22 February 2015

In the Absence of A Body

Visiting Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perara after hours in the gallery was an entirely different experience than attending the gallery as an ordinary visitor. The chattering cacophony and buzzing hum of the opening night had surpassed. All of the lights, except for the ones in Diaz-Perara's room were off. The only sounds were the occasionally hum of the train passing by and the rhythmic thump of a single microphone softly banging against the drywall. I wasn't here to view the video installation or take in the work in the larger gallery, I came because it was dinnertime.

Dinner tonight: homemade chili and cornbread, with a tangerine

When I first heard that Diaz-Perara would be living in a 2.5 by 10 foot crawlspace in the Chicago Artists Coalition, my first questions were natural, if not a bit nosy. How will he eat? How will he relieve himself? What will he do? I didn't ask why. The "why" was deeply imbedded in who Diaz-Perara is. A Cuban-born artist recently emigrated from Havana, his life has been painted by absence. His father moved to the United States when he was a boy, and with communication being both limited and expensive in Cuba, the absence was profound. In 2011, he met Cara Lewis, an artist and gallerist living in the US. They began a relationship marked by absences, structured by distance, with various barriers of communication, and the kind of longing that lends itself to not knowing when you will see a loved one again. When he moved to the US this summer, Diaz-Perara embarked on another absence - the absence of his mother, his friends, and his country.

In the Absence of a Body makes tangible the action of absence. Though he is just on the other side of a thin white wall, he is not embodied. You can however feel his presence. His silence speaks volumes. His shadows and quiet breathing, footsteps and fingers on the wall, a hand through the movable vent that reaches out for the sustenance brought to him.

Lewis talking to Diaz-Perara while he eats his dinner

Though absence plays deeply into the provocative nature of this work, what runs deepest for me is the birth of a community and the human ability to adapt and soldier on with just the basics - Cuban values that one might not consider in this country. My questions about how he will eat, what he will do, and how he will care for himself come both out of curiosity and a sort of ignorance of what it is to live with less. What he is doing is difficult to define, there is a meditative state to the performance, but mirroring the isolation and meditation is the community that has gathered around Diaz-Perara. On a daily basis, Lewis brings him meals. She speaks to him through the wall, gives him little updates, tells him about her day. If she asks him a question, he might thump against the wall giving a response for her to intuit. Jefferson Godard has been visiting him with regularity as well, bring an energy and levity in the space that is entertaining and nourishing. Godard speaks in rapid-fire Spanish, singing, telling jokes, and leaning against the wall to let Diaz-Perara know he is there. Others like myself have brought him meals, which we lay before the vent anticipating the hand of his reaching out. A simple action that is profound and warming.

We stayed in the gallery while he ate, sometimes talking to him, sometimes talking to each other while he listened. It wasn't just the sustenance of food we were serving, but the sustenance of chatter, camaraderie, and love that nourish those unspoken parts of ourselves. My chili and cornbread received a thumbs up, and some energetic taps on the wall.

In the Absence of Body (and Diaz-Perara) will be on display until Thursday, February 26 at the Chicago Artists Coalition. Lewis and Diaz-Perara have collaborated on other projects which manifest the distance they endure while acknowledging the social and political barriers between Cuban and the U.S. You can view their projects here.

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