Cuban art at the beginning of the 21st century ventures forth into a territory in which the distances between craft and experimentation, market and ideology are not easily perceived. Amid this ambiguity the work of Glenda León appears with a poetics reminiscent of the yoga maxim “Live as if everything were important.” Such a stance situates her in a slippery and indeterminate space. Postconceptual and postminimal art form the backdrop for León’s constructions within the international art discourse: she approaches reality by going beyond appearances in the manner of those who reject absolutisms. What she makes evident to us are those simple things that envelop us, slipping in between memories and oblivion, choices and destiny.
This mute and modest trajectory, devoid of both constructive claim and formal complexity, has turned León into a narrator for whom objects are described by their own determinations. Their surroundings mingle with and invert their meanings. This is the case with the substitutes she appropriates from daily life and places out of context: artificial flowers next to natural ones; used bars of soap with hair decorating them like fine drawings; masticated bubble gum stretched out on cardboard panels. The title of the last work, Chewed Ideas, provides a play on words suggesting the weighty philosophical categories—time, eternity, the moment, oblivion—that also characterize other works and put viewers in a state of alert. A 2000 performance consisted of planting in sand six hundred natural flowers and one artificial one, warning us of the frailty of the natural when transferred to an unsuitable terrain.
For ordinary Cubans the photograph Extension of Desire—an “anthology” piece, according to Gerardo Mosquera, the most provocative Cuban critic and curator—has many meanings. Ten feet wide and less than three inches high, the image shows people standing in line in front of the largest ice-cream parlor in Havana. For all its synthesized expressiveness, it’s also a call for an aesthetic that aims at minimal objectivity. A collector once asked León if the piece could be cut, for the frame seems to contain an infinite sequence. “Impossible,” she said. The piece is inseparable; the work’s aim becomes manifest in its internal repetition.
Indeed, León’s installations, interventions, video works, photographs, and drawings make up a diverse oeuvre whose best feature is a sequential style that underscores the insistence with which nature and man-made products merge, approaching continuity. This evidences León’s persistence in processes, in similarities, in the immense power of detail.
Her strongest works leap from the intimate to the public, highlighting their power of penetration and exchange. In 2001 León went so far as to adhere tiny natural flowers to the lenses of eyeglasses. The title of the piece is Temporal Relief; the rest is left to the viewer’s imagination.
Translated from the Spanish by Mónica de la Torre.
—Magaly Espinosa is president of the critical theory division of the Asociación de Artistas Plásticos, Union Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba.