Diango Hernández A distanced view of the island

Diango Hernández | Theoretical Beach | Anne reclinada en la orilla | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann 2016
Diango Hernández | Theoretical Beach | Anne reclinada en la orilla | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann 2016 | © D. Hernández

Conceptual artist Diango Hernández, who was born in Cuba in 1970, has been living in Düsseldorf since 2003. He gained international fame with his large-scale installations of furnishings, found objects from everyday life, sketches and collages that highlight the realities of Cuban life and the rhetoric of revolution through biographical references and an aesthetic of the provisional.

Growing up in Sancti Spiritus and Camagüey, Diango Hernández witnessed the country’s dramatic economic crisis, the “special period” (Periodo especial) that began in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, as he was beginning his design studies in Havana. But it was only in 1994, when after graduating, he was given an opportunity to work in the Ministry of Construction and in the state architectural agency, that the absolute dearth that characterised this “special period” became clear to him in all its dimensions. Hernández quit his job and with friends founded the group Ordo Amoris Cabinet that initially conceived itself as a design research project. Thanks to sponsorship by the Ludwig Foundation, which had recently set up a branch in Havana, they experienced the transition from design to research and the visual arts as fluid.

An independent spirit

While many Cubans immigrated to the United States, Hernández decided to go to Italy, Spain and ultimately Düsseldorf, primarily on account of his interest in contemporary art.
In continual dialogue with this new artistic environment, he now investigated both the aesthetic he had brought with him from Cuba and the discourse capabilities of the objects whose rhetoric originates in precarity. From this situation, which he experienced as productive, the artist developed conceptual spaces that are at once idiosyncratic and yet accessible to the viewer, in which poetic and rational moments conjoin.

 
  • Diango Hernández | Revolución | 2006 © D. Hernández © D. Hernández
    Diango Hernández | Revolución | Installation View 2006
  • Revolución Almost Falling | 2006 © D. Hernández
    Revolución Almost Falling | 2006
  • Revolución | Installation View 2006 | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann © D. Hernández
    Revolución | Installation View 2006 | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann
  • Diango Hernández | Revolución | Installation View 2006 © D. Hernández
    Diango Hernández | Revolución | Installation View 2006
  • Diango Hernández | Diamond 2005 © Diango Hernández
    Diango Hernández | Diamond 2005
  • Diango Hernández | I can see the flamingoes from here | Theoretical Beach | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann, 2016 © Diango Hernández
    I can see the flamingoes from here | Theoretical Beach | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann, 2016
  • Diango Hernández | Installation view 2014 | Photo: Annette Kradisch © D. Hernández
    Diango Hernández | Installation view 2014 | Photo: Annette Kradisch
  • Diango Hernández | In Hazard Translated | Installation view 2014 | Photo: Annette Kradisch © D. Hernández
    Diango Hernández | In Hazard Translated | Installation view 2014 | Photo: Annette Kradisch
  • La camisa | Theoretical Beach | Installation View 2016 | Foto: Anne Pöhlmann © D. Hernández
    La camisa | Theoretical Beach 2016
  • Diango Hernández | Theoretical Beach | Installation View 2016 | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann © D. Hernández
    Diango Hernández | Theoretical Beach | Installation View 2016 | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann
  • Diango Hernández | Theoretical Beach | Installation View 2016 | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann © D. Hernández
    Diango Hernández | Theoretical Beach | Installation View 2016 | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann
  • Diango Hernández | Theoretical Beach 2016 | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann © D. Hernández
    Diango Hernández | Theoretical Beach 2016 | Photo: Anne Pöhlmann

In the initial phase works arose that interpret various aspects of daily life in Cuba. Thus in his exhibition Revolution in the Kunsthalle Basel 2006, Diango Hernández presented a rigorously composed parcours of objects and sketches that deal with provisional structures in times of crisis, but also with growing up in an authoritarian system saturated by the ideology of the Eastern Bloc.
 
Today the artist assesses the oppressive presence of economic and societal relations in the everyday life of the individual: “In Cuba it is very difficult to distance yourself from the reality that touches you. But distance is what allows you to recognise art and its potential.”

Interpreting the tropics

After 2013 Hernández’ artistic practice changed. During the preparations for the exhibition In hazard, translated (2014) for the Nuremberg Art Association (Nürnberger Kunstverein), he took off on a spontaneous trip to Havana. While there, when by chance he was watching a group of young fruit sellers, a feeling transposed itself into a concrete image: the solitude of the tropics and the culture of the Caribbean. For Hernández, the rediscovery of a tropical Cuba opened up new artistic perspectives by showing him the significance of transmission, “To transform something that permits us to understand what is actually incomprehensible.” At the Nuremberg Art Association, Hernández transposes the literary depiction of a tropical hurricane that devastated the southern coast of Cuba in 1932 and sent oranges, mangoes and papayas whirling through the air into minimalistic installations and assemblages of perishable tropical fruits.

Theoretical Beach

In Theoretical Beach, his current exhibition in the Museum Schloss Morsbroich, undulating lines drawn in maritime blue with a brush overlay both spaces and objects. For this purpose, Hernández has transposed Fidel Castro’s lengthy, often improvised speeches which, amplified by loudspeakers, make up the background noise of every day life on the island, into painted waves. Aluminium candelabra adorned with oranges, an arrangement of Cuban modernist sculptures, the intimation of the floor-plan of his parents’ house and benches filled with white sand: in the interaction of playful sketches and reduced installations, Diango Hernández transmits the image and the synthesis of a landscape, a culture and a political system.
 
Despite the various biographical references in his work, Diango Hernández resists being described as a Cuban artist: “I don’t see any need to underscore nationality.” Dr. Markus Heinzelmann, director of the Museum Morsbroich in Leverkusen, takes a similar view. For him, Hernández is “one of the Rhineland’s most important younger and also internationally respected artists,” who combines Caribbean improvisational talent with reduced conceptualism.
 
Solo exhibition: Diango Hernández “Theoretical Beach,” until 28.08.2016, Museum Morsbroich Leverkusen. Group exhibition: "We Call It Ludwig" (Wir nennen es Ludwig), curated by Yilmaz Dziewior, 27.08.2016 – 8. 01.2017, Museum Ludwig, Cologne.