HAVANA TIMES — On October 10th, under the slogan “Trees aren’t the problem”, artists, environmentalists and lovers of life on the whole came together and participated in the performance piece “Human Connection for Forest Revitalization.” A non-official celebration at the beginning of Cuban Culture Day which has coincided with the landscape that hurricane Irma has left us behind.
In a meadow located on 100 Street and the Railway Line, at the entrance into Marianao, the young visual artist Raul Merino Recio drew three concentric circles, the largest had a 10 m radius. As part of the performance, he put a palm tree stub in a tyre.
Several lines, which people stood on holding hands, pointed towards the circle in the center. But before this, we had all collaborated in covering the drawing with human hair, which we had already collected, although there were people who also shaved a chunk of their own hair off to add to this identity piece.
In the outside circle, 10 palm trees were planted and in the middle of the whole drawing, a ceiba tree was planted. This axis made up the dramatic core of the performance, when the young Leandro Castillo Cardenas improvised a melody with his clarinet that symbolically transferred the cut-down palm tree’s spirit to the young ceiba tree. Like all wind instruments, the clarinet makes a sound using your breath, which is the expression of life.
Raul Merino graduated from the San Alejandro Arts Academy and carried out this visual performance in coordination with the environmental project El Guardabosques, an alternative in environmental action planning and communication.
How did the idea of the performance piece come about?
Raul Merino: The original idea came when a palm tree that belonged to my building was cut down. The stub rotted and broke away from the roots and I used it to make it a piece of this performance. In the beginning, I used it to make an installation on Alamar’s coast but it was a small-scale performance, not like this one, where approximately 60 people took part.
This piece is the culmination of a cycle of the Cuban Eco-Artivismo project, which began with promoting paintings and drawings by Cuban and foreign artists in newsletters and on the El Guardabosques project’s website, and it will continue to promote a different artist that has dealt with the issue of the environment and forests, every month.
What was the hardest part of the process?
Getting a hold of materials and tools because everything is in shortage in stores, this is the Achilles’ heel of Cuban artists, sometimes you can’t find what you need even on the black market and you need to turn to alternative materials to express an idea you want to put across. That’s why many of my works are based on using recycled materials.
What was the aim of this performance?
When I had the idea that stemmed from the cut-down palm tree, when I thought about it on a large scale, I realized that you could show the connection between humans and their surroundings. By using human hair as a symbol of identity and drawing attention to the dangers of deforestation. Then, to transport the spirit of the destroyed palm tree to the ceiba tree that was planted. Spontaneity was also a very important factor for me. How people integrated themselves into the piece, and even the process of recording it, everything was spontaneous. It was a way of supporting and emulating Nature: nothing is forced.
Why was the recipient of the dead palm tree’s soul a ceiba tree?
Because of the spiritual meaning this has in Cuban culture, in our tradition due to religious syncretism.
What does human hair contribute, which you have used in your other works?
Hair, as a material, can be easily incorporated into a visual piece because of its consistency and texture. Plus, it’s long-lasting, it stores an individual person’s DNA, their ethnicity, everything… so it’s an incredible record of identity.
Does the performance include following up on the trees that were planted?
Yes, of course. I go every time I can and the Guardabosques team is always following up on the trees that they plant. Plus, days before, we promoted the event and tried to involve the community, they even supported me by giving me water and materials, such as marble powder and grout which were used to draw on the grass. There were kids who passed by later, saw the drawing and regretted not having taken part.
What does “Trees are not the problem” mean?
It was the slogan that was chosen to draw attention to the problem of deforestation. The phrase holds its own response: Nature isn’t the problem, its humans. We are the ones responsible, the ones who can have a negative or positive impact on our surroundings. We are the solution. We decide whether to cut down a tree or to replant it, or whether it’s possible to redesign an urban space so that trees don’t affect us.
Have you thought about doing visual pieces similar to this one?
I believe that this performance will inevitably result in others that deal with the environment. And I would like to stress that I am very grateful to the Guardabosques team, who are very efficient when it comes to organizing and getting people together. I couldn’t have made this reality an idea by myself. I am also very grateful to everyone who took part because, even though a bus was made available, there were people who came by their own means. And there were people who couldn’t come, but they told others who did come.
At the event, there were many people who define themselves as anti-capitalist. Do you also define yourself as such?
I believe that extremes are bad. I don’t think of myself as an anti-socialist or anti-capitalist. I prefer to be a free spirit. I’m interested in expressing myself. If my work sways in favor of criticism against capitalism, fine, but there are opinions that I am interested in defending and I have found that they are contradictory in both systems. I believe that the best thing to do would be to take the best from each system to make something new, and to do this with everything, even with religions. In the end, it’s humans who create the concepts that divide us instead of creating ties that bring us together.
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