consider to have a work of interest. Which infers that there are many others that do not belong to this “bag”; and others that I consider to be impostos.
 Zaida del Río’s show exhibited at the beginning of 2009 at La Acacia Gallery. And although they are diametrically opposed in terms of visuality, and drink from the same “source”, this is an investigation that Benítez has been developing for some time, with a previous production that is technically and technologically complex and subject to another non-Samsārica “wandering”: that of institutional bureaucracy.
 Acronym of the National Center for Conservation and Restoration located in the Santa Clara Convent, in Old Havana.
 At CENCREM, Jorge Luis Santos and “La cuenta no da” were exhibiting at the same time, but on the upper floor. On the first floor, along all the corridors and part of the main central patio, Bejarano showed his pieces under the title Sedimentos (Sediments), to which I allude in the text. Benítez was located in that humble cloister, as if pausing all the visual chaos of the space and its objects.