Eliane Adela Padrón (Havana, 1995) works with installation and drawing. Through the manipulation and alteration of materials, she is interested in pointing out that the reality of the world obeys a set of rules that, as such, can be different. Likewise, she invites the viewer to become an active agent who questions this structural order of which they are also a part of.
Eliane received the Creacion Estudio 21 scholarship awarded by the Center for the Development of Visual Arts in Havana and she participated in the Art on Location: Artist, Site, and Process residency at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has been exhibited in Cuba and the United States, and she is a 2020 graduate of the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts and the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Havana, Cuba.
Eliane and I graduated from grad school during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having finished our studies in such a scenario has led us to knock on the door of our postgraduate expectations, invite them to a coffee, and talk with them. Some of the projects that Eliane mentions in this interview have had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
And just as some projects are on hold, others have seen the light in unexpected ways. In fact, Eliane and I met via WhatsApp through a mutual friend, Sarah Skaggs, who invited us to participate in an entirely online art residency: I can see my house from here, the third residency of the Hot Wheelz Festival, organized by Jill Perez and Lauren Steinberg .”
As co-curator of the residency, I had the opportunity to speak with Eliane to learn more about her artistic practice.
Scroll down to read Eliane’s story.
Constanza Mendoza (CM): Eliane, you just graduated from the Bachelor of Plastic Arts at Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA). How has the ISA influenced your understanding of what it means to be an artist? How has that definition changed over time?
Eliane Adela Padrón (EP): I think that every artist who goes through the ISA ends up changing their perception of things and the way they make art. Before entering ISA, I studied the first years of visual arts at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts. The academy gave me a very wide range of materials and formats to explore. At that time, I went from painting to photography and video, I was consuming a lot of cult cinema that I didn’t understand but adored, and I became a fan of the texts by Alejandro Jodorowsky. At that time, I also got my first professional camera; a beautiful Fujifilm that I stopped using shortly after buying it. In short, they were times of experimentation and a lot of fortuitous creation as my interests as an artist varied. Then came the ISA; I owe a lot to my colleagues at the university, my professors and to the critic workshops. Although many times I spent more time perfecting an idea than materializing an artwork, ISA allowed me to question my processes and organize ideas for a better development of my projects.
Over time I have understood that becoming an artist is a delicate matter, not only because of what the objective of creating an artistic practice implies, but also because of the challenges in which you find yourself involved most of the time: the values assigned to art by the market, the competition in the sector, not having money and a space to work, not feeling creative, etc. However, assuming oneself as an artist also generates incentives that combat obstacles, and seeing a creation being born, no matter how simple or complicated it may be, in my opinion, is always a powerful engine that encourages you to continue creating—like it or not, sell or not sell.
CM: What place do research and the relational approach to art occupy in your practice? Can you tell me about a work where these two have been an integral part of the artistic process?
EP: Research within my work has always been a key factor in the production of meaning in almost everything I do. More than projecting a visuality, I always start with an idea and it begins to be consistent with its size and format depending on what the medium contributes to it. When I start working on something I am always constantly rereading: I take things from one text and another one and so-and-so, I overlap them and, what at first was a basic idea, begins to make sense to me from all these crossings. I give them meaning, so to speak. I am very interested in scientific articles and even in mathematics; almost all my drawing series have come out of these. I keep a lot of screenshots, documents, I download the odd catalog. I think these are some of my main sources.
It is difficult for me to contemplate relational art as a recurring practice in my work. These types of resources always come to me, not out of preference or personal domain, but as the ideal ones to transmit what I want based on what they offer me.
For example, relational art came to me as a kind of playful terrain to be explored and discovered in The Transfiguration of a Common Place. For this work, the relational comes to me in a search for new tools, allowing me to integrate into society through the happening and installation. For this exhibition, specifically in Ácimos, I wanted to generate a participatory experience with the viewers by considering the viewer’s own identification with the work, and for this work to invite the public to decipher relationships and find contents already inscribed within their relationships with the place.
CM: Let’s talk precisely about “The Transfiguration of a Common Place,” a work conceived and articulated within the Taller Gorría Gallery (GTG) in the San Isidro neighborhood in Havana. For this work, you explored the genealogy of the place where the gallery is located today in order to expose its historical records through a spatial intervention and a happening. Unfortunately, the exhibition was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I would love to know how was the process behind this work.
EP: Galería Taller Gorría was already familiar to me from the beginning. In 2017, I participated in a collective project in that place, and it is my father who tells me when I arrive at the gallery that in the past, he used to buy bread there when he lived in Old Havana. At that time, the space for him was completely renovated in accordance with the interests of the current exhibition space. At that time, I had been working on a series of drawings in which I juxtaposed shapes and manipulated information that I found in art catalogs or books. Specifically, he superimposed erasures on texts, eliminated part of the central composition of the images, or digitally intervened in some compositions, in a defiant gesture that urged the viewer to inquire according to his horizons of expectations and interpretations.
These operations were getting out of the plane to extrapolate them to other dimensions. In 2018, I created a site-specific project called SITUS that was destined for the second floor of Droguería Johnson, a prestigious pharmacy in Old Havana with great heritage value. The main theme was located in the very nature of the concept of place where each work to be carried out would be immersed in a constant search for the materiality of the space itself, taking advantage of the resources and contributions that the architecture of the place could use for the creation of the works.
The Johnson Drugstore is a space that seemed enormously large to me, which is why I invited the artists Mario Sergio Álvarez and Fabián González, members of the F.M.7 collective, to collaborate with me. At that time, they had been making video projections of real spaces modeled in 3D with the aim of transforming the place virtually and creating an augmented reality. The boys and I began to meet constantly and what at first included only the second floor of the Johnson, extended to the third floor and part of the front of the building. Each intervention was connected with the others creating a large installation piece that included everything from a horse to a DJ playing on the top floor.
It was a very crazy project that we dreamed of every day and we were planning to inaugurate at the 13th Havana Biennial, coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the city—quite a challenge. In short, SITUS was approved as a collateral project to the biennial, but disapproved by the Historian’s Office, so the project could not be carried out. This exhibition project is my greatest antecedent within Transfiguración since, in part, it maintains the main premises and questions regarding works in situ and how we physically and mentally conceive or project a certain place.
For Gorría I begin to investigate more about this phenomenon of juxtaposing spaces and it is here when I come across Foucault and his concepts applied to the territory. The heterotopic as a Foucauldian concept is the place where various contradictory utopias exist. Transfiguración refers to a place of confrontation and discovery, where the outstanding moments of a past that only comes to life in the present through the exhibition come together.
Transfiguration refers to the relevance of the gallery space and its functionality, both in terms of physical and cognitive construction of the place and the specific site where the exhibition is located. This “transfiguration of space”, as its name indicates, reveals the structures that underlie the building, coinciding with its historical past as a bakery. For this, I use a real place within the context of art, as is the case of Gorría, a commercial and private gallery, located within the San Isidro neighborhood. In general, this neighborhood has buildings of great heritage value, with degrees of protection and architectural recognition. Unlike the attractions and services that define the neighborhood, Galería Taller Gorría does not represent another real value beyond the function it fulfills today as a cultural and community project, so it tends not to be part of the discourse of “history”. from the neighborhood I wanted to introduce devices that question viewers about the imperceptible mechanisms that are articulated to give us a particular idea of what surrounds us.
I was never interested in rebuilding the place in its literal form or exposing a historical record; for this, it would have been enough for me to show a photographic archive and the plans of the old building. My reconstruction of the original function of the place is purely symbolic. More than reconstruction—calling it that sounds too pretentious when it is not nor does it pretend to be—it comes from the amalgamation of the different relationships that exist between both places: the bakery and the gallery.
CM: “La Mesa Está Servida,” your new photographic work for the artist residency I can see my house from here, shows food products in a white space that is devoid of any context other than the products themselves. You bought this food at the Freely Convertible Currency stores created by the Cuban government during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the premise that these stores would sell medium and high-quality foreign products that are difficult to access in other local stores, the only currencies accepted were foreign currencies. You used the fee offered in US dollars for the artist residency to purchase the products and thus expose, through recreation, one of the most common survival practices in Cuba: sending remittances. How is this gesture integrated into the work of this play? Where does a work begin and end?
EP: It all started when Sarah Skaggs asked Mario Sergio Álvarez, Fabián González and me to participate in the Hot Wheelz digital festival. The question of the festival, “How do we keep moving?”, was something that resonated inside my mind. I felt it in accordance with the new times of the pandemic and what is being experienced inside Cuba. I think I immediately took it personally, just like the guys, especially seeing that the festival only included American artists or those from the Chicago circuit. How would they understand our dynamic? We talked about very different contexts and this was a question that I was interested in connecting with.
I think the fee was what put the lid on the knob. This type of payment that they make for participating in “something” or to compensate for the “production” of a work reminded me that when you win a scholarship in Cuba and they reward you with a check, you must justify your expenses meticulously and that was the what did I do. The Table Is Set is a completely cynical work that foregrounds impudence as a survival strategy, living at “the expense of others”. Its core meaning lies in the gesture. The work begins with this and culminates with the staging.
CM: You told me that initially you wanted to buy the products and resell them publicly at the price of Cuban pesos. Why and how did that idea mutate towards taking photos of the products?
EP: The resale action initially triggered processes within the relational sphere, focusing on issues such as hoarding to obtain products that are in demand in Cuba and that you cannot easily obtain. This staging for La mesa está servida gave me the opportunity to document existing events that range from socioeconomic inequalities to the so-called phenomenon of the choleros, the presence of people who hoard and resell basic necessities in Cuba. If in Cuba there are queues that fill a block to sell you a module that your salary often cannot pay, imagine the sale of these products at almost discount prices, that would be an event!
At that time they announced a mandatory quarantine due to a new outbreak of the disease and I could not carry out this idea. Photographic documentation became my second option, where the medium becomes the message. Photography as a tool and the message are one. If we see artistic media as tools, then those tools designate meaning. A curious fact that I loved was seeing how some friends thought when they saw my Instagram stories that I was selling a food module at an art festival. The pristine image of the still life on a white background reminded them of the combos one buys online. It’s amazing how we create preset images of things at certain times.
 Festival website: https://hotwheelzfestival.com/
 Recently opened stores in Cuba that accept foreign currencies before the Cuban peso (CUC). To purchase products in these stores, visitors must have a magnetic card with a balance in Freely Convertible Currency (MLC). The card can be recharged through bank transfers from abroad or deposited from Cuba.
 Remittances refers to the sending of money made by Cubans residing abroad to residents on the island. The money is sent in the form of foreign currencies, the most popular being the US dollar, and its purpose is to financially support relatives in Cuba.
 Eliane’s note: “Cubans have begun to buy “modules” or “combos” of merchandise with the pandemic crisis. At the beginning, a person could carry two units of a single product, but now they must buy a module or combo, in which they can add any other product. They are the State’s opportunity to sell the merchandise that does not move. The dead merchandise is the inventory that does not rotate, that is not sold, but costs the Cuban State money. They cannot recover the costs of unsold goods, either what they made or what they bought from other companies. On the other hand, storing these products is costly for warehouses and takes up useful space that can be used for higher-demand supplies. Buying what you need doesn’t work in Cuba any more, you must “hoard” what the state stores put you “forced in the bag”, if you want to buy products in high demand such as frying oil, soaps or toilet paper in a online shopping. In addition, basic necessities are used as a commercial hook.”