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Artists in Residence

 The Sulzberg Association, founded in 1999 by the Winterthur music educationalist Doris Sträuli-Keller, provides three studios in the Villa Sträuli in Winterthur for artists from any discipline or background. The stay is intended to foster intercultural exchange in an inspiring environment. For the first time there is a guest artist during the Winterthur International Short Film Festival: the Cuban artist Humberto Díaz (born 1975, Santa Clara), who is also representing his country at this year's Venice Biennale.

Humberto Díaz - Humans and Nature in Winterthur

Humberto Díaz climbing out of his upmarket residency studio at the Sträuli Association, 2013. Photo: Cat Tuong Nguyen

The sash windows are open wide. Twigs and leaves are within reach. The green seems to grow into the bright rooms, resembling identical clippings from a landscape painting. And this in the centre of the city. An idyll. Humberto Díaz is enjoying this. The Cuban artist has been in residence at the Villa Straeuli in Winterthur since the middle of September. This space, in the middle of the green, tree lined museum quarter, is ideal for him, because nature and its man made changes are important aspects of his work. This stretches from the restaged flooding catastrophe at the Havanna Biennale in 2006 to the roof-tile tsunami at the St. Petersburg Biennale in 2009. Díaz first became known through these labour-intensive spectaculars. But not all of his work overflows to such a degree.
On Díaz's desk in the residency studio, next to his notebook, lies a folder full of ink drawings. Some of them have been produced in the last year, some of them here in Winterthur, for example. Clear, confidently drawn lines show a table being battered by a tree trunk. The tree has been felled, the table destroyed, and the dead tree is now providing new material. In other drawings, branches are sprouting, but instead of new twigs and leaves, there are axes, hammers and hot dogs growing from them.
The ambivalence between object, raw material and nature occupy Díaz as much as the perception of nature, which is completely different in Switzerland than in Cuba. Here, the trees are undamaged in the city, the patches of grass are nurtured and cared for. In Cuba's cities, the trees are cut down by chainsaws, without thought. They are pruned without consideration for their natural forms. Díaz openly expresses regret for these acts of mutilation. He perceives the conditions of nature outside of urban spaces differently. Cuba's forests grow wild, as Díaz notices here the structure of the landscape, its order and subordination. Will this be a theme of his work here? Quite possibly. Díaz didn't come to Winterthur with a concrete project in mind. He would rather develop new work here on site, just as he has often happily done in the past, working in situ. A theme of his site specific works has always been surveillance cameras. In Havana for example, he went from camera to camera and looked at each one for a minute. Through this, the new phenomenon of being observed was brought to people's attention.
It is not clear yet in which direction his work in Winterthur will go, but Díaz's senses are sharpened; and most importantly, he is on the way. He wanders through the city and builds contacts. He gets into conversations with the people of Winterthur easily and willingly. Díaz appreciates this openness a lot, he hasn't always experienced this during his other numerous residencies. For example, in Warsaw earlier this year, Díaz was a guest of the Fundacji Spazio 13 and found himself quite isolated. Interaction with people was only possible through the institution. Díaz reacted to this situation with a performance: he plugged cables into every plug socket in his Warsaw apartment, guided them to his bedroom and wrapped them around his head. Díaz's head was completely engulfed in white cables. The limitations this previous isolation meant for the artist is in contrast to his life in Winterthur. Even Díaz's current read is a significant picture of that: on a little table are St. Augustine's Confessions. The autobiography of the Christian philosopher is not only self-reflection, but rather a portrayal of the terms of his own life with a view to the exterior. So Díaz, starting from himself, also traces the existential orientation of humankind and its conditioning through its environment. Language here is nothing more than a means to an end. Equally important to him is watching gesture and movement. Getting to know the inhabitants of Winterthur in this late, warm summer suits him. Still, life is happening outside. Díaz is fascinated by how people are enjoying this time in their city, how they are sitting in the park, relaxed, chatting, but above all that they are doing this holistically and with full awareness. The artist sees the contrast to this in Cuba: as people are doing one thing, they are already thinking about the next. People are harassed by and entangled in their daily constraints. Díaz is also not completely free. At the beginning of October his exhibition is opening at the knoerle & baettig contemporary gallery in Sulzer-Areal. And Díaz has big plans for the exhibition, which a week away from the opening is still awaiting its realization. This exhibition meets a requirement of the Villa Straeuli for residency artists, since they are supposed to actively participate in Winterthur life during their stay and to be involved in the city's cultural activities. So ultimately an artist's talk at the Villa is planned and also participation in the Winterthur Short Film Festival.

Bis: 10.11.2013
This interview is published with the support of the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia Moving Words for the Swiss advancement of translation.

Translation: Paul Harper

Deutsche Version


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Ausgabe 11  2013
Ausstellungen Humberto Díaz [04.10.13-10.11.13]
Institutionen Galerie knoerle & baettig [Winterthur/Schweiz]
Autor/in Kristin Schmidt
Künstler/in Humberto Díaz
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