Dagoberto Rodríguez

Los Emblemas (interview)
Jérôme Sans

What is the meaning of Los Emblemas series as a whole? 

In conjunction, the emblems contain two completely different ways of seeing the world in one single object. These two points of view of reality come together in Cuba, but they are totally antagonistic. The first one (the American cars), is related to the growth of consumer products that have been sublimated to categories which are almost religious. The second one is a collection of words which have been most often spoken in Cuba, or by its revolution, over the past 60 years. 

How long did you work on this project, how did you proceed? 

The project began two years ago, with the death of Fidel. Western newspapers had their eye on Cuba again. The majority of his speeches were published online, so I revisited them in order to find a hierarchy within the words. The words that Fidel said most frequently are the same words that the revolution has used most in political propaganda. The whole staging of the “revolutionary gospel” has had a mistaken typography based on the typography “Impact”, which is the most used in Cuban media. However, if we are going to be consistent with the time in which Cuban revolutionary philosophy was crystalized, we would have to borrow from other sources that were more popular at the time, such as the Art Deco typography of North American cars.

Can you explain the relationship between art deco style and Cuba? The art deco style comes directly from France. The Americans then intensively appropriated this iconic style. And finally, the art deco style has been assimilated by Cuban culture, while many French were present in Cuba in those years. Why did you choose to take inspiration from the art deco style for your typography and can you explain this progressive assimilation of a distinctive style in such different cultures and contexts? 

Art Deco and Art Nouveau arrived late to Cuba, such as the Bacardi building, 1930. At the time, Cuba was in the midst of a revolution against the dictator Machado. For the first time, a united front was created that brought together the Left and the Communists. The rise and development of Art Deco and Art Nouveau in Cuban culture coincided with the spread of leftist ideas in Cuba. One must keep in mind that in the year 1940, a new constitution was formed for the republic and the Communist party (PSP) was legalized. This set of ideas which helped shape Cuban Socialism was formed in a period of national Art Deco and Art Nouveau postulates, which is the typography of North American cars at the end of 1940-1959.

How do you conceive the coherence of this series facing all of your work? To which works do you connect it in particular? 

This series stems from an interest in the language of consumer products; the idea that any object is a vessel of a message that goes further than just its use. Our past work has always been very object-based, with text playing a background role. The text in this in case however, constitutes 50% of the meaning of the work. 3 

How did you come to this selection of 12 slogans, from what source of information precisely? 

The revolution has many other words. I only chose the 12 words that Fidel used most to give the project a biblical connotation; that of the 12 apostles who spread the word of Jesus. The revolution used this theme a lot after the first battle with the government of Batista, when only 12 combatants were left next to Fidel in the mountains. 

Can you list these twelve words in the order of the hierarchy you have made? 

1. People 

2. Revolution 

3. Democracy 

4. Worm 

5. Enemy 

6. Inustice 

7. Betrayal 

8. We will defeat 

9. Homeland or death 

10. Counterevolution 

11. Problems 

12. Work

Can you explain more precisely how do you proceed to make this hierarchy, with which kind of historic sources? Is it an exact process or more an interpretation? 

A Cuban newspaper conducted a study on the words most used by Fidel in his speeches from 1958 until 2008. The word most spoken by Fidel in all of his discourses was the word “People”. I selected the 12 primary words, however there were many more. 

Why did you choose the number 12 for the number of sentences and slogans most often 

spoken of the Cuban revolution? 

The number 12 has a biblical significance: it was the 12 apostles that disseminated Christianity. In the “revolutionary epic” the number 12 is important as there were 12 combatants who survived the first combat against the dictatorship of Batista in the “Alegria de Pio” 5/Dec/1956 battle. 

What is your relationship to these expressions, how do you interpret them? What do they 

express as a whole? 

Cuba is not a rich country; the Cuban revolution was not in a country with large economic resources. The Cuban revolution was made, and continues to be carried out, with words. Words have historically been the revolutionary active principle. Those words spoken by its most important leaders have changed the course of developments in Cuba, they have decided the politics and they have marked the lives of Cubans during all these years. Cubans have a special relationship with the “words of the revolution”, because not only do they carry a message of identity, but they also constitute a moral guide which society supposedly runs on.

Why did you choose the car brand model to translate these slogans? How do you connect 

these two elements in your work? 

The car models that were selected range from the end of the 40s until late 1959. The Castro regime is a conjunction of leftist ideas mixed with nationalism. These ideas started forming in this same period of time. My work is related to artisanal work as a symbolic source of value. The cars fabricated during this period, although they were fruits of a great industrial process, somewhat retain a sense of being “unique pieces”. 

Do you consider it more as sculptural or as graphic work? 

The emblems are more graphic works. 

How do you explain that Cuba is the last country fascinated by this type of car of the 50s, true icons of America’s consumption society, even though the relations between Cuba and the United States have long been very stormy? They come from the United States but Cubans cannot get rid of them as much as they are intimate with these objects. 

This is the great paradox of this project: an authentically North American product that survived in an ideologically hostile and anti-North-American world. More than that, North American cars in Cuba are more typically Cuban than the artisan is Mexican for Mexico. The Cuban revolution did not provide a defined aesthetic identity. What occurred in Eastern Europe did not transpire in Cuba: where Socialist Realism filled the museums and plazas. The case of the North American cars is simply a visual error of the revolution. A conversation about North American cars in Cuba is always a conversation about liberty.

Does the car still represent the revolution in Cuba today? 

Yankee cars represent Cuba in that Cuba’s social project is delayed and impossible, both in time and technologically, it is almost a failed utopia. These cars were never nationalized like other property expropriated by the revolution. Cuba stopped importing cars in the early 60’s. During the revolution the majority of cars came from the Soviet Union, but these socialist cars could not be sold or purchased in the same way as antique North American cars. These vintage cars therefore turned into a refuge from the free enterprise and the free market. Vintage cars became an expression of individualism in a collectivist country.

Why car represent freedom in a country where you are not allowed to circulate freely outside? 

American cars are the last stronghold of privae property in Cuba. For years they could be sold and bought, and also reformed. Having a vintage car in Cuba is like having a piece of freedom.

Cars are normally for the West, like bubble for individuals and their relatives, while in Cuba, cars like taxis are collective. Can you explain this contradiction? 

Although they are collective cars, in Cuba American cars are still an expression of individualism.

What fascinates you so much in these cars? They are flamboyant, pampered, customized. They seem to be really the emblem of Cuba and at the same time they relate their relationship with the outside world. Does not their presence reflect a part of archaeology of a past world? 

The most fascinating thing about these cars is that they suggest a lifestyle where the past is part of the present. The emblems project will also include furniture and objects such as refrigerators. In a general sense, these recreate the atmosphere of past-present that Cuba has been living in over the past 60 years. It is an archaeological work; however, the slogans and cars also define Cuba’s present.

These cars have gone through so many DIY, repair and transformation phases that they no longer match the original version. Do you think we can consider that they have become simulacra of the original model? 

Not really. The biggest transformations to American cars occurred in the engines, keeping the rest of the car intact. In Cuba there is a whole industry dedicated to recycling modern engines in order to use them on vintage North American chassis. However, these interventions are not as invasive as one would think. Generally, the owners of North American cars practice “reconstructive archeology” with a standard that is very close to the original.


Objects are eternal in Cuba, since the West doesn’t exist, objects have no limits of life. There are always remixed. Do you think it is a model of ecology to fight against consumerism and planned obsolescence? 

Consumerism does not exist in Cuba in the same way that we are used to seeing in Europe. In Cuba, we have recycling and it is common for someone young to be fascinated by a vintage North American car with the technology of a Toyota. The interesting thing about this is that an idea which is completely novel and modern looks out of place and contaminated. At the same time, lack of development has obligated us to establish some different parameters which could also be valid and “modern”, very close to the parameters of recycling and Western modernity. For example, in Europe it is increasingly unpopular to own a car because it contaminates the environment.

These cars are always customized, and tinkered. In your works, you often hijack and transform things. Is that why you have retained this mode of artistic expression? 

Yes, the emblems are also customized. They have all been fabricated from zero based on archives, using 3D printers. They all measure 70cm, the originals are slightly smaller. 

Can you tell us about this work and its relation to the culture of the city, to the urban world? 

The project is related to the city in terms of recycling. The process of symbolic recycling that an artist performs is a daily process of life in Cuba. It should be highlighted that Cuba is not at all a country with a consumer culture. On the contrary, we have an extensive culture of recycling, all objects are recycled. The lifetime of anything in Cuba is eternal, objects are repurposed constantly, even buildings. 

How would you like to present the piece as a whole? Have you imagined scenography? 

As I said before, the project includes furniture and objects from daily life such as refrigerators etc. It is a great scenography where repurposed objects are mixed with the philosophies of the revolution.


How did you proceed to make this series? You drew the emblems and then you made them realize with a specialized craftsman? Have you collaborated with other people? 

Yes, the work is made from a computer drawing. Bearing in mind that everything needs to be fabricated from scratch, the type of text has to be reconstructed. The typography of American cars no longer exists, so from the existing texts I have reconstructed the letters of each of the logos. The drawings are made into objects by a 3D printer. After, the piece is cast in bronze, then copper and chrome plated. Finally, it is painted if applicable. It is a collaboration where many disciplines intervene.

Have you done yourself the typographic work? Each piece has a different typography. 

Yes, the typographies have been constructed with the old logos in mind, each emblem has a different kind of text. For the longer texts Cadillac’s typography has been used.

What place do words and forms have in this series. How do you think of their interrelation? 

Yes, they are related. The V symbol signified that the car’s motor had 8 pistons in a V shape (all a symbol of power at the time). It is present in many of the phrases as a demonstration of political power and horsepower. It also makes reference to speed. The word “betrayal” appears associated with the symbol of the planet of Oldsmobile, this is also repeated in the case of “we will defeat” and ‘enemies’. The combinations can vary infinitely.

Do you prefer to talk about replicas or pastiches of emblems in your series? What is the relationship to the notion of originality? 

The emblems are inverted “ready mades”. They have been fabricated from scratch, which makes them originals, however they have a narrative which is completely separate to the notion of originality. In a way, this is similar to what the revolution has done for years: “erase and retell”.

For the Injusticia tiembla you associate the slogan to an Indian head, why? 

“La injusticia tiembla” is just a fragment of a longer phrase that Fidel said at the funeral of the victims of the bombing of a Cuban aircraft in Barbados in 1976. The complete phrase is: “When an energetic and virile people cries, injustice trembles”. The attack in Barbados was part of the cold war, the conflict between Cuba and the revolutionaries in Miami. It has always been said that the bombing was organized and implemented by Luis Posada Carriles. The Pontiac logo also has its story, it recalls the conflict between Europeans and Native Americans. Pontiac is the name of the Ottawa leader that faced the British in 1763. 

What were your sources of graphic inspiration precisely to draw this series, in particular? 

The inspiration for this series was the almost-lost world of American cars; the history of these cars and their relationship with Cuba.

It is possible to perceive in your work a DIY strategy, as if you were trying to remix the codes and forms of modernity. What do you think? 

In a way yes. All of my work is an invitation to do it yourself (although many times I do not make it myself). The works are an invitation to become involved and make it a part of your home, to actively participate.

How do you imagine continuing this series? 

The series should continue and include many consumer goods from the 50’s that still function. It is a work that is dedicated to resistance and memory. It also should include furniture that in some way retains the standards of commodity and glamour of the period. It is a project that can develop through design as the source of the narrative.

Does it mark an evolution in your work? 

Definitely, it is not exactly a look to the future, but it is a way of finding answers and identities through investigating the past.

Does your series present the new emblems of a past revolution that you seek to endow with a graphic design or are they the emblems of today's revolution? 

It is fascinating because Cuba is a country that lives in the past, the present does not exist and nor does the future.

Do you think revolution in Cuba is over or still has a meaning? 

It is difficult to separate Cuba from its revolution. The revolution, or what is left of it, still carries weight in the lives of Cubans. 

Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez (interview)
Jérôme Sans

JS: How would you describe your work?

DR: My work is like a cultural survival manual to be used in critical situations. Specifically, the Turbine project creates a landscape using and recycling airplane turbines. This turbine landscape is made up of turbines in different positions; some are half-buried in the floor, others are standing upright. The project is called “Castaways” and is a critical view. A critical view of dreams, a dream that humanity historically has of flying. This is a sort of apocalyptic vision of this dream and wish. 

Mi trabajo es como un manual de supervivencia cultural en situaciones criticas. Específicamente, este trabajo de las turbinas es un proyecto que trata de hacer un landscape usando y reciclando turbinas de avión. Este paisaje con turbinas no necesariamente describe varias posiciones de las turbinas: algunas van semi-enterradas algunas van paradas. El proyecto se llama 'Náufragos' y es una visión critica obviamente. Una visión critica del sueño, un sueño tan antiguo de la humanidad que es volar y es un poco una visión apocalíptica de este sueño y este deseo.

JS: What is your background?

DR: I was born in Cuba and trained with an academic background based on the Socialist education system of Eastern Europe. My education was Marxist. My training was orientated not so much to be an independent artist that lives from his art, but more like a sort of teacher. I was not taught to exhibit in galleries, I was taught the tools I would need in order to later reteach my learnings back to society, to be a teacher. At one point in my career I had to decide if I wanted to dedicate myself to teaching art, or to dedicate myself to symbolic production. I chose the path of narration. 

Yo nací en Cuba. Formado con una formación académica basada en los sistemas educativos socialistas de Europa del Este. Mi educación es Marxista, mi formación esta orientada a ser no tanto como un artista independiente que vive de su arte, si no mas bien como una especie de activista. A mi me enseñaron para que algún día yo devolviera a la sociedad esa educación.

My education is Marxist, my formation is orientated not so much to be an independent artist that lives from his art, but like a sort of activist, I was taught that one day I should give back that education to society. Yo no fui formado para exponer en galerías. Me enseñaron para tener las herramientas para enseñar posteriormente, para ser profesor. En algún punto de mi carrera tuve que tomar la decisión de si quería dedicarme a la enseñanza del arte, o si quería dedicarme a una producción simbólica. Yo elegí el camino de narración. 

JS: You were born in Cuba. In which environment did you grow up and were you’re encouraged to become an artist?

DR: Yes, the state put a huge emphasis on cultural programs in remote regions. For example, the formation of the theatrical group Escambray (1968) is significant. It was an initiative for theatre to reach rural areas.  

I grew up in a socialist environment. My father was a Communist militant. He would always refer to his party membership card as “the red, where is the red?” every time he misplaced it. I enrolled in art school from a young age. Art schools were marginally more liberal, however the school programs would still always include Marxism classes. There was one class in particular that would repeat at high school and at university. It was called “scientific communism”, which was something like the science fiction of communism. My education was very politicized, every class would begin with all the students saying “art is a weapon of the revolution”.  

Si, el estado puso mucho énfasis en programas culturales en regiones apartadas. Es significativo la creación del grupo de teatro Escambray (1968), una iniciativa para llevar teatro a zonas rurales.

Yo crecí en un ambiente socialista. Mi padre era militante comunista. Siempre se refería a su carnet del partido como, “el rojo, donde esta el rojo?” cada vez que lo extraviaba. Ingresé en las escuelas de arte desde pequeño, el ambiente en las escuelas de arte era ligeramente mas liberal, pero los programas de clase siempre incluían clases de Marxismo. Había una clase en particular que se repetía en la escuela media y la enseñanza superior. Se llamaba “comunismo científico”, era algo así como la ciencia ficción del comunismo. Mi enseñanza era muy politizada, cada clase empezaba con todos los estudiantes diciendo “el arte es un arma de la revolución”. 

JS: You currently live between Cuba and Madrid. How do you experience living between two cultures and different countries? Do you consider yourself as a nomadic artist?

DR: Latin American identities have evolved, and today immigration has become part of our identity. We carry on being Cuban even when living in separate geographies.

Yes, I do consider myself a nomadic artist. The characteristics of my career and work have not allowed me to stay in the same place. Throughout my career I would say that I have had 4 big moves in respect to where my studios have been based. My first studio was in La Habana, then in Los Angeles. I worked in New York for a while, and then Brazil where I spent a lot of time. I then moved to Spain which is where I have spent the most amount of time away from Cuba. All of these moves have always been done with one foot remaining in Cuba, it has always been the place that I´ve come from and where I´ve returned to. My practice is nomadic. One of the works that I worked on back in 2000 was a city of tents, and it related to this topic. It is not so much that I move between different cultures, but the relocations within my career have been searches to find parts of my culture in foreign ones. Finding what might be compatible with my culture in different places. One of the things I have discovered during my career has been the similarities between Brazilian and Cuban fine art. I discovered this link whilst working in Brazil – the connection between concrete Brazilian artists and the Cuban vanguard with the painting tradition of the 50´s and 60´s in Cuba. In Los Angeles the Latin heritage of the city also influenced my work in the way that I organize my narrative. Spain is one of the countries that comes closest to Cuba. They are very connected and there is a strong cultural synergy between both countries. Cuba was the last province to separate from Spain in 1898, so we have a huge amount of cultural similarities despite being completely separate geographically. Every time I travel I try to find my heritage in different environments, how my culture interacts with others, always looking for similarities. When I speak of heritage I am not talking about frijoles and rice, but about something deeper, a system of thought. 

Las identidades latinoamericanas han evolucionado, ahora la emigración es parte de nuestra identidad, seguimos siendo cubanos o chilenos inclusive viviendo en otras latitudes.

Si. Yo pienso que las características de mi carrera y mi trabajo me han obligado a no estar establecido en un solo sitio. He tenido en mi carrera digamos 3 o 4 grandes movimientos en lo que han estado mis estudios. Primero en La Habana, después tuve estudio en Los Ángeles, en Nueva York estuvimos trabajando un tiempo, después en Brasil hemos pasado mucho tiempo, y después aquí en España que es donde mas tiempo he estado fuera de Cuba. Todos estos movimientos siempre se han hecho con el otro pie en La Habana. Siempre ha sido el lugar de donde parto y donde regreso. Yo pienso que mi practica es nómada. Una de las obras que hice hace muchos años era una ciudad de tiendas de campaña y tenia que ver con este tema, se hizo en el año 2000. No es que yo me haya movido entre diferentes culturas, los desplazamientos de mi carrera han ido buscando lo que hay de mi cultura en culturas foráneas. Lo que puede ser compatible con mi cultura, pero en otros lugares. Uno de los grandes descubrimientos en mi carrera ha sido la cercanía del arte brasilero con el arte cubano. Descubrí este link trabajando en Brasil, la conexión con todos los artistas brasileros concretos con la vanguardia en Cuba, con la tradición de la pintura que se hizo en Cuba en los años 50 y 60. Asimismo, en LA toda la herencia latina de la ciudad de alguna manera influyo mi trabajo en como organizar mi narrativa. España es uno de los países mas cercanos que una persona viniendo de Cuba puede tener. Esta muy conectado, hay una especie de sinergia cultural entre los dos países, Cuba fue la ultima provincia en separarse de España en 1898, así que tenemos una cercanía cultural a pesar de que son países que están en posiciones geográficas completamente diferentes. Cada vez que he viajado, he tratado de encontrar mi herencia en otros escenarios, como mi cultura interactúa con otras, siempre busco similitudes casi nunca he tenido que vivir en lugares hostiles a mi herencia. Cuando hablo de herencia no estoy hablando solo de arroz con frijoles, si no de algo mas profundo, hablo de un sistema de pensamiento.  

JS: What did you learn from your years of collaborative practice under the name of Los Carpinteros?

DR: Los Carpinteros were a team of artists formed at university. After we graduated we continued to work together. Rather than a collective, Los Carpinteros was a school where we have learnt from one another for over 26 years. Over many years of collaboration, we established a methodology based on the interpretation of the “other”. This teaching and direction is something that I continue to explore in my work.

Los Carpinteros fue un equipo de arte formado en una universidad. Se acabó la Universidad pero nosotros lo continuamos. Así que Los Carpinteros, mas que una colaboración, ha sido una escuela donde hemos ido aprendiendo unos de otros durante 26 años. Durante tantos años de colaboración establecimos una metodología de trabajo basada en la interpretación del “otro”, esta enseñanza y esta dirección la sigo explorando en mi trabajo actual.

JS: How do you feel starting a solo career after having been working for many years as a duo?

DR: I do not consider myself as working on my own, I continue to work in a team. Visual art isn’t made by one person alone. I believed this when I worked in Los Carpinteros and I continue to believe it now that I am working as an individual artist. Visual arts are a product of someone surrounded by people, it’s a work of immense collaboration between different disciplines. Working in Madrid has allowed me to collaborate with many more disciplines. Today the studio interacts with many different things that in some way contribute to and intervene with the production of my work.

JS: Your sculptures and installations present objects that seem to be human, staged in gestures or anthropomorphic positions. What do you learn from the objects?

DR: My work is a kind of translation and at the same time an experiment in how we react to the environment in which our life develops. I say that it is an experiment because many of the works, at first, are inspired by a kind of practical solution that later has philosophical and symbolic connotations. Most of the pieces give the impression of being designed to solve practical problems, but in reality, they are talking about how symbolic a person's functionality and daily life can be. I am very interested in how to record the daily life I lead, to explain myself through objects.

JS: Your work seems to seek or dream of perfect architectures, utopian or impossible, inspired by the modernist aesthetic. What is your relationship with architecture and design?

DR: In my childhood and youth I live with a constant lack of space and material things. Even today this type of shortage is experienced and import levels are still very low. This fact has determined that my country has been one of the places where everything is most heavily recycled and where there is great fascination with gadgets. In my case, I have always been fascinated by gadgets because I have never had them, for me it has always been something new. The same goes for architecture. In the last half century in Cuba practically nothing has been built. They are constructions that have been redesigned for functionality, but in which the space remains the same. The fact of not having new buildings has conditioned a kind of fascination with the space where life goes on and for the interior design of these spaces that is palpable in my work.

JS: Do you consider your work conceptual?

DR: My work is metaphorical and symbolic, however the metaphors often have a profound conceptual value.

Mi trabajo es metafórico y simbólico pero las metáforas muchas veces tienen un profundo valor conceptual.

JS: How do you link your work with revolutionary history of Cuba?

DR: My work is critical of the revolution. At some point in my life, I felt that the whole process was a farce, especially after 1989, however more generally my work is critical of reality.

Mi trabajo es critico con la revolución, en algún punto de mi vida, sentí que el proceso era toda una farsa, sobre todo después del año 1989, pero mi trabajo en sentido general es critico con la realidad.


JS: Do you think your work is political?

DR: Yes, my work is political. I come from a tradition where artists form part of the public sphere, where they participate in the formation of daily public life. I believe that politics, like any discipline of knowledge or social exercise, affects us. The work of an intellectual is always critical and in some way, all works of art are political. I don’t believe that any artwork is 100% innocent of politics. I do not see it like that, from my point of view it is very difficult to think apolitically, even when creating the most abstract of works. The political opinions of artists should be considered and have a weight in society. My art is political because I am part of this system and I also have a role. Commenting on politics is not just something I do whilst watching television when I feel like it, rather it is part of my role as an artist. 

Si, mi trabajo también es político. Vengo de una tradición done los artistas son parte de la esfera publica; donde participan en la formación de la vida publica a diario. Siempre yo pienso que de la política, como cualquier disciplina del conocimiento, como cualquier ejercicio social, nos afecta. El trabajo de un intelectual siempre es critico, y todas las obras de alguna manera son políticas. Yo no creo que ninguna obra es 100% inocente de política. Yo no lo veo así, y visto desde mi punto de vista es muy difícil tener un pensamiento apolítico en mi trabajo, aunque sea la obra mas abstracta que pueda hacer. Las opiniones políticas de los artistas de alguna manera son tenidas en cuenta y tienen un peso en la sociedad. Entonces si, mi trabajo es muy político porque soy parte de ese engranaje y tengo ese rol también. Opinar sobre política no es solamente algo que yo hago mirando la televisión porque me apetece, si no es algo que es parte de mi función como artista.


JS: Is there a social value of art according to you?

DR: Yes, I believe that an artist has a great social responsibility to think of the world that they live in and to share those thoughts in some way. I do not think that art is capable of changing a government, however it is capable of generating a state of opinion about a government. My mission as an artist is to set up “poetic stages”, my work is a form of “poetic activism”.

Si, yo pienso que un artista tiene una inmensa responsabilidad social de alguna manera pensar el mundo en que vive y que esos pensamientos sean compartidos. Yo pienso que el arte no es capaz de cambiar un gobierno, pero es capaz de generar un estado de opinión sobre un gobierno. Mi misión como artista es plantear “escenarios poéticos”, mi trabajo es una especie de “activismo poético”.


JS: Why do you use most often everyday objects in your works? Do you want your sculpture to become functional or not?

DR: For me, the arsenal of objects that we interact with every day has a huge potential for symbolic narrative. The daily objects we relate to change with time. My works from the early 90s are completely different to the works that I am producing now, despite all being based on the same idea of narrating life through the objects that surround us. Everyday objects are an inexhaustible source of inspiration and ideas and I often use them in my work. Many of the objects that I produce can be functional, however their narrative function always comes before their inherent function. The function of art is cognoscitive.

A mi me parece que el arsenal de objetos con el que uno interactúa diariamente tiene un potencial enorme de simbología y de narrativa. Además, los objetos con los que uno se relaciona van cambiando con el tiempo. Las obras mías de los principios de los años 90, han cambiado completamente a obras que yo produzco ahora, estando basadas todas en la misma idea de narrar la vida a través de los objetos que uno se rodea. Los objetos son una fuente inagotable de inspiración e ideas y los uso mucho en mi trabajo. Muchos objetos que yo produzco pueden ser funcionales, pero siempre la función narrativa va por delante de la funcionalidad. La función del arte es cognoscitiva.

JS: You are using a wide variety of material like concrete, wood, fruits, airplanes, furniture, video, LEGOs. Are these materials a way of artistic exploration or conceptualization? How do you select them during the process of the work?

DR: I choose materials depending on the story that I am telling. In this context, architecture is also an object, capable of generating a language.

Escojo los objetos en dependencia de la historia que este contando, en este contexto la arquitectura también es un objeto, capaz de generar lenguaje y narración

JS: What role does drawing and the use of watercolor play in your artistic approach?

DR: It is the first step of an effort to translate reality in my work. Each time that I produce a watercolor in the studio, I am trying to introduce an idea. A watercolor is an invitation to collaborate. Not just that, but it is the foundation to start building a new idea. The first seed of a tree which later grows. They are also a thematic archive. 

Es el primer paso en mi trabajo de un esfuerzo de traducción de la realidad. Cada vez que se hace una acuarela en el estudio, estoy tratando de introducir un tema. Una acuarela es una especie de invitación a colaborar. No solo eso, si no es la primera piedra para empezar a desarrollar una nueva idea. La primera semilla de un árbol que después crece. Las acuarelas son un archivo temático.


JS: What is the importance of craftsmanship and know-how in your artistic process?

DR: Fabricating things yourself is an extremely powerful narrative tool. Not just that, but it is a lesson of survival. It is as if you find yourself on an island and you need to develop a new language or system of signs for yourself, that is a vision that has stayed with me. I think it is inherited from my Cuban background. Cuba is an isolated country where there has been little technological progress. In Cuba we live a kind of Robinson Crusoe syndrome where you have to make everything for yourself. If you don´t have a canvas, you must paint on the wall; it is a mentality of substitution that obligates you to find solutions. I believe that this is essential for an artist because one does not always have the resources or the time to produce all of their dreams. Making art is, in a way, the making of dreams. Doing things for yourself is part of the performance and part of my artistic training. It is part of my language and it always has been.

Fabricar las cosas por uno mismo es una herramienta narrativa tremendamente poderosa, pero no solo eso, es una lección de supervivencia. Como si cayeras en una isla y tienes que desarrollar un lenguaje o un sistema de signos por ti mismo, a mi no me abandona esa visión. Yo creo que es una herencia de mi background de vivir en Cuba. Cuba es un país aislado donde no ha habido gran progreso tecnológico. De alguna manera en Cuba vivimos una especie de síndrome de Robinson Crusoe, tienes que fabricártelo todo por ti mismo. Si no hay un lienzo tienes que pintar en una pared. Es una mentalidad de sustitución que te obliga a buscar soluciones. Yo pienso que es esencial en un artista porque uno no siempre tiene los recursos ni el tiempo para producir todos los sueños que tiene. Hacer arte es de alguna manera hacer sueños. Hacerlo por uno mismo es parte del performance y de mi formación como artista. Es parte de mi lenguaje y siempre lo ha sido.


JS: Can you explain the idea behind your Turbines project?

DR: The plane turbines are a metaphor for what we have become as a society. Turbines have enabled us to shorten distances, they are a symbol of the technological progress we have achieved in the past years. They have made life more agile, faster, and they have brought us closer both in time and space from one place to another. The turbine is almost a magical object, an atheist God of aluminum. We have a need to travel that can only be satisfied by an object like this one, and in this sense they are objects of adoration. At the same time, it is a “devouring” object by excellence, a disproportionate object of consumption. The turbine is a great metaphor of the voracity of our culture. I wish to create a landscape full of turbines, an explanade where the turbine come out of the ground, a small collection of plane turbines, similar to historic collections of butterflies.

Las turbinas de avión es una gran metáfora de en lo que nos hemos convertido como sociedad. Las turbinas nos han hecho acortar las distancias, siendo un símbolo de progreso tecnológico alcanzado en los últimos años. Han hecho la vida mucho mas ágil, mas rápida, y nos han acercado mas rápidamente en tiempo y el espacio de un lugar a otro. La turbina es casi un objeto mágico, un dios ateo de aluminio. Nuestra necesidad de desplazarnos solo puede ser satisfecha con este objeto como este, en este sentido son objetos de adoración. Al mismo tiempo es un objeto “devorador” por excelencia, un objeto de consumo desmesurado. Es una gran metáfora de la voracidad de nuestra cultura. Quiero elaborar un paisaje lleno de turbinas, una explanada de donde salen turbinas de la tierra, una pequeña colección de turbinas de avión, como las antiguas colecciones de mariposas.


JS: Other of your projects included planes as the primary material of the work. Why such a fascination for aeronautics or aviation? What does it represent for you?

DR: The turbines are objects of adoration and fascination, but at the same time they are destructive. In the past, I have also had a fascination with fire, an ancient fascination of man which is also present in my work. Flying has always seemed almost impossible to me. For Cubans, living on such an isolated island, a plane is like a bridge taking you from one place to another, an escape window. Therefore, for a Cuban, a person with tremendous isolation, a turbine signifies emancipation. This goes much further than simply enjoying travelling. It is a cure, it has a therapeutic effect and is a remedy for isolation.

Las turbinas son objetos de adoración y fascinación, pero al mismo tiempo son objetos destructivos, funcionan de las dos maneras, como dije antes En el pasado también he tenido fascinación con el fuego, que es una fascinación muy antigua del hombre y también esta bien presente en mi trabajo. Volar a mi siempre me ha parecido algo casi imposible. Para los cubanos , viviendo en una isla tan aislada, un avión es un puente para llegar a otro lugar, una ventana de escape. Una turbina para un cubano, una persona con una insularidad tremenda, tiene todo un significado emancipador que va mas allá del hecho del placer de viajar. Significa una cura, tiene un efecto balsámico y sanador al aislamiento.


JS: Your works sometimes highlighted structures for practical use—transport, housing, security, in forms that should be functional but which are not. Why did you choose to express the idea of dysfunction, infectivity and inutility?

DR: What interests me is telling a story, narrating a tale that I convey with the objects that I have chosen for that story. My works are like chapters of a book. A narrative is the difference between an everyday object and an art object. Design is a discipline that has tried to align itself so much with art that sometimes it appears to be art, but in the end it does not tell a story because its principle aim is to be functional. I believe that one of the most significant differences between art and design is precisely the narrative character of art.

Lo que a mi me interesa es contar una historia, narrar una especie de cuento con los objetos que yo elijo para esa historia. Mis trabajos son como capítulos de una novela donde estoy contando algo. La narrativa es lo que hace la diferencia entre un objeto cualquiera y un objeto de arte. El diseño es una disciplina que ha tratado de acercarse tanto al arte que parece arte, pero al final no es capaz articular un cuento, porque tiene la finalidad de ser útil. Yo creo que una de las diferencias mas significativas que tiene el arte con el diseño es precisamente el carácter narrativo que tiene el arte.

JS: What do you think of globalization, displacement and boarders?

DR: We live in a period of extreme mobility and of disappearing frontiers, yet a fear of the “other” still exists, a fear of the unknown. Millions of people cohabit in large cities, yet they never manage to mix completely. Even though the world has become a much more comfortable place than it was 20 years ago in technological terms, thanks to cellphones, internet etc., we have not gained in terms of interaction. On the contrary, we relate to each other worse than before. In the 80s and the beginning of the 90s it was strange to see someone with a cellphone, but today that is impossible. When I speak about this period it is because these were my years of formation as an artist, the years when I established my first art proposal. My training was completely analogue and as a consequence my work process continues to be a bit analogue. Having to travel from one place to another for work raises a huge conflict of identity. My practice as an artist has always been subjected to this tension. Although I often go back to Cuba, my studio is now in Madrid and I feel as though I live in two places at once. My mission as an artist attempts to preserve or protect my identity in some way, (an identity which is not 100% Cuban or Spanish). In this sense, my artistic process works as a cultural bunker, a defense mechanism put in place to preserve my identity.

Vivimos en una época de movilidad extrema, donde las fronteras desaparecen, aunque no desaparece el miedo al otro, el miedo al extraño. En las grandes ciudades conviven millones de personas que no llegan a mezclarse completamente y aunque el mundo se ha convertido en un lugar mucho mas cómodo de lo que era hace 20 años, en términos de tecnología, gracias a la telefonía móvil, internet etc, no hemos ganado en interacción, por el contrario, nos relacionamos peor que antes. En los 80´s y a principios de los 90´s era muy raro ver a alguien con un móvil. Ahora es imposible y cuando hablo de ese periodo lo digo porque fueron mis años de formación como artista, los años que establecí mi primera propuesta de arte, mi formación fue completamente analógica y por consecuencia mi proceso de trabajo sigue siendo un poco analógico, el hecho de tener que trasladarme a trabajar de un lugar a otro me provoca siempre un conflicto de identidad tremendo, mi practica de arte esta siempre sometida a esta tensión de identidad también, aunque sigo regresando mucho a Cuba, mi estudio ahora esta en Madrid, me siento que vivo en dos lugares diferentes al mismo tiempo, mi misión como artista se trata de alguna forma de preservar o proteger mi identidad ( una identidad que no es 100% cubana ni 100% española). En este sentido mi proceso artístico funciona como un bunker cultural, un mecanismo de defensa, un sistema de autoayuda, puesto en función de preservar mi identidad. 

JS: Utopia and dystopia are two main themes of your works. How do you consider these concepts?

DR: I come from a failed utopia which is the famous socialist camp where I was raised. 20 years ago, we thought that the political and social future would be socialist, a communist society, an equal society, or at least that both of these systems would exist forever.

This world collapsed in the year 1989. During this time, I was a student and full of questions. Little by little I began moving into a different failed utopia, that of occidental capitalism (I´m not sure if it can be called a utopia).

These concepts are always present in my work. The disenchantment with failed socialism and an occident that is also incapable of successfully responding to the individual. In this sceptic scene my solution is aesthetic; an art that proposes collaboration is both my personal and professional solution.

Yo vengo de una utopía fracasada que es el famoso campo socialista donde me forme.

Hace 20 años pensábamos que el movimiento del futuro político y social se iba a comportar de la manera socialista, dentro de los términos de una sociedad comunista, una sociedad equitativa o por lo menos que seguirían existiendo los dos sistemas para siempre.

Este mundo colapso en el año 89, en esa época estaba en mi periodo de formación, era estudiante y estaba lleno de preguntas. Poco a poco me fui metiendo en otra utopía fracasada que es el capitalismo occidental (no se si se puede llamar utopía).

Estos conceptos siempre gravitan en mi trabajo. El desencanto por el fracaso socialista y el desencanto de un occidente que tampoco es capaz de responder eficazmente al individuo. En este escenario escéptico mi solución es estética, un arte que propone colaboración, es mi solución personal y profesional.     

JS: How do you perceive the attempts of socialist regimes in Cuba?

DR: The socialist revolution in Cuba has not resolved the fundamental problems of the Cuban nation. Cuba was born as a nation in 1902 with a great closeness to the United States (a position as beneficiary as it was prejudicial). Cuban politics has been marked by this setting of love and hate for its neighbor since its foundation. There has always been a group that look to hold back relationships with the United States, and another group that looks to strengthen them. Currently, the state of power in Cuba tends to feel distrust towards its neighbor. This nurtures an internal conflict with the United States that will continue for many years to come.

On the other hand, the leftist orientation of education in Cuba has cleared all political trends with a different profile. This makes me think that in the long term, Cuba as a nation doesn’t have many options; political or economic. We always have art in order to exercise alternative thoughts. What artists do is incredibly important because the arena of art is pluralistic and daring, and is currently the only valid critical project still in play.

La revolución socialista en Cuba no ha resuelto los problemas fundacionales de la nación Cubana. Cuba nace como nación en 1902 con una cercanía muy grande a los Estados Unidos, (una circunstancia tan beneficiosa como perjudicial), La política cubana desde su fundación ha estado marcada por este escenario de amor y odio al vecino. Siempre han existido dos grupos que se orientan en un caso a restringir estas relaciones con Estados Unidos, y otro grupo que aspira a ampliarlas. En el poder del estado cubano actual, la tendencia es a mirar con desconfianza al vecino. Esto acarrea un conflicto eterno con los Estados Unidos que seguirá latente por muchos años mas.

Por otra parte, la orientación de izquierda de la educación cubana ha liquidado cualquier tendencia política con un perfil diferente. Lo que me hace pensar que los cubanos como nación no tenemos muchas opciones ni políticas ni económicas en el largo plazo. Siempre nos queda el arte para ejercitar un pensamiento alternativo, es tremendamente importante lo que hacemos los artistas porque la escena de arte es plural y atrevida, y ejerce el único proyecto critico valido de momento.

JS: Do you imagine collaborations with other artists, thinkers, writers or creators in a near future?

DR: My work was and is a work of collaboration. When I stopped collaborating with my partner in 2016, that did not mean that I closed the doors to collaboration. I see visual arts as an exceedingly collaborative discipline. Artistic production nowadays is unthinkable without collaboration. In fact, I have continued to collaborate. For example, with the Cuban playwright Abel Gonzalez Melo on the documentary play “Out of the Game”, dedicated to the censored Cuban writer Heberto Padilla in the 70s. I have also collaborated this year with the Majorcan composer Joan Valent on the album cover of his new record “Poetic Logbook”. I cannot conceive artistic creation without collaboration and this collaboration is open to other disciplines.  

Mi trabajo fue y es un trabajo de colaboración, cuando yo deje de colaborar con mi compañero en 2016, eso no significó que yo cerré las puertas a la colaboración. Yo pienso en las artes visuales como una disciplina eminentemente colaborativa. Es impensable hoy en día la producción artística sin colaboración. De hecho, yo he seguido colaborando, con el escritor y dramaturgo Cubano Abel Gonzalez Melo, en la obra de teatro documental : “Fuera del Juego”, dedicada al escritor Cubano censurado en los años 70, Heberto Padilla. También he colaborado este año con el músico mallorquín Joan Valent en la portada de su nuevo álbum “Poetic Logbook”. He diseñado

básicamente, yo no pienso la creación artística sin colaboración. Esta colaboración sigue abierta a otros tipos de disciplinas.

JS: What does the title Racing the Galaxy means for you?

DR: For me, Racing the Galaxy sounds like a cosmic race where we are competing to see who will get to Mars or the moon first. However, my galaxy is here on Earth. When I think of Racing the Galaxy, I want to reach a galaxy that is within terrestrial parameters, within a terrestrial social culture. For me, we are Racing the Galaxy to a better place, another place which is not outside, but here and now. It means reaching something tonight. Something like what Kundera said: “becoming a rock, a rock where the universe falls, like fresh rain”.

Para mi, Racing the Galaxy suena a una carrera espacial en la cual estamos haciendo la competencia a ver quien llega primero a Marte o la Luna.

Pero mi galaxia esta acá en la tierra. Cuando pienso Racing the Galaxy , creo alcanzar una galaxia que esta dentro de los parámetros terrestres, dentro de la cultura social terrestre. Para mi es un Racing the Galaxy, a un lugar mejor, otro lugar que no esta fuera, esta aquí mismo, ahora mismo. Significa alcanzar algo esta noche. Algo así como lo que decía Kundera: “convertirse en recipiente de piedra, donde cae el universo, como una lluvia fresca”.


JS: What is your next dream?

DR: My next dream is to write a book about my father. He was a keen astronomer. 

Mi próximo sueño es escribir un libro sobre mi padre. Era astrónomo aficionado.

JS: What is your Eldorado?

DR: My “Eldorado” would be a place where technology and the environment work in conjunction. A place where everything, absolutely everything, is recyclable. Technology should also work to democratize society, not a political party or ideology. 

Mi “El dorado” sería un lugar donde la tecnología y el medio ambiente se coordinen. Un lugar donde todo, absolutamente todo es reciclable. La tecnología debería democratizar la sociedad, no un partido político o ninguna ideología. 

Desde distopía hasta utopía
Jérôme Sans

Los Emblemas de la Relación entre Cuba y los Estados Unidos

Puesto en marcha poco después de la muerte de Fidel Castro el 25 noviembre, 2016, en La Habana, la serie Los Emblemas explora en toda su complejidad y dualidad la noción del emblema, bajo el prisma de la realidad histórica, social y política cubana. Como una metáfora de la relación entre la Cuba revolucionaria y los Estados Unidos, Los Emblemas forman un conjunto cohesivo de obras graficas parodiando los logos de los coches norteamericanos de los 1940s hasta 1959, un eco vibrante de un mundo casi desaparecido cuyos últimos vestigios de existencia aun permanecen en Cuba. El amor de Cuba por los autos estadounidense se expresa en el mantenimiento y la supervivencia de estos vehículos pasados de moda gracias al ingenio de artesanos locales. Desde 1959, Fidel Castro ha prohibido la importación de vehículos extranjeros a Cuba o piezas mecánicas para repararlos, una manifestación del embargo de los Estados Unidos. Cuba ha desarrollado así una cultura única e insular, marcada por una gran creatividad. En lugar del famoso lema que acompaña al logotipo de cualquier marca de automóvil, conecta los valores y la identidad de la compañía, el artista a elegido colocar réplicas de logotipos de automóviles, asociándolos con las doce palabras más citadas de la Revolución Cubana. Esta colección de palabras esta plasmada en un suntuoso conjunto de tipografías populares que el artista ha reformado y que llegaron a constituir el significado de la obra. El significado paradójico resultante causa un juego de palabras visual real. Reflejando un fuerte antagonismo entre dos visiones del mundo contenidas en un solo objeto, cada emblema ofrece un punto de vista dual sobre la realidad conflictiva que ha pasado por la sociedad cubana en los últimos sesenta años. 

Initiated shortly after Fidel Castro's death on November 25, 2016, in La Habana, the series Los Emblemas explores in all its complexity and its duality the notion of the emblem, under the prism of the Cuban historic, social and political reality. Metaphor of the relationship between revolutionary Cuba and the United States, Los Emblemas forms a cohesive ensemble of graphic works parodying logos of American cars from the 1940s until 1959, a vibrating echo of an almost disappeared world whose last traces of existence still remain in Cuba. Cuba's love for American cars expressed itself in the maintenance and survival of these old-fashioned vehicles thanks to ingenuity of local artisans. Since 1959, Fidel Castro has prohibited the importation of foreign vehicles to Cuba or mechanical pieces to repair them, a manifestation of the United States’ embargo. Cuba has thus developed a unique and island culture, marked by great creativity. Instead of the famous motto that accompanies the logo of any car brand and connects the values and identity of the firm, the artist has chosen to place fake replicas of car logos by associating them with the twelve most quoted words of the Cuban Revolution. This collection of words is embodied in a rich set of popular typographies reworked by the artist, who came to constitute the meaning of the work. The resulting paradoxical meaning causes a real visual word game. Reflecting a strong antagonism between two visions of the world contained in a single object, each emblem offers a dual point of view on the conflicting reality that has passed through Cuban society in the last sixty years.

Matriz Histórica de Los Emblemas: Un Enredo de Significados

Dagoberto Rodríguez inspeccionó noticias de la prensa y el estallido de los periódicos occidentales que miraron de nuevo a Cuba después de la muerte de Fidel Castro. En este momento, la mayoría de los discursos del dictador fueron publicados en línea. El artista, imitando la postura de archivista, se sumergió en estos discursos para trazar una jerarquía de las palabras más habladas durante la revolución. Notó que las palabras de Fidel Castro eran las más utilizadas al mismo tiempo en la propaganda revolucionaria. Fascinado por las imágenes de este “Evangélico Revolucionario”, extraído erróneamente de la tipografía de Impact, originalmente utilizado por los medios de comunicación cubanos, extendió su investigación tipográfica por medio de varias fuentes populares para traducir la filosofía revolucionaria cubana, cristalizada en estos documentos de archivo y en el diseño de los años cincuenta. De esta forma, Rodríguez sacó a luz la icónica tipografía Art Deco. Un estilo icónico del periodo de entreguerras nacido en Paris y extendido rápidamente a los Estados Unidos, el estilo Art Deco apareció en 1930 en Cuba a través de edificios históricos como el edificio Bacardi, iglesias y hoteles de la época colonial construidos hasta la revolución en La Habana. Desplegándose en todas las áreas de las artes visuales, arquitectura, diseño y tipografía, este movimiento estético fue apropiado por la cultura cubana con una influencia puramente local afrocubana bajo Batista como una declaración política de “modernidad”.

Dagoberto Rodríguez had examined press news and the burst of Western newspapers that once again watched Cuba after the death of Fidel Castro. At this time, most of the dictator's speeches were published online. The artist, mimicking the posture of the archivist, plunged into these discourses to draw up a hierarchy of the words the most often spoken during the revolution. He noticed that the words stated by Fidel Castro were the ones at the same time the most used in the revolutionary propaganda. Fascinated by the imagery of this “Revolutionary Gospel”, mistakenly strung from the Impact typography, originally used by the Cuban media, he extended his typographic research by borrowing from various popular sources to translate the Cuban revolutionary philosophy, crystallized in these archival documents and the design of the 1950s. This is the way Rodriguez brought to light the iconic Art deco typography. Iconic style of the inter-war period born in Paris and quickly spread to the United States, the Art Deco style appeared in 1930 in Cuba through historic buildings like the Bacardi building, colonial-era churches and hotels built up until the revolution in La Habana. Unfolding in all areas of visual arts, architecture, design and typography, this aesthetic movement was appropriated by Cuban culture with a purely local Afro-Cuban influence under Batista as a political statement of “modernity”.

En cuanto a los autos estadounidenses, la impregnación del estilo Art Deco en el lenguaje arquitectónico y decorativo cubano demuestra la posición única de Cuba como la encrucijada de diferentes culturas y su capacidad para asimilar y mezclar estas influencias externas en un estilo fundamentalmente original gracias a las habilidades de arquitectos y artesanos cubanos. Los Emblemas es una historia de remixes. En cuanto los autos estadounidenses, la impregnación del estilo Art Deco en el lenguaje arquitectónico y decorativo cubano demuestra la posición única de Cuba como la encrucijada de distintas culturas, y su habilidad para asimilar y mezclar estas influencias externas en un estilo fundamentalmente original gracias a las habilidades de arquitectos y artesanos cubanos. Los Emblemas es una historia de remixes.

As for the American cars, the impregnation of the Art Deco style in Cuban architectural and decorative language attests Cuba's unique position as the crossroads of different cultures, and its ability to assimilate and to mix these external influences into a fundamentally original style thanks to the skills of Cuban architects and craftsmen. Los Emblemas is a history of remixes.

Dibujo por número 12

Drawing by number 12

Históricamente, la revolución cubana tuvo lugar en un clima de gran precariedad, en un país sin recursos económicos importantes. La revolución se hizo principalmente a través de las palabras. Rodríguez enfatiza la carga simbólica del lenguaje y su capacidad para convertirse en una verdadera arma revolucionaria. Pronunciadas por los líderes cubanos, han cambiado el rumbo de los acontecimientos en Cuba, afirmando la política de cumplimiento que definitivamente ha sacudido el destino del pueblo cubano. Además, al elegir solo doce palabras, codifica la serie Los Emblemas al superponer diferentes significados. La elección del número doce es una connotación bíblica, la de los doce apóstoles que difundieron el cristianismo. Rodríguez relaciona esta alusión religiosa con la narrativa histórica de la epopeya revolucionaria cubana que especuló intensamente sobre este tema bíblico al relacionarla con las figuras heroicas de los doce luchadores que sobrevivieron la primera lucha contra la dictadura de Batista durante la batalla de Alegría en Pío, el 5 de diciembre de 1956, junto a Fidel Castro. Más allá del hecho, el numero 12 es también un símbolo del orden cósmico, el numero del espacio y el tiempo. Se refiere a un tiempo infinito e inmutable, donde las cosas se repiten cíclicamente. El número 12 es una alusión a la división del tiempo. En 12 meses durante un año, en dos grupos de doce horas por día. También se refiere al número del zodiaco en diferentes cosmogonías.

Historically, the Cuban revolution took place in a climate of great precariousness, in a country devoid of important economic resources. The revolution was done primarily by and through words. Rodriguez emphasizes the symbolic charge of language and its ability to become a true revolutionary weapon. Pronounced by Cuban leaders, they have turned the tide of events in Cuba, asserting the enforcement policy that has definitely rocked the fate of the Cuban people. Moreover, by choosing only twelve words, he encodes Los Emblemas series by superposing different meanings. The choice of the number twelve is a biblical connotation, that of the twelve apostles who spread Christianity. Rodriguez relates this religious allusion to the historical narrative of the Cuban revolutionary epic that intensely speculated on this biblical theme by relating it to the heroic figures of the twelve fighters who survived the first fight against the dictatorship of Batista during the Alegria battle of Pio, on December 5, 1956, alongside Fidel Castro. Beyond the fact, the number 12 is also a symbol of cosmic order, the number of space and time. It refers to an infinite and immutable time, where things are repeated cyclically. The number 12 is an allusion to the division of time, in 12 months during one year, in two groups of twelve hours per day. It also refers to the number of zodiac signs in different cosmogonies.

Emblemas como arma política, emblemas del onsume

Emblems as political weapon, emblems of consumption

La mariz historica de Los Emblemas se trata en una perspectiva semántica que enfatiza las disonancias entre el significador y el significado a través de una extensa investigación sobre el lenguaje y la tipografía y a favor de operaciones lingüísticas confusas.

The historical matrix of Los Emblemas is treated in a semantic perspective that emphasizes the dissonances between the signifier and the signified through an extensive research on language and typography and in favor of confusing linguistic operations.

Etimológicamente, pero actualmente inusual, un emblema designa una obra de marquetería o mosaico. Este sentido original denota una asociación inmediata con la esfera artesanal, así como la dimensión decorativa y ornamental del emblema. Actualmente, el termino se refiere a “un símbolo visible que representa una idea abstracta”, asociado con un lema, que supone una conexión de ideas más o menos sensibles y un cierto sistema de valores. Inicialmente asociado con la insignia del poder – una connotación política obvia –, el emblema en la era del consumo se convierte en un soporte visible que realza públicamente la identidad de una marca, un símbolo de pertenencia social y un motivo decorativo. Sin embargo, el trabajo sobre la noción del emblema, que tiene la peculiaridad de asociar un significante a un significador, una palabra o un eslogan con una imagen, que lo incorpora, no es inofensivo. Jugando con las paradojas inherentes a la polisemia de esta noción, Rodríguez recrea imágenes verdaderas conceptuales con una fuerte carga simbólica, al confrontar valores antagónicos en un solo objeto. Por lo tanto, el símbolo V, que tiene lugar en la mayoría de los emblemas, se asoció originalmente con la forma del motor de 8 pistones de los autos estadounidenses, un símbolo de poder y fuerza. En Los Emblemas se convierte en una referencia al poder político. Detrás de cada signo, cada símbolo oculta un significado político mas profundo y mas paradójico.

Etymologically, but currently unusual, an emblem designates a work of marquetry or mosaic. This original sense denotes an immediate association with the craft sphere, as well as the decorative and ornamental dimension of the emblem. Currently, the term refers to “a visible symbol that represents an abstract idea”, associated with a motto, supposing a connection of more or less sensitive ideas and a certain system of values. Initially associated with the insignia of power – an obvious political connotation –, the emblem in the era of consumption becomes a visible support publicly enhancing the identity of a brand, a sign of social belonging and a decorative motif. Yet the work on the notion of the emblem, which has the peculiarity to associate a significant to a signifier, a word or a slogan with an image, which embodies it, has nothing harmless. Playing on the paradoxes inherent to the polysemy of this notion, Rodriguez recreates true conceptual images with a strong symbolic charge, by the confrontation in a single object of antagonistic values. Thus, the symbol V which unfolds in most emblems, was originally associated with the shape of the 8-piston engine of American cars, a symbol of power and strength. It becomes in Los Emblemas a reference to the political power. Behind each sign, each symbol conceals a deeper and more paradoxical political meaning.

Entre Propaganda y Publicidad

Between Propaganda and Advertising

Finalmente, al cuestionar la constitución del espacio mediático público y su sistema de valores a través de la asociación de las esferas de comercialización y consumo con la de política, nos demuestra que las estrategias de propaganda y medios están íntimamente vinculadas para obtener adhesión o para apoyar a deseos individuos. Las nociones de propaganda y comunicación se refieren a realidades de naturaleza similar, relacionadas con la difusión de información y las estrategias que la sustentan. El emblema se convirtió en un buque de representaciones culturales, sociales o políticas. Al fusionarse en un solo objeto, hibrido y dual por naturaleza, valores políticos y de mercado, se enfrenta a la identidad cubana desde un punto de vista cultural y político al sintetizar dos símbolos de la identidad cubana que son inherentemente antagónicos. Mientras que los autos estadounidenses, sintomáticos del crecimiento de los bienes de consumo se convirtieron en los iconos sagrados de la cultura cubana, revela la fascinación de los cubanos por un producto norteamericano. Las palabras de la Revolución cubana, una verdadera guía moral de la identidad cubana, se expresan en una forma radicalmente inapropiada, la de los logotipos de automóviles norteamericanos, mediante a la recreación de emblemas absurdos y antitéticos en la medida en que asocian valores a priori irreconciliables. Subvertidos por la irracionalidad, los logotipos se convirtieron en lemas en un juego sobre el valor lingüístico de la propaganda y la publicidad. El orden taxonómico de Los Emblemas pasa por alto la razón del espectador, perplejo por la falta de conciliación de estas obras encriptadas. Este enfoque original evoca al estructuralismo y su interés en las estructuras del lenguaje, así como el conceptualismo, parasitado por una carga política, vaciado de sus preocupaciones autorreferenciales a favor de una profunda reflexión sobre la sociedad, la ideología y los conflictos de poder.  

Finally, by questioning the constitution of the public media space and its system of values through the association of the marketing and consumption’s spheres with the one of politics, he proves to us that media and propaganda strategies are intimately linked to obtain adhesion or to support individual desire. The notions of propaganda and communication refer to realities of a similar nature, relating to the dissemination of information and the strategies that underlie it. The emblem became a vessel for cultural, social or political representations. By merging into a single object, hybrid and duel by nature, political and market values, he confronts Cuban identity from a cultural and political point of view by synthesizing two symbols of Cuban identity that are inherently antagonistic. While the American cars, symptomatic of the growth of consumer goods became the sacred icons of Cuban culture, he reveals the fascination of Cubans for a North American product. The words of the Cuban Revolution, a veritable moral guide of Cuban identity, are expressed in a radically inappropriate form, that of the North American car logos, by the recreation of absurd and antithetical emblems to the extent that they associate values a priori irreconcilable. Subverted by irrationality, logos became slogans in a game about the linguistic value of propaganda and advertising. The taxonomic order of Los Emblemas bypasses the viewer’s reason, perplexed by the irreconcilability of these encrypted works. This original approach evokes structuralism and its interest in the structures of language as well as conceptualism, parasitized by a political charge, emptied of its self-referential concerns in favor of a deep reflection on society, ideology and conflicts of power.

Re-imaginando la Identidad Visual de la Revolución Cubana

Reimagining Cuban Revolution's Visual Identity

Iconos de valor, los automóviles estadounidenses fueron el resultado de un gran proceso industrial, aunque siguen siendo “piezas únicas” para la sociedad cubana que las sigue personalizando. Estos autos sugieren un estilo de vida donde el pasado es parte del presente. Están asociados en la cultura cubana con la búsqueda de la libertad y definen un estilo de vida eral en un país donde la sociedad no puede circular libremente. Paradójicamente, la revolución cubana no buscó proporcionar una identidad estética definida, y nunca fue conocida por el trabajo de diseño industrial o gráfico, a diferencia del régimen soviético ruso imbuido del realismo socialista. Como para llenar este vacío en la historia, Rodríguez reinventa de una manera radicalmente critica, irónica y subversiva, el diseño de la vida cotidiana que podría haber generado esta revolución para apoyar una nueva forma de vida y el advenimiento de una nueva sociedad. Destaca “este error visual de la revolución cubana”, que no impidió el advenimiento de estos productos de lujo de América del Norte, en un clima ideológicamente hostil y antinorteamericano. Estos autos han sobrevivido como verdaderos icónicos culturales, típicamente cubanos. Al vincular conceptualmente los valores izquierdistas y nacionalistas del régimen franquista con el icono de la cultura estadounidense de la década de 1950, enfatizan las contradicciones históricas experimentadas por la cultura cubana. No limitándose a los autos de la revolución, la seria Los Emblemas se extenderá a los muebles y objetos de la vida cotidiana, a los bienes de consumo heredados de la década de 1950 que aún funcionan, incluyendo una serie de refrigeradoras. El desafío de Rodríguez es recrear, a traves de un trabajo en la frontera entre arte conceptual y diseño, este ambiente cubano tan especial donde se superponen el pasado y el presente, al mezclar la estética de estos objetos reutilizados con las ideas filosóficas heredadas de la revolución cubana.

Icons of value, Americans cars were the result of a great industrial process, although they remain to be “unique pieces” for Cuban society that continues to customized them. These cars suggest a lifestyle where the past is a part of the present. They are associated in the Cuban culture with the pursuit of the freedom and define a real lifestyle in a country where the society cannot circulate freely. Paradoxically, the Cuban revolution did not seek to provide a definite aesthetic identity, and was never known for industrial or graphic design work, unlike the Russian Soviet regime imbued with socialist realism. As if to fill this gap in history, Rodriguez reinvents in a radically critical, ironic and subversive manner the design of everyday life that could have generated this revolution to support a new way of life and the advent of a new society. He highlights “this visual error of the Cuban revolution”, which did not prevent the advent of these luxury products from North America, in an ideologically hostile and anti-North American climate. These cars have survived as real cultural icons, typically Cuban. By conceptually linking the leftist and nationalist values of the Franco regime's with the icon of American culture of the 1950s, they emphasize the historical contradictions experienced by Cuban culture. Not limited to cars of the revolution, Los Emblemas series will extend to furniture and objects of everyday life, to consumer goods inherited from the 1950s that still work today, including a series of refrigerators. The challenge of Rodriguez is to recreate, through a work on the border between conceptual art and design, this Cuban atmosphere so special where the past and the present are superimposed, by mixing the aesthetics of these reused objects with the philosophical ideas inherited from Cuban revolution.

Resistencia y Memoria: Un Tributo a la Práctica de Reciclaje Cubana

Resistance and Memory: A Tribute to Cuban Recycling Praxis

En las palabras de Rodríguez, Los Emblemas es un trabajo relacionado con la “resistencia y la memoria” que se desarrolla como parte de una narrativa basada en una reescritura de la historia del diseño. Al sumergirse en archivos, ha diseñado esta serie de emblemas de forma integral, inspirándose en tipografías heterogéneas y fuentes históricas, hibridando formas y actualizándolas en una serie de dibujos ejecutados en computadora y luego imprimiéndolas en 3D. Cada pieza está fundida en bronce, cobre y luego cromada, y algunas veces pintada. Este proceso de fabricación interdisciplinario refleja un cierto interés por la practica y el conocimiento de Rodríguez, quien continúa a reclamar el carácter eminentemente artesanal de su arte. Partiendo desde cero, construye paso a paso las piezas artesanales que acompañan todo el proceso de producción. La disponibilidad de materiales define el proceso de fabricación y las formas del objeto construido, hibridando tecnologías de baja y alta tecnología, fundiéndose armoniosamente con diversas habilidades artesanales. Se comprometió a resucitar la tipografía de autos estadounidenses que se había perdido, recreándola por completo, a partir de fuentes visuales y tipografías coherentes, jugando en este estado de confusión por una obra plástica de pastiche y réplica de un tiempo pasado, revelando la riqueza tipográfica estilística de este periodo de la historia. Si este trabajo pudiera calificarse a primera vista como arqueológico y obsoleto, el artista emprende un proceso real de actualización de los eslóganes en nuestro tiempo presente. Insiste en la práctica intensiva de reciclaje que caracteriza en profundidad la cultura cubana. El reciclaje es un proceso diario de la vida en Cuba que no tiene una cultura de consumo, sino que, por el contrario, una cultura extensa de reutilización, bricolaje, recuperación y transformación de objetos y edificios, reutilizada o reasignada constantemente, un fenómeno cuoys automóviles estadounidenses son la encarnación perfecta. En contraste con las estrategias neocapitalistas de obsolescencia planificada, el proceso de reciclaje simbólico por parte del artista contradice el paradigma consumista asociado con el occidente. Argumenta que en Cuba, todo es esencialmente eterno, mientras cuestiona la noción de originalidad y simulacro. Cuba es un ecosistema donde todo se recicla permanentemente. En cierto modo, Cuba ha desarrollado la ecología absoluta de un mundo que ya no arroja nada, sino que comenzaría a pensar que los objetos tienen una vida mas larga que en cualquier otro lugar. La falta de acceso a algunos productos alimenticios y la experiencia de escasez diaria de energía en Cuba explica en parte esta economía de reciclaje, improvisación y precariedad. Sin embargo, esta explicación parcialmente reductora esta subrayada más sutilmente por Rodríguez con los resortes de la ironía cuando estudia las fantasías no reconocidas asociadas con el consumo en la sociedad socialista cubana, sujetas a racionamiento y control extremo. Para Rodríguez, la artesanía es la fuente simbólica del valor del trabajo producido y el factor de reciclaje de la valoración del objeto y su sacralización al rango de una obra maestra.

In the words of Rodriguez, Los Emblemas is a work related to “resistance and memory” that unfolds as part of a narrative based on a rewriting of the history of design. Immersing into archives, he has designed this series of emblems integrally, inspiring from heterogeneous typographies and historical sources, hybridizing forms and updating them in a series of drawings executed on computer and then printing in 3D. Each piece is cast in bronze, copper then chromed, and sometimes painted. This interdisciplinary manufacturing process reflects a certain interest for the praxis and the know-how, by Rodriguez, who continue to claim the eminently artisanal character of their art. Starting from nothing, he builds step by step the artisanal pieces accompanying the entire production process. Material availability defines the manufacturing process and the shapes of the constructed object, hybridizing low-tech and high-tech technologies, harmoniously melt with various craft skills. He undertook to resuscitate the typography of American cars that had been lost by recreating it entirely, from coherent visual and typographical sources, playing on this state of confusion by a plastic work of pastiche and replica of a past time, revealing the stylistic typographical richness of this period of history. If this work could be qualified at first sight as archaeological and obsolete, the artist undertakes a real process of updating the slogans in our present time. He insists on the intensive practice of recycling which characterizes in depth the Cuban culture. Recycling is a daily process of life in Cuba that does not have a culture of consumption, but on the contrary an extensive culture of re-use, DIY, recovery and transformation of objects and buildings, constantly reused or reassigned, a phenomenon whose American cars are the perfect incarnation. In contrast to neocapitalist strategies of planned obsolescence, the process of symbolic recycling by the artist contradicts the consumerist paradigm associated with the West. He argues that in Cuba, everything is essentially eternal while questioning the notion of originality and simulacrum. Cuba is an ecosystem where everything is permanently recycled. In a way, Cuba has developed the absolute ecology of a world that no longer throws anything but that would begin to think that objects have a longer life than elsewhere. The lack of access to some food products, and the experience of daily energy shortages in Cuba partly explain this economy of recycling, improvisation and precariousness. However, this partially reductive explanation is underlined more subtly by Rodriguez with the springs of irony when he studies the unacknowledged fantasies associated with consumption in Cuban socialist society, subject to rationing and extreme control. For Rodriguez, craftsmanship is the symbolic source of the value of the work produced and recycling factor of the valuation of the object and its sacralization to the rank of a masterpiece.

Al trazar el camino de la contaminación del repertorio visual de Cuba en la década de 1960, el problema trans histórico propuesto por Rodríguez en Los Emblemas tiene lugar en el espacio público, a través de la confrontación de sistemas de valores representaciones, ideologías, modelos políticos y problemas sociales. La exploración arqueológica de los estratos textuales y mediáticos se convierte en una forma sin precedentes de excavar respuestas sobre la compleja identidad de Cuba. Emblemas de poder, poder para el pueblo.

By tracing the path of contamination of the visual repertory of Cuba in the 1960s, the trans- historical issue proposed by Rodriguez in Los Emblemas takes place in the public space, through the confrontation of value systems, representations, ideologies, political models and social issues. The archaeological exploration of the textual and media strata becomes an unprecedented way to excavate answers about the complex identity of Cuba. Emblems of power, power to the people.

Jérôme Sans