Abel Barroso: Upgrading
Born in the small western Cuban city of Pinar del Río in 1971, Barroso, who now lives and works in Havana, studied at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana and was included in Cuba’s official Pavilion during the 2017 Venice Biennale. His work, while developing across different series, consistently explores how global pressures and technologies impact even those individuals who don’t have full access to their potencies. For the Thompson Gallery exhibition, Barroso will showcase two series that have particular resonance in Silicon Valley and California; each reveal his ironical response to their continuing impact on our lives.
Sala de Navegación y Realidad Virtual a la Cubana [Internet Browsing Room and Cuban-style Virtual Reality] revisits and updates one of Barroso’s previous installations, the Third World Internet Café. Reflecting upon the relationship between global and local connectivity, he acknowledges that, almost without our knowledge or permission, globalization has influenced the configuration of our very identities, weaving a web of economic, social, and political interrelationships from which we can’t escape. Barroso takes particular aim at our connections to cyberspace for both social media and commercial purposes, as he creates low-tech computers in wood, replicated at full scale, through which visitors can interact to facetiously access Cuba’s Uber service (UVER) or a find a travel agent with listings of private homes available for tourists during their visits to Cuba. One computer, dedicated to social media, is titled You Have a Friend Request; through another, one can bank online or solicit a travel visa. The application that permits these functions Barroso calls Boogle, a Cuban version of the program known worldwide as Google. The installation will also include Virtual Reality headsets, and the most up-to-date hardware, including tablets with touch technology. All of these devices are part of the Mango Tech system – the low-tech reinterpretation of those technologies more globally known as Apple – representing the technology of the poor, and all constructed in the simple medium of wood.
The second series to be included in Barroso’s Thompson Gallery display centers on political borders. Whether via wall, fence, or signage, boundaries that are conceptualized as a means of separating different peoples in the world are another ongoing theme of Barroso’s work. He approaches this theme from different perspectives, not only referencing the specific geographic space where he lives and works, but, more broadly, any global site in which a community has been created despite being divided by a constructed border. He has commented, “Globalization has accelerated the velocity of the impact of these divisive borders on our own lives, attempting to divide and separate us even if those borders are not physically nearby. Therefore, our own identities become linked with those of others, converting us into citizens of a world without borders.” Works in this series draw attention to humanity’s constant search for natural and unimpeded freedom of movement on a global scale.
Barroso’s early work focused on printmaking, but by the early 1990s he began to add a third dimension to his woodcuts and wood engravings, bringing them off the wall and into the form of sculptural objects. The two series that he will exhibit in San José are united by an emphasis on our sometimes fraught individual relationships with globalized powers and processes, elements that we see play out on a daily basis in Silicon Valley. His crafted images confront massive globalized commercial technologies with their local low-tech versions (e.g., Mango vs. Apple) as they likewise challenge the callousness and insensitivity that greets migrants and immigrants who are searching for their own way to participate in and benefit from these dominant worldwide paradigms, proposing ironic alternative creations that open visitors’ consciousness with ludic delight.
We are most appreciative of the team who helped to crate, ship, and shepherd Barroso’s work through US customs during the current recurrence of difficult relations between Cuba and the U.S., and, in particular, to his gallerist, Michel Soskine in Madrid, who has worked with me for almost two years to bring this project to reality. In conjunction with the opening of this exhibition, Abel Barroso will speak about his work in an illustrated presentation on April 16 from 5-6 pm, in Art #133. This presentation and the following opening reception, held immediately afterward from 6-7:30 pm, are free and open to the public.
Jo Farb Hernández
Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 5-6 pm
Tuesday, April 16, 2019, 6-7:30 pm
Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery
Tuesdays 10 am – 4 pm; 6-7:30 pm
Monday, Wednesday – Friday 10 am – 4 pm and
Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery
Department of Art and Art History
San José State University
Date(s) - April 16, 2019 - May 17, 2019