Havana Biennial

Michael Goldberg

SCA Senior Lecturer, Michael Goldberg, represented Australia in the 10th Havana Biennial from 27 March to 23 April, 2009. The Biennial featured the work of three hundred artists and was primarily located in the Cabaña Fortress (Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña) on the Eastern side of Havana's harbour entrance. Goldberg's performance/installation ran for the duration of the Biennial, situated in one of the garrison’s barrel-vaulted storage rooms.

Goldberg's work, The Force of Desire/The Force of Necessity is derived from a telenovela popular in Cuba, La Fuerza del Deseo, set in 19th Century pre-republican Brazil. The telenovela is a phenomenon in Cuban cultural life whereby those with access to a TV set can tune in several evenings a week to an episode of escapist, romantic melodrama.

"As a form of cultural jineterismo my project aimed to provide access, if only by vicarious means, to an economy normally beyond the means of all but a few Cubans – the global financial market. In an integral element of La Fuerza del Deseo, I employed two young Habanero artists to render aquarelle impressions of the CEO portraits and logos of the five hundred companies comprising the Standard and Poors 500 Index. The S&P 500 is one of the most commonly used benchmarks for the U.S. stock market. It can also be said to reflect the general sentiment of the global economy. The stocks comprising the index include many of the largest publicly held and highest capitalized companies in the world. They represent a cross-section of the goods, services and infrastructure readily available to many developed nations. As a result of the trade embargo imposed by the U.S. products of only a handful of these companies such as Nike and Coca-Cola, can be found in Cuba, and then only ‘unofficially’ through their South American subsidiaries.

I paid the artists the equivalent of the average Cuban monthly wage for each day of their thirty-day contract. Over the duration of the project, from the one thousand images I provided, they selected and painted logos and CEO portraits, which were then displayed in the installation space. The working day began at 10am with the Biennial opening to the public and ended with the close at 5pm. Lunch and rest breaks were provided. Due to the scarcity of art supplies, all paper, drawing and painting materials were brought from Australia with me. The project closed with the completion of as many logos and CEO portraits as possible within the timeframe."

Image: Michael Goldberg, La Fuerza del Deseo/La Fuerza de la Necesidad (transl. The Force of Desire/The Force of Necessity).