La fiesta vigilada

16.03.2023 – 20.05.2023

I open, for the umpteenth time, La fiesta vigilada a book written by Antonio José Ponte in 2007, which has given its title to the second solo exhibition of Leandro Feal at Cibrián. One of my favorite part of the book refers to P.M. (1961) a short film by Sabá Cabrera Infante and Orlando Jiménez Leal which is, to this day, the most conflictive film in the history of Cuban cinema. This little thirteen-minute film “did not resort,” according to Antonio José Ponte, “to any pretext to deploy the party. The party was its entire plot (...) It constituted a potential filmic guerrilla.”

I have always believed, and my reading of Ponte’s book reinforces that feeling, that most of the work of Leandro Feal (Havana, 1986) could be read as an iteration of P.M. His photographs, haunted by marginalized and festive bodies where lightness and gravitation play together, can be seen as what author Ángeles Donoso Macaya called an “insubordination in photography”.

Since Feal’s early works, as for instance series Tratando de vivir con swing (2006-2008), thus far, the artist has focused on documenting communities and alternative spaces that, as a kind of cultural biotope, experiment and rethink post-communist aesthetics against totalitarianism and its state fictions.

In these political ecologies, music has always played a central role. But this relationship between music and images has rarely been as explicit in Feal’s work as it is today. The rhythm of the work Ciudad celeste, a black and white video installation in which photographs of La Havana are superimposed like an Eiseisteinian montage of attractions, echoes another musical-based installation on display, Fantasía cromática para una noche con el Chori. In this new work, almost spiritual, Feal shows a bottlephone, activated during a performance on the opening
day. Fantasía cromática para una noche con el Chori evokes the specter of Silvano Shueg, the “Chori” (1900-1974), timbalero, mythical showman of the Havana clubs and graffiti artist who stars in P.M.

The work La fiesta vigilada, captures through its one hundred small-format photographs unfolded like a score or a paper film, the mystery, the lightness and the grace of faces and bodies that are very familiar to me. They are, for the most part, friends and people close to Feal, almost all Cuban artists and intellectuals whose lives and works can be read as a form of resistance or fugue against the basso continuo of official discourse.

Not far from these photos, hanging on a wall as if in an arsenal, Noticias del paleolítico shows the batons used in Cuba by the Brigadas de Respuesta Rápida (BRR), literally the Rapid Response Brigades, and other parapolice groups, to repress and riddle peaceful demonstrations against the government. It is another form of rhythm, behind which lies arbitrary politics that violate fundamental rights.

Those batons, more than an abstract symbol, when seen up close, look more like curious pre-political fossils, a form of war technology, between ominous and ridiculous, prior to the invention of iron and citizenship. This work represents the tools of primitive communism, those that, according to certain Marxist manuals, effectively correspond to the paleolithic.

Michel Mendoza Viel
(New York City, 15 de marzo de 2023)


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