Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Havana - September 3, 2010

The Photo-locusts Continue Their Trek Across Havana

Galerias del Santo Angel
Today we visited the Galerias del Santo Angel (Teniente Rey y San Ignacio, Plaza Vieja), where our photographs would be hung for an exhibit ("Post Cards from California") a few days from now. We discussed organization and set-up options for this show.

Museo del Chocolate
Stopped at the Chocolate Museum near the square (Mercaderes 255), and looked around, at display cases, old chocolate-making artifacts, and a solid chocolate high-heeled shoe, among other items.

Cigar Factory Tour
We also toured the Partagas cigar-making factory, although no pictures were allowed here. Cigars made here are called Habanos. Most of the cigar factories are in Havana, and most the tobacco comes from Pina del Rios area. Stepped through the process of harvesting and drying tobacco leaves. The price is set according to the weight and the quality of the leaves, not just the weight. Level of humidity is controlled throughout the process as well. If leaves are too dry, they might break. They use five different leaves from the same plant to make cigars.

The factory workers put in 9 hours; they had one hour for lunch. There were approximately 800 workers here at this factory, and they make 25,000 cigars per day (30 per day per person?). I smelled a chocolate smell as we were walking through one section. Interesting. It was quite loud in this factory; the factory workers were also being "read to." We were told they are read the news in the morning, and a book (such as a Shakespeare play or other work of literature) in the evening.

They organize cigars by colors -- 8 different colors, but quality inside is the same we were told. We paused at one woman's work area to see her sort a large pile of cigars from light to dark. They make different brands of cigars (Cohiba are the best, most expensive). Also: Monte Cristo and Romeo and Juliet. Some of these go for as much as 500-600 lbs. in Europe (U.K.?). Very pricey.

Our tour guide also talked about the role that Cuban cigars have played in stories reported worldwide, such as the Clinton scandal. We were told that Arnold Schwarzenegger (sp?) smokes Cuban cigars, as do other stars in Hollywood.

It was interesting to note that there was a "No Fumar" (No Smoking) sign on the wall in the box finishing/packaging room -- understandable, given the high value and probably flammability as well -- of the products boxed up in this room. However, there was someone smoking, in this same room, across from where we were standing.

Question: How long do cigars last?
Answer: In a humedor, they'll last up to 6-7 years; if you don't store cigars properly, they may only last 4-6 months.

Question: What would it take to be able to take pictures inside the factory (we were not allowed to take pictures the day we visited)?
Answer: Anyone interested in doing so would have to contact their corporate office (Habanos SA, Playa Miramar), first and make a case to the marketing department, and it might take a few days - 1 week to go through this process. It would probably cost $150.

There was a small/short discussion on cigar factory workers as we were walking to a gift shop type place next door to the factory. Cigar workers have a reputation for being well educated, conscientous. Reading to them helps them "increase their cultural awareness." For example, they might read "Romeo and Juliet" because that's also one of the cigar brand names. The hand rollers have the most prestigious jobs, and are paid fairly well. And if they go over their quota, they get paid more. Workers are not allowed to use strong smelling soap, perfumes, because it might flavor the cigars.

Wifredo Lam Art Center
Wifredo Lam was a famous Cuban painter and artist, who was friends with Andre Breton (father of surrealism) and others. They named the art center after him.

We met the director, curator, of the art center, in a conference room there; he welcomed us, and he talked about the Bienal Habana (the 10th annual biennial took place in 2009) and how it has produced some good works. Their focus at the center is on research and art. Their researchers track trends in art worldwide. He believes it is important to work in different themes. Creators from different regions interact and study across areas in common; they talk about trends. Workshops and work presented is reflected in the bienal (6 themes). Themes include: contemporary art and culture; art, society and the differences; immigration;  ("One Closer to the Other") was dedicated to communications. Urban Dynamics is another thread; as is Integration (and the resistance to that in a global era).

In the scout for new artistic talent, we have 200+ artists; 350 artists from 12 collective projects from all the previous bienal artists. It is an ideal place to do projects. They send invites to artists; they pay their own way? They get some support from institutes. Artists (are?) coming from Africa,
Caribbean, other areas.

He also mentioned the "Polaridad" exhibit that had shown recently in the U.S. (Sonoma County Museum) that Cynthia and I were able to see. This was one of the first exhibits to go out to the U.S. in a long while he noted.  By the way..."Cuban Art" magazine is a publication we might look at for more information. Tony Labat is a focus of an expo that's opening. Tony lives in the U.S., but still has a Cuban accent the director thinks (event though he doesn't speak Spanish). Tony left Cuba when he was 15 years old, and this year he is 50. The name of the exhibit is called: "It is what it is."

Question: What does he think about how the relationship between art and technology plays out here in Cuba?
Answer: It is a very complex relationship. Depends on creation needs, sometimes wider context. It's extremely expensive. It's not censorship by political will, but by price. Shipping and handling of works is facilitated by technology. To be able to make movies is difficult; but newer technologies are cheaper. Limitations exist here: Internet bandwidth (lack of) makes it challening. Everyone has Facebook; it's an interesting phenomenon. The Web provides helps guarantee an audience; artists are working on video games. Luckily, printing of information is decreasing. The catalogs you're looking at, that's a sentimental thing. More people are looking at more things online. This gets into social themes. Young movie producers organization - separate from here. Can see trends of young people from art schools and self-taught artists. There is a great deal of "cross-contamination." We have a young artist coming in here today, e.g. he was working with the theme of a virus that was creating an emptiness zone in PCs - in an art (not a malicious) context. Everything that works in Cuba - works on a PC. PC + Mac issue exists here. Everything in Europe is on Mac. They've had some issues with Microsoft, occasionally getting support is an issue. But, we do a lot on PCs.

Cuatro Esquinas/Market
We paid a visit to the Cuatro Esquinas (Four Corners) area where we were told Cubans purchase items for their religious offerings. We also visited a covered farmers market nearby, where fruit sellers and others hawked their wares.

Printing Workshop
After visiting the market, and before lunch, we visited a taller (or workshop) and gallery that featured works from many traditional printmaking artists. Coming from an area where many artists have gone digital, it was great to see print work being done with stones and machinery. This process also uses a fair amount of water, so if there are any shortages or disruptions in water supply, printing is stopped for the day.

Photography Gallery - Opening Reception for "Eros"
Attended a Gallery Opening ("Eros: Digital Impressions and Platinum Prints") photographs by an Italian photographer, Claudio Marinelli. In the adjoining courtyard, a peacock strutted and posed for pictures.

Los Nardos - a restaurant with good food and a unique and impressive wood/rancho decor in old Havana, located across from the old capitol building, which is now a museum.

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