Quisqueya Henriquez

by Kate Rawlinson
Miami, FL, September 1997

Our soul is, as it were, the day, and our body the night;
We, in the middle, are the dawn between our day and night.
                                                            Rumi, Divan

The acceptance that we live in a paradoxical world where absolutes are rare or non-existent is central to the objects and installations created by Quisqueya Henriquez. Eight years after her birth in Cuba in 1966, her family began a series of peripatetic moves between Havana and Santo Domingo. She completed her studies in 1992 at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, joined a growing community of Cuban artists in Mexico City for a year and immigrated to Miami in 1993. Such changes in one's circumstances can afford one a perspective on life that is more flexible than that of a more sedentary life-one that understands the slippage that often occurs between an object and an idea and how meaning can be altered by experience and experience can, in turn, be altered by memory. With enough distance, the protean nature of time and space becomes more the norm-all is relative, changing with the lens one uses.

Even so, the human mind seeks control of its chaotic life, striving to create a sense of order and predictability, denying nature's irrational tendencies. Science and art are mankind's most persistent endeavors to know, name and classify--to peer through man-made devices to see what cannot be seen. The daily acts we perform and the spaces we occupy are essential to Henriquez' work. They provide the content and form as well as the artistic strategy for her work, as they encourage the viewer to participate in their realization.

The delicate balance (or struggle) between order and chaos is the focus of Henriquez' three most recent sculptural installations exhibited in San Diego, Baltimore and Miami. The artist considers each one a three-dimensional drawing as they are made of wood, paper and graphite and positioned within a specific architectural space. Order prevails in the untitled work recently installed at InSITE '97 in San Diego. Standing in the door to the 38 feet x 26 feet gallery, the viewer faces a horizontal plane of 96 crosses made of wood 1 x 1's wrapped with paper. Appearing to float on their backs at about waist height, they are actually supported by a vertical wooden rod from the floor. With their centers placed about 43 inches apart, the 12 x 12 inch crosses form a strict rectangular grid with just enough space between them for the brave to negotiate a path across the room to the exit door positioned on the opposite side.

A classical labyrinth comes quickly to mind, or a child's puzzle that urges you to push a pencil through the rigidly printed grid of meandering lines to find some longed-for safety at the end. Facing a field of crosses, a symbol bearing centuries of accumulated religious, political and psychological meanings and power, one wonders what is the best path to take. The options are fully visible--there are no paths that trap or lead to hopeless dead ends. Instead, there are clearly multiple paths to be taken, no mystery and no chance of getting lost--as long as one yields to the uncompromising rationality of the grid, the order forced upon the participant.

Hell and Heaven, 1997, a new work created for The Contemporary in Baltimore, is also precise in structure, but simplified to a binary configuration of a classical architectural form. Two identical, diagrammatic drawings (each 50 x 50 inches) of a cupola--a rounded vault that usually sits on a base to form a roof or ceiling--are placed near each other in the gallery. One takes its expected position facing down from the ceiling, while the other is positioned face-up (not right below the upper one, but to the side). The flat picture plane of the lower drawing is elevated twelve inches off the floor by a small box, also covered with paper, at each of its four corners. This three-dimensional reference to the columnar base of an actual cupola is also in place behind the upper drawing, lowering it a foot below the ceiling. The sides of the drawing curve inward, following the contour of the cupola's arched sides and in the center of each cupola is a disk of colored fabric: orange on the lower one, blue on the upper. Walking below or around the cupping forms, the viewer becomes a participant in creating the experience--combining the physical perception of the real space between and around the forms with the illusionary concavity of the drawings.

The symbolic meanings suggested by the individual cupping forms and the whole they form together are myriad and complex in their spiritual associations. Henriquez has directly tied them to heaven and hell, the two fates of Judeo-Christian afterlife. Yet, their archetypal forms (the arc above and the bowl below) resonate other meanings: the ancient principles of male and female energies or the two halves coming together to form the cosmic egg. Another, the alchemist' symbol for salt and sea with its two hemispheres joined rim-to-rim, reminds us that the sea is an ever present force for someone who lives on an island such as Cuba.

Henriquez purposefully engages the viewer in the completion of her work. This intent is most evident in the twelve drawings of imagined architectural spaces I recently viewed at the Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami. [These drawings preceded the new work now on display, which was not complete at the time this essay was written.] These sparse and impressively exact line drawings depict floor plans of rectilinear and curvilinear shaped rooms. Some have central open spaces, while others are partitioned by inner walls, yielding interconnected rooms and hallways, at times leading to nowhere--once again bringing labyrinths and trials to mind. Like icons laden with underlying meanings, these images prompt you to immediately wonder what they are about. What is the function of these spaces? What happens in them?

An aura of sacred or secret ceremonies, of repetitive movement through narrow hallways, pervades them; but it is through imagining actually standing in these structures that you gain insight into their strange beauty. One strikingly resembles an hourglass--two triangles connected through a constricted passageway (not unlike diagrams one might see in a text on modern physics and chaos theory). Another, a vaselike oval entered only through a narrow hallway neck, echoes the uterine symbolism of alchemy's vas spirituale, or Womb of Matter. From a distance, the diagrammatic form of a third one appears to be a window with two panes, one above the other. On closer inspection, it is clear that the thin window frame is the only course around the two sealed-off inner chambers of the panes. It is a narrow path that can only be entered through a small opening at the very top and exited at the bottom (or vice versa). Four of the drawings depict self-contained structures totally closed to entrance or exit, like tombs sealed and long forgotten. In contrast, others beg to be cut and folded along their precise dotted lines, playfully transformed into paper airplanes or imagined origami creatures.

As we are urged to negotiate a path of understanding between the real and the illusionary, order and chaos--a constant in Henriquez' works--we must also traverse the vagaries of time and memory. A fourth work, The Idea of Fragmentation (Time) , 1997, is a site-specific work installed at RioArte's Galeria Sergio Porto--a facility run by the City of Rio de Janeiro, Municipal Institute of Art and Culture. It is a vivid and somewhat humorous realization of the complexity of time. In this larger version of an earlier work by the same name, Henriquez has dismantled multiple clocks, removing their faces, hands, backs, winders, bells and various small mechanical wheels.

Dissecting the mechanical elements of time, she simultaneously destroys a number of obsessively controlling, man-made time-keepers. Placed around us on the floor of the gallery, the clock parts now serve to remind us of a human act--an assertive act of defiance, a gesture to symbolically stop, perhaps even reverse, outer mathematical time. Childlike in its quest, this work seems to ask: if we could stop the incessant mechanical clocks, would we better hear inner time, those ancient biological rhythms that measure our lives from beginning to end?

This image of fragmented and dismembered clocks might cause a laugh--who hasn't taken something apart to fix it, only to be unable to put it back together again? But it is a nervous laugh, for clocks are modern man's symbol of his control over his destiny, if only minute to minute--and yet they will likely outlive their makers.

Together, these new works remind us that we are caught in the daily rituals of our lives--acts that, paradoxically, also give our lives form and meaning. And that the rooms we inhabit, spaces that provide us a much-needed semblance of order, of concreteness and predictability, are only that, for in the end the chaos prevails with or without our external clocks.

Kate Rawlinson is the Florida curator for CITY/CIDADE. She has recently joined the South Florida Composers Alliance as Assistant Director and Program Director of SAW (Sound Arts Workshop). For the past three years, she has been an Associate Curator at the Miami Art Museum where she organized solo artist projects for the New Works Series featuring such artists as Lorna Simpson, Ruben Torres-Llorca, Kenny Scharf and Gerardo Suter.

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