Por Orlando Hernández
(Originally published in Without mask)
The art career of Alexandre Arrechea began twice: first around 1991 and again on 4 July 2003. (The accuracy with which the artist has recorded the second date has always aroused my curiosity). The thing is that Arrechea was not always an independent artist. For 12 years, he belonged to the famous art group called Los Carpinteros, of which Marco Castillo and Dagoberto Rodríguez were also members. Should I begin writing about the anonymous Arrechea who was part of Los Carpinteros or about the new Arrechea who began his career in 2003? Should there be a radical divide between his first phase as a group artist and this new phase as a solo artist? Can we wipe the slate clean and consider it a totally new beginning? In fact, a great effort must be made to avoid looking back. The years he worked as one of that trio of artists are not only recorded in his résumé, but are still present in the formal and conceptual virtuosity of his new works and in the synthetic and enigmatic formulation of his ideas. An important part of Arrechea will always remain in the works of Los Carpinteros of that period.
While part of the generation that burst onto the Cuban art scene in the 1990s, Alexandre Arrechea, together with Marco and Dagoberto, took a stand somehow different from that of their peers. They made fun of the constant surveillance of the content of artworks by the State playing its censorship role, as well as by art critics and viewers, the latter interested in discovering and praising (discreetly, in a low voice) any work with critical allusions to the national reality, that showed social commitment by artists. Lacking an alternative journalism, independent of the official press, which would openly point out and discuss the errors that affected our society, art since the mid-1980s became one of the few rostrums for expressing uneasiness and nonconformity, although the discourses were metaphoric and addressed to a relatively small audience. However, some members of that new generation of Cuban artists began to get tired of the excessive politization of art. In the case of Los Carpinteros, their attitude was cynical in two ways: they concealed their responsibility as individual artists by means of the alibi of the group and they directed attention to the excellent handicraft of their works, such as carpentry or cabinet-making. Thus, they tried to stop others from looking for the social or political problems that eventually might (or might not) be reflected in their works, under the assumption that handicraft is apolitical.
For many years, they were devoted to conceiving and building objects exquisitely made but with an irrational and absurd aspect, in which apparent conflicts had to do with the extravagant incompatibility between conventional ideas about objects (for example, a table) and the objects which they built (a table with a water surface, therefore, unusable). For some people this was an elegant way of openly ignoring the social and political predicaments of their
The new solo works by Arrechea also have that mocking and ambiguous touch that prevents us from accurately defining his reflections, opinions and criteria. The large abstractions or mega-concepts he manages at present in his works, such as power, for example, do not clearly state what kind of power they are alluding to. We are not certain whether he is referring to the power of the big transnational capital, to that of authoritarian socialism, to the power still wielded by the white hegemony all over the world or to that which a lower bureaucrat exercises at a state office. Perhaps one can simply enjoy the excellence of the work in a hedonist manner, with no concern for the meaning beyond its physical qualities.