In nearby boroughs, some houses lay actually heaped upon one another, destroyed and fused together by the strength of Hurricane Sandy, so Carlos Garaicoa’s two images on view at New York’s IFPDA Print Fair in early November seemed not only familiar but alarmingly of the moment. In one, Acumulación / Accumulation, a mound of houses is at once falling and rising. The structures are collapsing, yet growing out of one another, making it difficult to decide if the ladders are escape plans, or in fact a way to enter in. In the other, Mi última palabra / My Last Word, a man showers, the blood-red spray filling the shower to the man’s chin, flooding the space around him.
Of course, the roots of these prints lie not in storm-ravaged New York City but in Havana, Cuba, the inspiration for much of Garaicoa’s multi-media work, which examines urban life largely through the lens of architecture, planning, decay and rebirth. Despite this local geographical focus, Garaicoa’s aim is universal. These two prints are unmoored from architectural specificity, inhabiting general contradictions of public and private that are familiar territory for Garaicoa.
A recent exhibition of the artist’s work at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum included architectural models, paper sculptures, light boxes, altered photographs and cut-tape drawings done on rubber cutting mats. The last comprised the second half of a two-part work, The Word Transformed (2009)—two of the seven drawings were chosen by Garaicoa to realize in print at USF’s Graphicstudio. The images were made as screenprints on self-healing cutting mats, a common material in an artist’s studio. Printer Matthew Squires explained that the material does not absorb ink like uncoated paper, so the ink sits on the surface mimicking the slight elevation of tape. This effect is enhanced by the gloss of the ink—Squires tested many before finding the one that best evoked that of the original packing tape used. The crisp, raised edges of the lines are visible but so is the pre-printed grid of the cutting mat underneath, and the conspicuousness of the materials returns the viewer to the artist’s studio. The melodrama of the two narratives is contradicted by the methodical grid and extreme smoothness of their surfaces.
The Word Transformed is in part about billboards in Havana, both real and imagined by the artist. Garaicoa has an ongoing interest in claiming public places like empty government billboards and revising them, imagining new texts and imbuing them with personal meaning. Garaicoa’s cut-tape drawings were laid out on worktables; some were imagined designs for billboards, but all speak to what USF curator Noel Smith describes as “the freedom of the artist to stand at the worktable, follow his inspiration in the moment and create directly and impulsively on a material such as the artist’s cutting mat.”1
- Email correspondence with the author.