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Monumento al camello - SGR Galería

Text: Jaime Cerón

Escultural installation at SGR

Throughout his creative process, Luciano Denver has examined the way heterogeneous conceptions of modernity materialize in Latin American cities. For this reason, he has reviewed the ways in which both architecture and urbanism have been produced in specific areas. In this way, he has analyzed the specific motivations that have combined both public and private interests to make decisions that have defined how life is generated in these cities based on modernity.

To carry out his work, he has delved into the visuality of each of these cities, materializing them in "photographic situations" that arise from research on the visual collections that have marked their history. The term "visuality" has been described as both the visual dimension of the social and the social dimension of the visual, which is precisely one of the fronts where his investigations converge. The photographic situations he produces can take the form of "conventional" photographs, delimited to a self-contained space, or they can become installations where they interact with the architecture itself.

Regarding the project "Monument to the Camel," the starting point is the city of Havana and one of the most emblematic means of transportation in Cuba during the euphemistically called "Special Period." The Cuban government proposed a mass transportation system called "Metrobús," which sought to combine the benefits of the two means of transportation alluded to in its name. However, it was a hybrid between a truck, used for transporting goods, and the bodies of three buses. To make this coupling possible, the compartment where passengers traveled had a whimsical morphology that the population likened to a camel. It was colloquially known as "the Saturday night movie" because it contained "sex, violence, and adult language."

Luciano Denver is intrigued by the way the name given by the citizens ends up being institutionalized, showing a transfer of power from the vertical sphere of the state to the horizontal space of civil society. However, the state's acceptance of this renaming may be related to a certain condescension of the "Special Period," during which the official rhetoric aimed to portray each Cuban as a hero for their ability to withstand the extreme hardship of daily life on the island during the 1990s. This period began to take shape after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet bloc, characterized by Fidel Castro's repeated exhortations to the Cubans to live with less.

When examining 20th-century artistic practices in relation to the ideological contexts in which they emerged, there is a fiction that the capitalist world was characterized by freedom, while the socialist context was marked by equality. This led to the popularization of the notion of "socialist realism" in the West to refer to art created in Eastern countries, characterized as propaganda reflecting their ideological background. However, as scholars like Tobey Clark have pointed out in his emblematic book "Art and Propaganda in the 20th Century," "socialist realism" is countered by "capitalist realism," which is based on the exaggeration of the characteristics of the free market in capitalism, where various forms of expressionism emerged with slight variations throughout the 20th century.

In this context, Denver is interested in the rhetoric present in the grand public monuments created in socialist countries, but viewed from an angle that coincided with the turn of the century, allowing him to focus on the other end of political power occupied by the citizens.

The "Monument to the Camel" emerges from the latent Soviet visuality on a Caribbean island, envisioning how a public transportation system brought together antagonistic and practically irreconcilable cultural and political conceptions when transplanting an ideological model without cultural translation into a completely different context from every perspective. As Luciano Denver couldn't photograph these vehicles during his research trip to Cuba in 2017, as they no longer existed, he had to reconstruct from his own sources what this system was during that particular period it operated, with its routes mimicking the layout of the never-built Havana Metro, which partly ended up giving the system its official name.

Due to all of the above, the photographic constructions that make up the project "Monument to the Camel" involve strategies of appropriation, projection, and invention to restore the imaginary that shapes the visuality of that transportation system in relation to all the traces that still persist of Soviet visuality in Cuba. Therefore, there are both documents and fictions combined, including a hypothetical brutalist monument placed in an emblematic location in Havana.


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