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This element is also present in Cuba, la lucha. They are not just nice photos of derelict houses or old factory buildings, the ones you can find in abundance on the internet. I tried to add something extra; that is my style: That is also why my images are meant to be viewed in large format; every detail has a role to play. But you also have to stop at a certain point, because an image that is too complex, doesn't work anymore. Does such an approach still work in this fleeting Instagram era? If I wanted to score on Instagram, I'd have shot beautiful girls or old taxis.
Instagram is not the right medium for my work. I've built up a certain oeuvre; I have my own way of looking, my own way of thinking. And today, there are more people than ever before who appreciate that, who are really interested in photography. When I look at the numbers of people that come to exhibitions, the numbers of people buying photo books — they just keep increasing. I will continue to make this kind of work.
They are not ready-made, not fast food. People are not going to buy this book because they had a wonderful holiday on Cuba. They might do that by mistake, but then they are in for a shock [laughs]. At first I only wanted to take pictures inside people's homes. But it was so pitiful that I couldn't keep it up. Recently, Cubans have been allowed to set up their own company.
Photoshoots on the occasion of a girl's fifteenth birthday, when she becomes an adult, are very popular. They really are like wedding photoshoots at home.
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What is the meaning of the title of the book? La lucha means 'struggle', and the word has multiple meanings in Cuba. There is a constant search for food, parts and materials. La lucha also refers to the struggle for Socialism, the struggle to keep believing in Socialist ideals, in spite of the embargo and the opposition abroad. When I was 18, I had leftist leanings, like everyone of my age then.
But my first travels to the Soviet Union quickly cured me of those: In Cuba, the system still controls the population; every neighbourhood has its 'revolutionary committee' keeping an eye on the inhabitants. But also that is slowly disintegrating; mostly the committee consists of a granny behind a desk. There is also a third, more ironic meaning: Could you tell us something about the technical aspects? The style is similar to the one in my earlier books, but this time I worked without a flash. Today's digital cameras don't require a flash anymore. Flash lighting was characteristic of my style, but also a mere necessity.
In India and the Soviet Union, I was often working in large halls with many people, and using ASA film rolls required the use of flash. For this book, I shot everything with a medium-format Pentax Z — with Pentax also sponsoring the project. The Z is a bit cumbersome, but the autofocus is fast enough for reporting purposes. I worked with sensitivities between and 12, ISO and even in large-format prints there is hardly any noise. I still prefer the medium format — I'm not a 35 mm photographer. I love the painting-like serenity of that format.
The theme of this issue of Shoot is children and adolescents. What is the impression you receive from your young students? They are more professional than we were. In our final year, we went to Normandy for a week, and we thought that was a big adventure. Now they're off to Japan or Alaska, or present projects on the drug trade in Colombia. Their scope is the world, they have much more information and they use it. I consider it an honour to be able to teach and experience that. The speed with which they spot things, evolve, make links, is sometimes mind-blowing. Because of digitalization, photography has become much more accessible, much cheaper.
It is also much faster. After a three-month trip I would spend another three months in the darkroom. Nowadays my students show me on Monday the two hundred photos they shot over the weekend. I do tell them: With a digital camera hardly anything can go wrong anymore. You end up with more technically usable images; the danger is that you're too easily satisfied.
In a manner of speaking, I could come back from a trip and have a book and an exhibition ready within a week. But you do need time to let it all sink in. I don't show more photos than I used to. The downside of this accessibility is that there are many more photographers today, making it more difficult to earn a living. But I find photography an extremely valuable study, even if you can't turn professional; it enriches everyone.
After looking at OdysSea, the documentary that Jimmy Kets made about your work, a friend of mine said: The best thing in life is to be able to determine what you do with your own time, and I do have that luxury. I don't have to teach — I do it because I like it. Two or three times a year, I take on a big commission. For the rest I choose my own subjects, and I decide myself how much time I want to spend on something.
Even though my photography is not the most accessible, I can make a living without having to compromise. In that respect, I am one of the luckiest photographers of this country. There is not much more I could wish for. I still prefer the medium format. Boxing is the most popular sport in Cuba. I remember this kind of funfair attractions from my trips to the Soviet Union.
The operator has fallen asleep, so maybe this ride will just keep going round and round. Cuba is now on the itinerary of the giant cruise ships in the Caribbean. Every year there is a book fair where mainly Russian books and old novels such as Dickens' works are sold. There is a festive atmosphere, but everything is strictly regulated. This is another of those symbolic images. I had seen the American and Cuban flags. The sun was just perfectly aligned with the Cuban one. Then the blind man walked by, with a dollar sign on his cap. I quickly rang the doorbell and asked if I could take a picture from the balcony — the presence of a half-naked woman sunbathing there was of no interest to me.
I was just in time to press the shutter. Che, Fidel and the last iPhone There is no doubt that Cuba is at a turning point. No better moment for Magnum photographer Carl De Keyzer to point his camera at the early signs of a regime change. De Keyzer shows the last paroxysms of a country where time has stood still, even though the system has serious cracks. Though the combative slogans and the portraits of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are ubiquitous, they are also literally fading.
One of the most powerful images of the exhibition at Roberto Polo Gallery is the one of a blind man tapping his way across a chalk street painting, praising the reconciliation between Cuba and the U. One omen of this nearly inevitable revolution is the invasion of American tourists. De Keyzer ruthlessly records this 'homo turisticus', basking by the pool, while merely a few feet away, on the other side of a high fence, dreary blocks of flats are languishing.
Another tourist is enjoying the sunshine in a rocking chair on the patio of a colonial villa, with a display of postcards of a cigar-smoking Fidel and Che behind her — or how the propaganda machine of the regime and the capitalist tourist industry seem to go together surprisingly well. This friction, this paradigm change, is what De Keyzer is able to capture, often with a wry irony and not without humour.
Vintage cars still trundle through Havana, even though one driver has put a tv-screen in his battered old-timer. Also the iPhone has found its way in; a seller of charming paintings is languidly playing on his phone, with the same apathy we find in the capitalist West. The population seems to long for liberalization, but is mentally stuck in the system, as is clearly shown in a picture of an attendant in a rusty funfair, sleeping in her booth.
One thing is clear: It is a study of the transition ongoing in Cuba from a communist regime to a capitalist system and its consequences for the population. De Keyzer captures key moments in contemporary history by photographing intimate moments, always through the through a prism always tinted with poetry, often with irony and transcendental humour.
His powerful, carnal images capture the dignity and charisma of Cubans struggling to survive. His photographs of buildings in ruins evoke the splendour of a past era. Brussels — The writing on the wall says that Havana, like Sleeping Beauty, will soon wake up after over half a century of economic stranglehold by the U. He has hung the premises of the Roberto Polo Gallery with around sixty large-format photos.
His exhibition is called Cuba, la lucha, after the struggle for survival that the Cubans had to go through after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the middle of August last year, the U. Embassy in Havana opened its doors. In September, a first limited load of American tourists was allowed in. The distance between Miami Beach and the artificial Varadero — not open to most Cubans — is about the same as the distance between Brussels and Paris. A new era has begun. After the Cuba Libre, no coke was available for half a century. The mentirita — the 'lying drink' as the Cubans call it, will return tomorrow, as Coca-Cola conquers its one-but-last market in the world.
Together with iPhones, fashion brands, fridges, IKEA furniture and cars, "we will get two Chinese cars for every gas-guzzling American old-timer", is what they hope. It will push the still picture of Cuba towards 'big capital vs. Petrol station As for now, time has been undermining the carcass that is left of Havana. A lack of building materials and cash in most of the population means that the amazing pres residences, palaces, hotels and restaurants have never been restored. The exhibition can be read as a final tribute to an era, captured in time in a motionless image.
It is also a tribute to the resilience of a people, who, in the shadow of American brio, practically outpaced Europeans in the first half of the 20th century. The accelerated modernisation of the car pool in the fifties bears witness to that. De Keyzer cannot help but capture these scenes with wrecks of wonderful car models. The dashboard of a taxi, not revealing that the cabdriver is an educated man — architect, engineer — in daily life.
A petrol station that could have served as the background for James Dean or Saturday Night Fever, with an ad stating that the new Ford '58 is an automobile that compels admiration. And then the real communists, those who still visit the Che Guevara memorial and have a framed poster of the man above their beds. Diffidence But there are also the young. An amalgam of well-educated people dreaming of America. Indeed, education is apparently free, as are medical and social care.
However, young people do not get the training they desire; enrolment systems lead to courses that are quickly full up. Moreover, medical training does cost a lot of money, as uniforms and materials have to be bought by the students. The photographer shows the disillusionment in a picture of a girl drawing her hopes from a laptop in the midst of a tangle of old printers that would be on the scrapheap in Europe.
Or people who find solace in a wedding, their only chance to show some glamour and wealth to the outside world. It looks beautiful among the other images, those of faded grandeur. De Keyzer finds a lick of paint in Caribbean colours on the facade of crumbling houses reflected in clothing. It is the only thing, apart from the seriously pollut ed natural environment, that puts some spirit into the island. Only one feeling dominates the entire around sixty-picture photographic circuit: Diffidence of the Cubans because of the restraints on their urge to better themselves; our diffidence because of our tacit consent of fifty years of stranglehold.
Open Tue-Fri 2 - 6 p. Publication Cuba, la lucha, published by Lannoo, pp. When the article below was written, the working title of Bert Danckaert's series Horizon was i. The pointless journey On Bert Danckaert's pictures Photography exists by the grace of light. Light is a conditio sine qua non for photographers, and the same condition applies for painters. Some of the latter consider the light in their part of the world so unsuitable that they consciously move to brighter surroundings, where they can capture more nuances of light on canvas.
Light makes their work glow, as if the canvas they paint on is backlit by a lightbulb. Surgical precision Like any other photographer, Bert Danckaert paints with light. For his photos, he prefers it "strong and without shadows, like an invisible presence, true and absolutely democratic. Indeed, that kind of light does not select what is or is not important.
Anything and everything is equal in its eyes. No ambience, nothing happening in the shadowy margins. Light of equality and diffusion. He could use the light in his own back yard just as well. Then why does the photographer go to those faraway regions? In order to shoot walls, facades and car parks that he might just as well capture in his home town. Danckaert has photographed, for instance, car parks of IKEA branches all over the world. So why does he take the plane to do that, instead of just hopping on a bus to go to his local IKEA, just a few stops down the road?
Moreover, the car parks of the different outlets of the Swedish furniture multinational hardly differ from country to country, and Danckaert's photos of urban spaces — he calls them "thoughtless spaces" — do not feature people. In that sense he takes anonymous photos. The facial features and skin colour of people in his pictures might otherwise have made the observers of his work remark that picture was taken in an IKEA car park in Japan, and the other one in an Eastern European country, for instance.
Now they can only guess. His books De extra's and Simple Present are, respectively, the textual and visual consolidations of those concepts: The impossibility of exoticism and the relativity of the concepts of 'distance' and 'space' in this overpopulated and virtual-reality-dominated world.
I photographed traces and patterns of human activity. To a certain extent, this also goes for Danckaert's photos, which only reveal their 'secrets' minimally. He recognized that it was a naive construction and that the story behind the advancing globalisation and uniformisation of the world around us was much subtler. Some outlets of multinationals and many commercialized roads in cities all over the world might look more or less the same, but the soul of a city or a country is much harder to describe.
It appeared that my hypothesis was too one-sided, that some measure of differentiation was necessary. Please look for yourself: Tight formalism, pictured rigorously by means of a grid. This framing grid in the viewfinder of his camera enables Danckaert to compose or frame his subject almost mathematically, and as such to achieve absolute accuracy on a few square feet of a facade.
An example of this is the photo i. In this, we see a facade on which work is being done. At the extreme left and right of the picture, there are three rows of horizontally layered black bricks with white pointing. Of the third row of bricks, on each side, up against the edge of the frame, however, we only see less than half.
The remarkable thing is that, of either row, we get to see just as much 'half'. That is surgical precision. However tight Danckaert's compositions may look in terms of division of spaces, there are also frivolous elements that squarely go against the first impression of a dogmatically Constructivist approach. On the photo mentioned above, two thick black cables can be seen, snaking across the rigid face of the image and crossing each other almost voluptuously.
Also diagonals frequently occur in Danckaert's photos. Just look at photo i. Another interesting feature of Danckaert's pictures is the fact that they sometimes look like abstract paintings cf. Just ignore the square plate — a light switch? The photo could then be a reproduction of one of his works, if it were not for the strip of pavement at the bottom of the picture Yet the comparison with an abstract canvas is not far-fetched, as Danckaert himself explains when he lectures on his work.
On that occasion he always shows the audience two slides next to each other: The Leiter photo shows an abstract-like image consisting of a black and a red surface, with a few people and a car visible in between; the picture seems to have been taken from behind a closed fence with a slit-like gap in it. Rothko's painting has a similar composition and consists of a red and a dark blue surface that almost, but not entirely, touch each other.
In between there is a 'void' that the viewers can fill in as they please. A photographer can never work non-figuratively, but possibly abstractly; whereas a painter, without referring to anything at all, can work non-figuratively. In photography, briefly, there is always the matter of a reference, while the painter can start from pure form, without necessarily referring to reality or abstracting reality. The photo as theatre box We have already touched on the aspects of 'cultural identity' and 'globalisation' in Bert Danckaert's work, but we have not yet or only summarily discussed the construction of his images.
The rectangular viewfinder of a camera allows photographers to make artificial cuts of our surroundings: As a picture is a two-dimensional rendering of a three-dimensional situation, the illusion of a theatre box is created. This consists of a horizontal stage and a vertical background. Viewed in this way, the setting of a photo — and in particular Danckaert's seemingly stern and formalistic photos — is reminiscent of a theatre stage; this interpretation is helped along by the mostly frontal character of Danckaert's photos, which do not feature people or animals.
Indeed, the pictures that helped Danckaert's breakthrough, viz. One example is a photo in this article, Simple Present Guangzhou , You expect someone to come out of the doors any moment now. But waiting for that to happen would be like waiting for Godot as in Samuel Beckett's play of that name , which brings us straight back to the world of the theatre. He took the pictures shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in a number of former Eastern Bloc countries, more specifically in the transitional areas between city and countryside, between city and industry.
An example of this early work is a black-and-white picture of a high brick wall, reaching beyond the upper limits of the frame. In the foreground, we can see a neglected strip of grass with a few scrawny little beech trees; in between the trees and the wall is a sturdy steel-wire fence.
Instinctively, we get an uncomfortable feeling on viewing this scene. The word 'WAR' in itself already makes you shudder, and also the wall and the fence do not bode well. By zooming in on the letters 'WAR', Danckaert tricks the viewer. For him, photos are not mere reproductions of reality. The magic of photography lies in the process leading to that construct. His parents worked in that environment and his brother Wim is an actor of both stage and screen.
At first, also Bert Danckaert considered a career as an actor. After one year at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp, however, he had to put a stop to his studies. Yet according to himself, he learnt more during that year than in the subsequent seven years of his photography training.
Especially his professor Luc Perceval proved to be an inspiration. Perceval taught Danckaert at a young age the concept of 'artistic responsibility', and being 'lethally consistent' in your work. Bert Danckaert, Simple Present Shenzhen , Until this day, Bert Danckaert has kept Perceval's wise words in mind as a motto. As a freshly graduated photographer, he not only began to teach immediately, but he also started taking pictures related to the ones he takes now.
In those days he only photographed in black-and-white and with analogue cameras, though. Later on, he switched to digital equipment and chose to work in colour. Between his graduation and the start of his project Simple Present, he started to experiment with all kinds of techniques, under the influence of photographer Dirk Braeckman. He photographed television pictures, for instance, and blew up the images by projecting them onto photo paper with a slide projector. In , he took part in the Prijs Jonge Belgische Schilderkunst [Young Belgian Painting Prize] with a series of photos referring to surveillance images, and he was selected.
During that period, his main theme was the mass media and how those images reached us, among others through the internet. Only around did he change his focus to concentrate on making pictures of reality, be it a reality that poses as a set. Danckaert's reasoned approach to photography, especially concerning composition, leads to aesthetic images that are far from sterile — he allows too much intuition into his work for that. He is constantly searching for sites, viz. His method is invariably as follows: Or he just takes the underground and gets off somewhere, anywhere.
Sometimes he walks the streets hours at a stretch without taking a single picture. In his own words: Most definitely, my method includes something like a preconception, even a concept; yet at the same time there is always something unpredictable — compare it to free-jazz musicians who find each other while they are playing, and take leads from the others.
In that sense, my work is musical.
Don't forget that music is essentially abstract, whereas photography is exactly the opposite. Photography is probably the most concrete of art forms, because it always creates photos of things in a particular location. In music, however, that question is not asked; music is about rhythms and colours and forms. Artists, students and scientists intervene in a typical urban hub: They show what research in, with and about the arts means for our society. With artistic interventions, lectures, debates, laboratory demonstrations and a major festive event we throw ARIA into the midst of urban life on 4, 5 and 6 March What is art capable of in this commercial hub; what can art do in the city and in society?
On Saturday 5 March the artist's issue 'Bert Danckaert: On this occasion, Bert Danckaert will give a speech. A selection from his work will be on show during the three-day event. Further information, including the time of the presentation, will follow. Please keep an eye on our website and Facebook account: Opening event Happy Hour Party 4 March at 6 p. Since the mid-nineties he has practised as a photographer and he has exhibited, both solo and in group exhibitions in Belgium and elsewhere.
In , his first book, Make Sense! Besides his artistic activities, Bert Danckaert also reports on photography for several newspapers and magazines. In , on the occasion of his first solo exhibition at the Roberto Polo Gallery in Brussels, the complete work Simple Present Lannoo was published, covering 18 cities in 5 continents. Simultaneously, the prose book De extra's was published by EPO.
Both publications were the end result of the PhD in arts that Danckaert obtained from the University of Tilburg, The Netherlands, in Bert Danckaert is now exclusively represented by Roberto Polo Gallery. In contrast with photographers such as Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall, Bert Danckaert has until now presented his photos in fairly small formats, for two reasons.
Firstly, he has chosen to refer to a documentary tradition in his work; that type of photos is usually fairly small. Secondly, he considers it important for viewers to build a physical relationship with his work, according to Danckaert "in order to almost attain the intimacy of a book. You have to approach those images to be able to see them.
In works by Wall and Gursky, on the other hand, the show value is immense. I really love their work, but I think that the subdued, reduced and abstract character of my work would not be served well by spectacular formats. The smaller photos are printed in 60 x 80 cm [about 25 x 30 in. For Danckaert, it refers to the interpretation of reality in which photography speaks 'in other words'. Indeed, he shoots them as a casual passer-by. Yet these encounters do lead to compelling, aesthetic images.
Abbreviations are always more or less cryptic. They are, as it were, visual abbreviations of a larger reality that can be captured in a small frame. Without the probing look necessary to read them on a multi-interpretable level, they remain unambiguous. With that look, they rise to become meta-photography, which is what makes them so unique.
Patrick Auwelaert is editor of Kunsttijdschrift Vlaanderen, editor of Passage. He writes review, articles and essays on literature, music, visual arts, film and graphic design. That earned him a nomination to membership of the distinguished Magnum Photo agency. Almost thirty years on, he again documents political revolution, the breakdown of a social utopia and its impact on ordinary people in Cuba. Also this time around, the timing is meticulous: The result is a sometimes disturbing portrait of a country in transition, hesitating between the promise of economic growth, the temptations of Capitalism, and the fear of losing its identity as well as its traditions.
Cuba, the struggle, through the lens of photographer Carl de Keyzer Just before the island becomes an ordinary country: The photographer gladly records this repetitive history of collapsing systems. De Keyzer recognised the long queue for almost free Coppelia ice cream from the old Soviet Union where he was in and But that is really Soviet-like, and you can see that the whole system has been exported to Cuba. Fidel did not have much of a say in that.
He recognises how people fend off things, and defend themselves; how the country evolves and how the leader might be embarrassed. First there was the Soviet Union. Cuba, la lucha may be another 'moment before the flood'. The picture I took there is not my best, but just look at that tattooed Neanderthal hanging around. But I think Obama's speech did not come out of the blue. You do not build something like this in a year; they knew. But when Obama spoke his words 'Todos somos Americanos', I thought for a moment: It is a frozen country. The Soviet Union was in better shape in than Cuba is now.
It is a weather-beaten country, as is Communism.
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The standard of education is high, though. But accommodation is horrible. Che did not know the first thing about economy. Now there is this book. But la lucha "also the name of a chain of DIY stores where you can buy wallpaper and cement" does not just show old-timers. Actually he only wanted to look inside. He did not want anything too 'in-your-face'.
And it has, certainly in health care. I could not get access to any hospital. The rich occupants left the keys with the drivers and caretakers and shouted: If you invest, you will get a new Venice there. Three months were enough for the following idea: Although I am aware of the advantages of the system, this should be a splendid island, and now, after 56 years, it needs to be rebuilt completely. I am against dictators and Batista was corrupt and needed to go. But sometimes, like now in the case of the Middle East, you may wonder if it might not have been better to suffer Mubarak just a bit longer and to have a smoother transition without a revolution.
That also goes for Cuba. There are wonderful books about the campo by Ernesto Bazan. But nobody saw the man playing the piano in a hacienda, against a background of threadbare chairs, the cruise ship in the harbour and the book market at the Havana fort where you can find a Dostoyevsky novel for 1 peso. For that, we needed De Keyzer's eyes in Cuba.
Lettres de Georges Sorel à Édouard Berth. Première partie : 1904-1908
Cuba, la lucha, Lannoo, p. Anna Luyten — translation: Now it is Cuba's turn, at the pivotal moment between Communism and western Capitalism. On 17 December , the American President Barack Obama announced in a speech that, after 55 years of enmity, he wanted to reach out a hand to Cuba, rather than push it over the edge. A few days later, De Keyzer landed in Havana; he stayed for three months. He captured the country at the pivotal moment between Communism and western Capitalism. Indeed, when political restraints are relaxed, the resilience of citizens really becomes clear. Now, a few days before Obama's historical visit to Cuba, and the first public performance of The Rolling Stones in Havana, his photo book is published.
He is an eyewitness of the course of history. He does not just want to shoot beautiful images.
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He does not make moral judgements; he does not want to be cynical, but photographs the mores of an era. He records the adaptability of people. The signs of a society in transition are not necessarily obvious; mostly they are hardly noticeable. That combination of threat and decay, the beauty of the country and the warmth of people ensures the right balance.
He dislodges deeply rooted images. He looks for the fringes. In that book originally published as U. In recent decades, he went looking for religious communities, travelled to the Eastern Bloc, the old Europe, Siberian prison camps, the former Belgian colony of the Congo. Everywhere, he portrays citizens waking up from ideological narcosis. The title itself already suggests multiple layers. In the early nineties, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, everyone thought that Cuba would perish with it. For four years, people lived in true poverty. They negotiate between their love for the revolution and the fear of a drawn-out death struggle.
Call it struggle as a synonym of the fire of life. Those are the big themes that De Keyzer offers with empathy and in the form of a question. The image of a throng in front of a door, as if waiting to enter a shrine to Fidel Castro, looks like a scene from a film. In fact they are extras from a historical film, waiting for their lunch outside a closed canteen.
Or take the photo of a private boxing club: Cracks appear in the ceiling. There is only a window, open to the playful wind, with a view of the Museum of the Revolution. There is this image of two tourists sitting in a rocking chair outside a villa, like colonials. In front of them the postcards with old icons: In one of his photos the woman who sits at the controls has fallen asleep.
That is his cue to press the shutter.
In Havana, one or other house collapses every day; that is telling for Cuba. Carl De Keyzer — translation: I wanted to go there immediately, but I had to wait for a visa. For years, he has been photographing the decay of political systems in different countries. In , he published Homo Sovieticus, a photo book about the Soviet Union in the pre-Perestroika era.
For his ambitious photo project Trinity , he travelled all over the world for sixteen years, looking for the influence of politics on people. His photo book Congo showed the remains of the Belgian colonial past in present-day Congo. The photographer had set his heart on Cuba before, but the moment was ripe now.
Early last year, he travelled throughout the island for three months, capturing the crumbling power of Communism in its cities, towns and villages. What he found can be seen in the exhibition Cuba, la lucha at the Roberto Polo Gallery in Brussels from next week onwards, and in the book with the same title that will also be published next week. I did not make a travel guide full of palm trees and beautiful old-timers.
He explains that the title — 'the struggle' — refers to the Cubans' struggle for survival after the Berlin Wall came down in Back then, everyone expected the country to collapse — people had nothing, everyone was hungry — and yet the Cubans managed to survive. Everything is still based on the pesos-economy.
People earn little, and in Havana everything is propped up. Every day, some house or other collapses. You notice that Cubans still do not feel free to talk about certain things. Whenever I criticised Castro or Che Guevara, people lowered their gaze. Everyone is tamely waiting for something to change. The real passion has long gone. That kind of economic freedom is increasing.
But meanwhile, you still have to shell out dollars for a radio or a bottle of shampoo. It is already clear that plenty of business deals have been closed with Cuban-American entrepreneurs. Hotels of big chains are being plunked down on the beaches. But I also fear for its future. You see the history and the present situation, and hopefully those tell you something about this country.
Before the revolution, the government was housed in this building, modelled on the American Capitol in Washington D. At the end of the year it can also be seen at the photo festival BredaPhoto. This resulted in a new book and a large solo exhibition at the Roberto Polo Gallery in Brussels. The solo exhibition 'Cuba — La Lucha' contains around sixty works; this series — both documentary and conceptual, and created in — explores the change of Cuba's system.
De Keyser went to Cuba and returned with unique images of a country in transition: Fidel Castro on a wall poster, with a T-shirt of a man in the same picture that reads 'FBI'; four Cubans withdrawing money in a bank, with Che Guevare watching from a portrait above their heads. In his latest project, Carl De Keyzer captures the duality of Cuba in pictures. The eye of the master sketches the portrait of a country still rooted in communism, but reaching out to the capitalist West. When Barack Obama visited Cuba and surprisingly extended a hand to the country, news photographers flooded the island, hurrying to capture images of what might well disappear.
Not so Carl De Keyzer: He saw that 'La Lucha', the struggle, is just continuing on so many levels. The struggle for survival, the struggle to preserve socialism, struggle as a synonym of the holy fire of life. His photos may conclude an era there, but not an entire life. And what better place to open the exhibition than the gallery of the renowned Cuban-American art dealer Roberto Polo, who has a weak spot for Belgian art? His life reads almost like a Hollywood film script: At the age of sixteen, Polo was already teaching painting and aesthetics at the respectable Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.
Later on, he also started working as an artist and organised the exhibition 'Fashion as Fantasy', with works by, among others, Mapplethorpe and Warhol. Polo started to trade art and soon counted the New York elite among his customers. He moved to Paris and after a turbulent period eventually ended up in Brussels in At the end of he opened the Roberto Polo Gallery, a gallery for modern and contemporary art. As such, De Keyzer is one of the most important Belgian photographers today. He photographed what remains of Europe, he documented religion in America and captured the life in Siberian prison camps in Russia — that is how wide his scope is, how all-encompassing his world view, how important his photography.
In his previous book 'Moments Before the Flood' he was already looking into the possible consequences of global warming. He also looked at Cuba before the entire world press became interested in the potential changes on the island. His photos are published and exhibited worldwide. Among the themes in his work are the permanent threat of decay in contemporary society and the impact of power on daily life. A sampling of his work can be found at www. Apart from those, special attention is given to interesting events and exhibitions.
DDK is a successful Dutch initiative, organised four times a year, for photographers, image makers, students and anyone who is interested in present-day photography. A nationally or internationally well-known photographer is extensively interviewed about a new series or project. Apart from this, there is a mixture of different disciplines, from documentary to popular photography, from young to old.
During the 'pitch your photography project' part, three young photographers can seek public sponsoring for their dream projects. The visitors pay an entrance fee and decide at the end of the evening how the total revenue is to be divided among the three photographers. The one who manages to get most of the money can not only enjoy the financial support, but is also invited to present the sponsored project at one of the following DKK events.
Under the heading 'Born in Antwerp - Harbour of Creativity' a unique headquarters is the stage for an ambitious programme with international events, expositions and interventions in the public space. Five eminent names from the creative world act as curators and ensure a varied programme. A warehouse at the Kattendijkdok-Oostkaai is the beating heart of the project and offers a sampling of what creativity means in Antwerp.
There is room for creative events, performances, lectures and exhibitions, but it is also an open space for encounters, an inspiring place to work or to meet friends. Cuba, la lucha Barack Obama's impending visit to Cuba is to be the exclamation mark of a new start. But where will it lead? Magnum photographer Carl De Keyzer visited a country that is hovering between a complex past and an uncertain future.
Religion, political systems and ideologies, mechanisms of repression: For his most recent project, he travelled to one of the last Communist strongholds. At the end of , Barack Obama announced the resumption of Cuban-American relations, which had been abruptly broken by the U. In a few weeks' time, Obama will seal the renewed relations with a state visit, the first by an American president since Calvin Coolidge in But how will this work out in practice? Nobody knows at present. Or the opening image of the book: Now it is covered in scaffolding. Ready to become the seat of power of a new democracy?
Images of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are still everywhere. On the wall of a room where two men are boxing wearily, from a rocking chair, an aged heavyweight looks on, wearing an FBI t-shirt. Fieles a sus ideas — loyal to their ideas — a poster on the wall states. But there is no punch left. De Keyzer named this project Cuba, la lucha — the struggle. This term, Cuba expert and curator, Gabriela Salgado, explains in the book, refers to a mentality that emerged in Cuba after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ever since then, the struggle for decent living is on — la lucha.
Doubly talented Jan Vanriet writes poetry with the same flexibility that is found in his paintings. I have known Jan for years, and those years have become decades. In one of those years — according to my diary — he and I are on the steps of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, our home city at that moment, pointing. Behind us the nineteenth century, with its columns, adjectives and winged allegorical bronze on the roof; on the other side of the filled-in quays the MUHKA, the Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, then brand new.
That is the other side we are pointing at.
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Suspect 'Aren't those Freudian names? They illustrate an agonizing truth, namely that our century, soon to be over, has enthusiastically blown up the obvious link between art and aesthetics. Jan is suspect, as his work is not conceptual, even though it is teeming with comments on history. A leading Belgian curator in visual arts does not appreciate him. Traditionalist, much too magnificently painted bourgeois art! That is how he characterises Vanriet's work to me. Where is the pain, the struggle, amice? And Jan Fabre wields the comical word combination 'terror of the eye'.
But what is a depiction that does not want to be a depiction? What is a thought about the world worth if the world itself remains invisible? I have a deep-rooted aversion to conceptual pretence, produced by artists who can't paint. But I do love those conventional pictures by Jan Vanriet. Painter of the word Slightly earlier in the nineties, we made Volgens Johannes [According to John] together — a series of paintings by Jan following the gospel according to John, to which I added a long poem-in-poems, De schipbreukeling [The castaway]. In this, I refer to my friend — without mentioning his name — as 'the painter of the word'.
In his case they usually refer to a historical context. But I am running ahead of things — even though running ahead of things is an excellent way of discerning the historical connection between things. What I really wanted to say: In onze voorraadkast liggen muizen met hun pootjes omhoog verwijt de vrouw de man Die klapt het boek dicht en zwijgt achter zijn bril Hij beaamt wat hij las bij Joseph Roth: I quote it in full, not to bulk up my article, but because it is an important poem, quite telling about Vanriet and about an entire generation. Here is the poet-painter-husband in his Antwerp, Belgian, international salon, in the company of Roth, Tolstoy, Elsschot and his wife, calling himself 'a son of sorrow', and I suspect he does not just mean that in the figurative sense, being the son of a father linked with the biggest sorrow in modern history.
Embracing melancholy Also in De schipbreukeling [The castaway] chess is used as a metaphor: In a sense, that is what the entire collection is about: Jan Vanriet's father was put in the Mauthausen concentration camp as a Communist. Jan has not told me much about it, but I gather that this 'indirect horror' if I may put it like that has been the determining factor in his artistic calling.
He had gone back, so he told us, and had sat in the deepening twilight listening to the chirping of summer insects: The father and the camp do not feature directly in Moederland. But big history is constantly present; a background that sometimes, as with a spectacular scene change, comes to the foreground large as life, as in the poem Rode plein [Red square], in which Lenin's mausoleum is featured as 'the brothel of ideology' — not one of the usual theatre props in modern Dutch-language poetry. But the strongest poem about ideology, politics and history must be Droge naald [Dry needle], and that is, strangely enough, about a famous colleague-painter whom nobody would associate with politics: Almost fifty years after the year of the Cardinal Principles, people with common sense take care to keep a safe distance from that abyss, unlike certain brothers and sisters in art, who like to accuse them of having become 'rightist', a political position that is known to be insufferable.
We were talking about it the other day, he and I, at a richly laden table, sipping a conservative Bordeaux, how ridiculous it is for us, apologists of human rights and humanitarianism, with some leftist extremists Anyway, I am digressing, even though digressing is the only way to get to the point, at least in my case. Death, that sniper, stands in between her and him, and all that remains are stories to slow time down, because Ach, und im demselben Flusse Schwimmst du nicht zum zweitenmal Ah, and in the same river You don't swim a second time as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe says on one of the first pages of the collection.
Jan knew the old scoundrel, already in his eighties, had chased a fifteen-year-old baroness there. Sometimes it even offers consolation, albeit briefly: De melancholie van het orgasme duurt hooguit 10 seconden terwijl het grommende varken dertig minuten lang van zijn hoogtepunt geniet The melancholy of orgasm lasts 10 seconds at most while the grunting pig enjoys its climax thirty minutes long That is what it says in Prediker [Ecclesiastes], a verse about that book of the Bible admired by Jan Vanriet.
Indeed, even though faith does not escape his scepticism, he does not join in the childish lamenting of his peers about the wickedness of the average cleric in your childhood, who would, by definition and out of sheer lust for power, feel your pecker, etc. It is no coincidence that he described John as 'a wonderful text' when he suggested making the book. Friendship Melancholy and memories: A bit of self-mockery.
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A glass of something. Friendship that is like-mindedness, because as he says in Over de methode [On the method]: Onze vriendschap is geen piramidespel Our friendship is not a pyramid scam Yet having said all this, having stressed the melancholy, the final poem Iconoclasme reminds me of the critical sense with which Vanriet talks about all ideology, not just that of his childhood.
In that final poem about our present, filled with terrifying religiosity, he says: Wij kijken omhoog smeken de afwezige om een aanwijzing: This poet does not just happen to call on the sad, sarcastic Jew Joseph Roth to be his witness. Love, loss, identity and destiny are the themes that alternate and complement each other in his compositions, which focus exclusively on his family history and on World War II.
But the story I am telling is about who I am. I cannot keep away from that" is how Vanriet defines his own work. His is a road spangled with images, repeated to clear the cobwebs from his own fading memory, using various media and in any thematic variations imaginable. The show's epicentre, The Music Boy, is in fact a quadriptych representing the painter's grandmother and his uncle his mother's twin brother as a child, playing the accordion, before the war. His family history reveals itself to the spectator as a book of memories sprinkled with actual, universal themes such as the shortcomings of this world, rampant with inhumanity, corruption and abuses of power.
These memories of a childhood transport us to a new, contemporary way of describing the world. Stephen Snoddy was born in Northern Ireland in He graduated as a painter at the Belfast College of Art, but put his brushes aside four years later to pursue a career as director of various important museums in Great-Britain.
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But in , his mother presented him with a sketch book dating to , featuring monotypes of his own paintings This rediscovery elated him and he felt the urge to experience once again the intensity that had motivated his creativity of old He is currently showing an impressive series of paintings at Roberto Polo Gallery, each of which questions space and architecture in the same abstract mode that he practised 35 years ago.
Playfully toying with colours, fresh, impressive colours, Snoddy plows the field that is his pictorial surface, creating perspectives, drawing lines that give onto a third dimension. The shapes structuring his paintings are mysteriously evocative: Vertical and horizontal lines structure the painting. Some diagonal evokes a retreating view, invites the gaze to penetrate the image, to imagine it as a theatrical scene, a stage set, composed of several levels.
Here, behind a red zone, it seems another plane is hidden that is suggested by the vivid blue on top. There, a purple, applied in transparent layers, forms a wall that hides a barely guessed-at otherwhere. Stephen Snoddy's abstraction is, in fact Or a cinematographic one. It consists of cross-sections, views onto the courtyard and roads towards a landscape. Yes, colour and lines are capable of telling a story! These majestic, irradiant canvases exude elation, also — doubtless springing from his newly regained sheer joy of creation — a feeling of happiness to be choosing colours, to be experimenting with compositions.
This creative impulse is communicated to the spectator, this joy of creating, of inventing yet another composition, without fear, yet without deliberately attempting to do something completely new. A colour, a line. What to do with it. And it is magnificent. Two of his major musical models are John Cage and Morton Feldman. Vandevijvere paints abstract canvases like Feldman composes abstract music. He is looking for parallels between the two.
Traces of paint sometimes seem to emerge in his paintings like music notes, just like Feldman or John Cage also exploited coincidence. Nothing is perfect, the essence of the canvas lies in the imperfect, the unfinished. In his work, he wipes and erases, sometimes working from light to dark, but equally as often from dark to light; physical gestures are executed in lines, flows and spatters sometimes a canvas seems to have been exploded or electrocuted ; line may be placed on and across each other like in a game of Mikado; sometimes the cut-and-paste technique is used, the composition is reviewed, mistakes are put on the canvas on purpose.
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