Certainly As a Shadow is Man…
By Monica Perez
How ephemeral human life is, how fragile and unpredictable. What is earthly power –one might ask– if it does not define with full authority even the next minute? And if circumstances are often those that allow the consummation of a desire or the viability of a decision, and on other occasions are the disastrous result of a set of erroneous determinations. What role do we play in our lives? How can we dare to be conceited in our own wisdom, if there is so much more that we do not know and that surpasses us? We are immersed in the comings and goings of our free will, where everything is finite, circumstantial and uncertain.
For Cuban photographer Alain Cabrera (Havana, 1980), metaphorizing the mutable and perishable nature of human existence has become his way of observing the world. The aesthetic variability of his proposal, as well as the diverse processes and genres with which he constantly flirts, seems to mislead us in the search for a foundation that articulates so many seemingly unconnected images. The multiform visuality of his work points to the diversity of states or realities that in their vortex dynamize and fragment life. Man in his presences and absences, in his always changing scenarios, inhabits Alain’s photography, and is the principle that sustains it.
Titles of his series such as Presencia (Presence), Es tan fácil perder el camino (It’s so Easy to Lose Your Way), Solo la bruma sabe cuándo llegará a su fin (Only the Mist Knows When it Will Come to an End) and Todos se van (Everyone Leaves), together outline conflictual instances of the human condition, where the transitory, the fleeting and the diffuse, seem to structure a story. A story that, from local concerns, discusses a universal experience.
Presencia (Presence), employs as a backdrop the succinct moment when there was a refreshment in relations between Cuba and the United States (2014-2016), when entrepreneurship and private business, almost tasted an incentive for its development. However, that period perhaps also over-influenced Cuban society to extremes. The underhanded “Americanization” that for years a sector of the people enjoyed, reached important levels of disinhibition. The proliferation of American flags in the clothing, offered a panorama not very accustomed in Cuba and that, evidently, responded to the circumstantiality of a collective thought and feeling. In Alain’s own words: “An interferenceist background of cultural penetration is evident”, to which I would add “with a reciprocal complacency, at times naive, at times conscious of the counterpart”.
The visual protagonism that clothing acquires in these images continues to ponder reflections on the perishability of man and his creations. If his life is ephemeral, how much more so will his work be. Not even the most colossal architectures remain undaunted by the passage of time, war or weather phenomena. Es tan fácil perder el camino (It’s so Easy to Lose Your Way) shows that fragility, the loneliness of collapsed spaces, fragments of buildings, piles of stones that in a last sigh, seem to entrust themselves to their end. Oblivion, together with the vertiginous daily life of man, hurt areas of the city -in this case Havana- already condemned to death. There is no human presence, an effective resource to sharpen criticism.
That is why before the monumentality and perfection of nature, we are nothing. In contrast to those languishing urban spaces, the exuberance of valleys and forests takes place in the manipulated photographs of Solo la bruma sabe cuándo llegará a su fin (Only the Mist Knows When it Will Come to an End). Nature lorded in itself, with all its glory and beauty, presents itself to us as the design of the perpetual, of what is and has always been. A mystery dwells in its incalculable power, the same mystery that brings the mist to its end and that man, in his carnality, has not and will not succeed in unraveling. Perhaps, in all humility, we should slow down our daily fatigue, reconsider on what surpasses us and nourish ourselves with it. Perhaps it is there, in that mystery, our true essence, our true peace.
And in the blind search for that peace which, by not finding it, is built… Todos se van (Everyone Leaves). We are here before that human pilgrimage, as innate as it is complex, which never ceases. The phenomenon of emigration that is sweeping the world appears delineated in Alain’s work from the impact it generates in the surrounding reality. Images alien to each other are superimposed and generate strange transparencies, where neither time nor space is defined. The fragmented man, his inconstancy, his non-place, the distances, the oblivion… are masterfully amalgamated in an attempt to capture all that is contained in “leaving”. There is no pursuit of emotion or sudden sensitizing contrasts, nostalgia emerges by itself from the hand of a restrained delicacy, which always seems to inhabit the artist’s work.
The naivety with which he often disguises the images, hides deep reflections on man. The one who has to keep rediscovering himself in order to stop being shadow and become light.