Exhibition by José Manuel Fors. National museum of Fine arts (Building of Cuban Art), Trocadero street between Monserrate and Zulueta, Old Havana. December 22, 2017 (inauguration)

A pike in Flanders

by: Corina Matamoros

It no longer seems to look at the hundreds of negatives, the thousands of small contacts who have built their photographic world and set up unique installations. Like someone who shakes the banquet tablecloth and strips it of its remains, he shakes the photos we had celebrated. And all his new landscaping has flown away: the dry leaves, the trees, the family letters, the faces of those close to him, the small objects, the intimate calligraphies. With drastic optical distance, it has drastically distanced that world in its space-time materiality, and has forced it to congregate far away, along with millions of other images and human contingencies of all kinds, as urgent by unavoidable gravitation. Beyond some horizon, that world has been coupled to an enormous and robust universe, made up of a history that weighs, frightens and sometimes alienates. From the small photo of two square centimeters that until today flooded his works, makes us glimpse now, as by telescope, the distant radiance of the sumun civilizatorio. Because all his photographs have gone to where the solemn palimpsest of culture stands. And from that watchtower, he watches and works.

He has raised the historical consciousness of culture on a standard. Modern, postmodern and ultras: they can now deny their freedom against the asphyxiation caused by tradition. Attention the super innovators, those who owe nothing to the past, the obsessed with the original, those who pass on everything, the anti-patrimonial, those allergic to museum dust: a pica has been set in Flanders.

It's true: that pica can bring some culteran disenchantment; a drop of boredom; the same pessimism that Susan Sontag saw in Lévi Strauss; distrust in the photographic task; dissatisfaction with a lot of art that is seen; lucidity. A little bit of anything can be.

The fact is that his gaze is installed on that sensibility, producing a small phase shift with the present, as happens to every contemporary. The flight towards the forceful genealogical weight of culture conquers him, offering him better horizons than the present. His alternative, however, has no symptom of conservative retreat but of a measured universalist perspective.
Now interpret things from a wide angle. Science, history, nature, man, literature and art, are broken down into open approaches (this morning we talked about biology, recycling, the anthropogenic question, again Lezama, Anselm Kiefer, literature as a hidden substrate in many works or how art is less new every day...). After the insolent urgency of youth, circumstances are warned with parsimony.

Flanders pica is all paper. With this irreplaceable material of high lineage, debtor of papyrus and parchments, the new works have been constructed. Of the photographs, only the sheets that carried them have remained. All paper: as a witness of the route of knowledge, as a crossing of the human, as a palimpsest.

In this particular Palimpsest, 1.4 cubic meters in volume, there are countless printed papers, there are fragments of books about other books, there is knowledge about knowledge, there is century after century. This monumental accumulation of edited pages speaks to us from the history of man, from the power of transmitted knowledge, from the phylogenetic thread that culture unceasingly threads together. And that summation raises a corpulence of strata, as the stones of an ancient fortress rise on the foundations of remote underlying constructions. The creator has erected a paper archaeology to incarnate the legacy that has made us who we are.

It takes months to look for books, to gather papers, to decide the layouts, to compare volumes, to balance the weight, to sustain a mountain of history. It is not known yet whether the floor of the museum will resist the overload of so much knowledge carried by this Palimpsesto! But it will be a definitive volume, magnetic, difficult to forget, like an enormous reservoir for living memory.

The patience of the working method is shown as an effective allegory, because collage and décollage weave without haste the encyclopaedic trajectory of culture in silky intermediate pauses. Each fraction, each paper film that has been glued and torn in this piece, brings its language, brings its thesaurus, shows its source code, its emotion, its time, its logic and its structure. Through each and every one of those fragments of aged paper we have come to the present. United as in a map of human experience and discernment, they extend like an ochre mantle oxidized by time. Their small layers are glued and superimposed, like the ridges of a sea that increases unstoppable with the flooding of the waters.

And perhaps as the physical embodiment of the artist's commitment to the human heritage, the spines of the books appear in Las prensas. Tight, almost imprisoned, they pulse with the metal of the artifact that oppresses them, in a contrast of apparently unbalanced materials. Going to his inclination for objects aged or glorified by old lustres, the creator literally ties, by means of the set of small presses, the representation of the encrypted knowledge in the dorsos of the books, thus underlining its hierarchy.

New perspectives have brought these new works. The author has travelled a path of more than thirty years in art. It comes from a resounding avant-garde that transformed the visual panorama of the Island at the end of the seventies. It comes from matter painting, from the unpublished installation of Hojarasca in 1979 and from its surprising Cumulations of 1983. He brought photography from installations to the field of photography, created a photographic memorabilia of the family and private environment, has zoomed in on thousands of tiny details of objects and natural environments that we had barely noticed, but today he has turned his gaze, has focused his lens to infinity and has put a pica in Flanders.