Duvier del Dago Fernandez is young enough to dream and talented enough to turn his dreams into enduring artistic visions. He's one of the most widely known young artist in Cuba. His has participated in two Havana Biennial art exhibitions, the first (in 2000) while he was still in university. His work typically examines the unattainable with unblinking precision. His 2007 "Plastic Girl" show in Madrid focussed on Barbie (the unattainable woman). In "The Strange Case of the Ideal Onlooker" (2006), a wire-frame hologram seems to be a placeholder for a real person, perhaps a historical figure, perhaps the artist himself. His "Bungalow Project" for the 2006 Havana Biennal touched on the dream of living in the ideal home. In "Castles in the Air" (2004), cameras and mobile phones hover just out of reach.
Duvier Del Dago was born in Zulueta, in the central Cuban province of Villa Clara, in 1976. He had been drawing for as long as he can recall and he won prizes long before he attended art school in Trinidad (Cuba) and at the prestigious Instituto Superior del Arte (ISA) in Havana. At ISA Duvier was a student of René Francisco Rodríguez, one of Cuba's most successful contemporary artists and a famous instigator of artistic endeavour. "He opened the doors of his house to us," Duvier recalls. "His house became our studio." One of Rene Francisco's pet projects is the Galeria DUPP, in which he and his students experiment with ways of showing their collective artworks not only beyond the classroom but beyond galleries and museums as well.
Duvier participated in the Galleria DUPP project that was the talk of the 2000 Havana Biennial. Entitled "One, Two, Three, Testing...," the work was installed in the 16th-century El Morro fortress that overlooks Havana's harbour. The castle's dingy corridors were covered with paintings on plastic sheets. Outside on the parapets were dozens of giant cast-iron microphones, some facing outwards as if trying to communicate with the world, some with their backs to the sea as if trying to reason with the fortress's cannons. The work was awarded the 2000 UNESCO Prize for the Promotion of the Arts.
Duvier went on to work with another artist, Omar Moreno. They worked together three years under the collective name Omarito & Duvier, and they exhibited in Cuba and abroad. By 2001-2002, however, their partnership had reached the breaking point. "It was really tough when we split up," says Duvier. "He completely stopped making art and I kept going, but it was like starting from zero again. Everyone knew me as a duo."
Duvier started drawing on semi-transparent nylon. He says he wanted his subjects to look like comic-book characters, to look as "real" as possible. The transparency of the backing medium gave him the palpable quality he was looking for, but it wasn't enough. He went on to make three-dimensional models of some of his drawings, and then some rough animations. He gave some of these characters their own story. One of them was "The Reproducer" (2001), who talked in the first person about copying and about the loss of the original. The Reproducer was a hybrid figure with a mermaid's tail and a policeman's hat.
Despite his multi-disciplinary approach, Duvier always seems to stay close to his pen. "The act of drawing is very important for me," he says. "It's not subservient to sculpture or painting or anything. It lives on its own. With drawing I can do whatever I want. It's my best form of communication."
Many of his drawings start in his small studio on the top floor of a building in Habana Vieja. The place has the cramped air of a student dormitory dartboard on the bathroom door, plastic skull and sci-fi knickknacks on the bookshelf. He lives in another part of town, Vedado, with his girlfriend Claudia Fallalero. Their baby girl, Salomé, was born in 2006 while Duvier was adjusting the lighting and putting the finishing touches on his Havana Biennial installation.
At first Duvier had a hard time getting people to allow him to translate his drawings into installations. Back in 2004 he had the idea to make a hologram of a sports car using thread, hooks and wooden panels. "People said, `You want to use thread? How do you plan to do that?!'" The work eventually became part of his "Castles in the Air" series, shown in Havana and in London. After that, the gallery doors opened, and explaining his ideas became easier. Duvier's pieces with thread are woven in situ. It takes him about four days to make one of these installations. He uses an assistant for the first phase installing the panels and guide lines. But then he strings the rest of the thread himself. "People ask me why I don't make metal structures, use a material that's more durable. But the ephemeral character of my pieces is important, very important. It's like I'm weaving my own dreams."
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