‘The Book of Waves’ will consist of three new bodies of work that investigate problematic external perceptions of the country as well as its internal representations.
Since leaving Cuba, Düsseldorf-based Hernández has actively engaged with the country, frequently exploring the ways in which socialist ideology denies or promotes an aesthetic or spiritual experience. The theme of nature and the histories of socialism and art will be brought together by the three bodies of work in the exhibition.
The first body of work, which lends its name to the exhibition, will comprise a set of paintings that all depict regular, diagrammatic waves. Hernández has designed a font in which each letter is represented by a wave and this font is then used to quote Fidel Castro on canvases of varying sizes. The quotations depicted have been taken from Castro’s landmark 1961 speech ‘Words to Intellectuals’, which included the famous phrase, ‘Inside the Revolution, everything; outside, nothing’. The early years of Castro’s rule spelled a period of increasing control of artistic life in Cuba and the most notable feature of Hernández’s font is that each of the characters looks the same. This means that the narrative and the artwork are translated into a repetitive image that cannot be ‘read’ except in painterly terms.
The wave works constitute a noticeably painterly attempt to devise new forms and this strategy will be applied on a much larger scale for a project at ArtBasel Unlimited in June 2015. Hernández has also written a text of his own in waves font, in which he writes ‘for the first time’ about the ‘90 miles between Cuba and Florida’ which are so ‘different from many others.’ This text, which will appear in the exhibition catalogue, therefore employs waves as both its form and its subject, addressing the isolation of Cuba.
The second body of work will consist of a series of fruit sculptures in which the skins of lemons are painted with international maritime signal flags. Abstract in their execution, these are visual codes whose meaning is not immediately readable to the viewer. These new works show Hernández’s fascination with raw materials and extend a preoccupation with the fruit motif recently seen in last year’s major solo exhibitions at Landesgalerie, Linz and Kunstverein, Nürnberg.
Fruit carries complicated associations in the Cuban national consciousness, comprising ambiguities that denote sweetness and pleasure but also carry associations with colonialism, exoticism, exploitation and slavery. The works hint at the United Fruit Company’s lasting impact on the Cuban economy, conducting as it did a form of American imperialism. Hernández began working with fruit after seeing on-the-street sellers return to Cuba and all of his work engages in discourse with the personal and the political, examining the relationship between origins and destinations, statements and silence.
The final body of work consists of a sequence of watercolours on paper titled Sunsets. Vibrant and symbolic setting suns, at various stages of visibility, are painted onto the separated pages of a first edition of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s Guerilla Warfare. A landscape sketch printed on tracing paper based on an illustration from the same text will also be on display, affixed directly onto a gallery wall. Che’s guerrilla manual becomes the site of aesthetic pleasure