All that is solid melts into air
My performance took place at the Cuban embassy of Berlin, and played with the duality of physical proximity and psychological estrangement. Although I have grown up in South Florida, less than 400km from Cuba, the sociopolitical conditions of both of those regions have produced a host of real, and later, self-imposed barriers to visiting the island. It is in Berlin, at the foot of the embassy (which does not exist in the U.S.), that I come "closer" to Cuba than I have ever been in my life.
Working within the curatorial framework of the project, the U.S. as my country of residence, and my own reservations and critiques about Cuba, I take this opportunity to deny myself entry into this "legal" Cuban territory, and furthermore, relegate myself to experiencing it from within a cube.
The result of this setup is that I develop an intensely intimate exchange with the gathered audience outside of the cube. Lacking a well-defined visual for one another, our conversations become hyper-focused, revealing personal anecdotes from both sides of the cube that relate to issues of national/cultural identity, freedom, and Otherness. With the soft fabric of the cube's sides as a partition, our hands make long and meaningful contact, as if those connections, and not our spoken voices, were the instruments with which to transmit our deepest thoughts and emotions.
In direct contrast, embassy officials would not speak with me personally, nor entertain a healthy amount of curiosity towards the performance, though they were informed of my Cuban heritage and desire to know that ancestral home. To several audience members acting as my surrogates, the embassy merely expressed frustration that we were interrupting their lunch and concern over whether or not we had permits for this action, which amounted to half a dozen participants, soft conversation, the reading and playing of patriotic poems/songs, and a little flag waving--gestures perceived as aggressive by a handful of employees on a quiet street in the North of Berlin, surrounded by trees and the fellow embassies of Cape Verde, Moldova, Eritrea, and Ghana.
So close yet so far.
In the end, what transpired at the embassy affirmed my desire and need to experience Cuba first hand--despite the lifelong warnings and condemnations from my Cuban-American family and in spite of the difficulties imposed by the U.S.--with the conviction that I do so within the year. While my perpetual state as an Other--even outside the U.S.--is clear, I feel that it has been crucial to wait this long and to decide to travel to and connect with Cuba on my own terms, when I am ready--that I may be received less as a tourist, and more as a native son.
What was once solid, like the disembodied grin of Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat, has faded away and melted into air, leaving behind only a thin, red after-image to haunt its memory.
discussed (in french) at Inferno Magazine by Gauthier Lesturgie
published in the debut issue of Contemporary Other, available here)
briefly featured in this documentary on the Month of Performance Art, Berlin from MoMA