|Eduardo Ponjuán. National Prize of Plastic Arts, 2013
|Eduardo Ponjuán or the Cubanship silent keys
By: Héctor Antón Castillo
When the Virgilio Piñera´s theater play De lo ridículo a lo sublime no hay más que un paso o Las escapatorias de Laura y Oscar, one of its characters says that “I have it in the tip of my tongue”, the immediate solution is to repeat the common place of a well-known popular phrase. But a more quiet reflection on the tragicomic slogan, allows to notice the presence of an eternal human drama. It is to say, that instant in which about to reach the culmination we were perplexes, with the mind gone blank, being already too late for making the light. Then, there is not another alternative than giving a space to chance and to delirium, in order to improvise later a praise to the lost memory which ease to find again the missing way... Such as it happens in the case of Borges in “Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote” or Duchamp with his ready-made, such attitude satisfy the desire of creating the already created as if it were the first time.
Back to the origin.
Eduardo Ponjuán González (Pinar del Río, 1956) is not another of those typical examples of precocious vocation. But such as it has happened to many, he arrived to art just by chance. Despite the fact that in his visual practice he did not give importance to chance, it outlines as a first paradox. As times went by, this casual outcome will be a factor of unique influence in the conformation of his artisitic thought.. As his closest accomplices say, one of his youth expectations was to become a first rank boxer, ambition which lasted until the day when he was severely hit in his chin by a bantamweight from whose name he does not want to remember.
Although having changed quite soon his gloves and punching-bag for bristolboards and paintbrushes, his passing through life has always been a struggle. There is nothing more than to exchange just a few words with him to sense how many hurdles he has to avoid in order to fully enjoy the tragedy of knowledge. It looks like that since he was aware of that state close to unconsciousness caused by a technical KO in the ring, he wanted to know more and more, although he soon was convinced that it is impossible to quit, just for a while, the vast universe of human ignorance.
Some time later, the access to art schools arrived, that factor linked to the Cuban Revolution process considered decissive in the push of the so-call Revival of the Contemporary Cuban Art.. In these years, Ponjuán was so privileged of being Pedro Pablo Oliva´s pupil, as well as unlucky of getting a lapidary evaluation by Maestro Julio Girona, who categorically warned him: “Following that way you are going to nowhere”. Notwithstanding, between the National School of Art and the Higher Studies Art Institute he could watch Juan Francisco Elso Padilla painting as Gustav Klimt and appreciate Leandro Soto, Gustavo Pérez- Monzón and Tomás Sánchez in their artisitic work
The beginning of an aim
In 1986, when “Arte Calle” group was also created, joining to the existence of others such as como “Puré”, René Francisco Rodríguez and Eduardo Ponjuán decided to join their strenghts in order to undertake a joint-work. As it was expected, his expectations were spinning around the new paths followed by Cuban art after the signal announced by “Volumen Uno” ("Volme One"). Starting from discussion as a creative way of work, René and Ponjuán proposed themselves a way of making which brings together a great part of their personal obsessions not ruling out the cultural, social and political hurly-burly in force during those years.
They intended to critically dialogue with the Cuban, foreign and time codes, in order to satirically re-elaborate them, not quitting the traditional depicting canons. They were basically after the search of an ideology as art and the way of understanding art as ideology. By making use of patterns from socialist realism iconography, aimed to highligth the state nomenclature, René and Ponjuán manipulate slogans, emblems, utopies of art and from hegemonic levels, to deconstruct those stories which agree to become part of History, expecting to make true a definitive exclange of roles, some day.
More that the intertextual easiness and the organic mine de appropriations, what characterized the proposal was his narrtive strategy. Indeed !, his aim was centered in placing in a sort of between that allow them to ironically speech on the predominant mediations in the dualities scene between avant-gardé policy and artisitic avant-gardé, ideology and history, tradition and contemporaneity. From this position, generally keeping an ambiguity image, the darts of their comments were aimed, both, against the current utopias foundations from the so-called True Socialism, as well as its competitive ideological antagonists who were in favour of its vanishing.
On the other hand, the link with one of the worthiest poets of their generation such as Ángel Escobar, meant and intellectual opening which gave them the possibility to evade the siege frecuently limited in the literary- cognoscitive level of our visual practice.
Paraphrasing a maxim from the ideological plataform of the Cuban Revolution, they wanted to hoist that of : “within art, everything, against art, nothing”.
Paradoxically, the conclussion of this common work meant the beginning of a new path for both creators, who from then on, had to learn to individually discuss and define the purpose of their respective personal projects. It is translated as so much facing up art tradition, there was no other way out that going back to the principle of the artist struggling against himself in the loneliness of his workshop.
The longest journey.
After having dissolved the duet, the transition experienced in Eduardo Ponjuán´s poetic work is remarkable. First of all, that obsession for aproaching the insularity theme from the inside-outside duality. The intention of establishing a difference as regards that recreation so literal and reiterative in the 1990´s artistic production, appealing to the National Symbols of Cuba to illustrate the insular drama. is proved here. Moreover the sociological imperative decreases and a personal strength is stressed…
Despite of that coming-back to introspection, a certain coldness is kept, maybe fearing to fall in that sentimental intimism, whose reception implies to consume an identical dose of identification with and distancing. Placing in a neutral point to the irreverence of the 1980´s and the caution of the 1990´s, the artist transforms himself into his own island. Then he feels the necessity to make public everything which was still captive between the silence of the retrieved time and the noise of the memory spaces, for that reason he had to face that complex of agony before the impossibility of embracing the world and the knowledge, maybe the most unexplored zone of that mistery that, among new absurds and old certainties, many insist on name : The Cuban thing in itself.
Follower of the legacy of considering art not so much a question of appearance as of mental operation, Ponjuán´s work is recognized in the premise kept by John Cage of conceving the world, the real thing, not as an object but as a process. This concede to his artifacts a shade, a paradoxically ghostly shade. Nobody could be sure about their function amidst the tense equilibrium settled between esence and appearence.
To sum up, the transitions detected within the evolution of this poetic work, lean more to the search of reconciling oppsites, than to the premise of confusing the spectator. Probably here lies the motive whcih brough about that the creator has drawn closer together to Eastern philosophy, mainly Zen Buddhism. All these would greatly justify that obsession for establishing an armonic counterpoint between sensation and concept.
The inscription of texts on the pictorial surface is one of the constantly present resources within the poetic of this maker. These can be conformed in series of numbers, letters, names or verses. But the same are not reproduced with the aim of being visually interpreted, but as koanes that the spectator must get to its bottom.
The paradoxical of this plastic equation is that far from providing an useful and precise information fot beginner´s consumption, what it does is to add another difficulty to that problem which can mean the reading of the simplest of the texts, In these cases, what comes after the apparent paradox becomes that pillow topic in Ponjuán´s work which is knowledge.. The fact is that the esence of these counterpositions between the word an the icon, the cult and the popular, the factual and the intellectual, consist on giving to the action of getting to the bottom of the category of eternal reflection, trying to playing down importance to the means or aims used to express this worry.
If we consider that time is another of his obsessions, it would not be going a little too far to conclude that Eduardo Ponjuán´s work is as a great Koan, embracing tiny koans waiting for an answer, both inside and outside time and space.
To become aware of death of art and life union is almost proportional to the unconscious gesture of arranging a date in the most paradoxical and symbolic of the landscapes. In that instant where nothing is and everything is, intending to fulminate, by just one blow, the last stronghold of utopia, goes by this artist´silent investigation. What remains invariable is his reticence to exploit the presumably suitable resources to dismantle a whole frame of identity complexes, where the intimate and the collective, the abstract and the concrete are melted. Only that Eduardo Ponjuán does not seem to be ready to openly show his entrance and exit keys to that labyrinth of misterious essences and apparent revelations, where so many efforts coincide tantos desvelos for linking a precise and definitive notion of the Cuban thing in itself..
(Excerpts from: Antón, Héctor. Eduardo Ponjuán o las claves silentes de lo cubano. In: La Gaceta de Cuba. Havana, July- August 2004. P. 32- 35)