The Cuban Landscape Project

 

Since its inception, the Center for Landscape & Artefact has been working in Havana, a city which at times seems to be both landscape and artefact simultaneously. The built environment of the city bears witness to the embattled ideologies of the past six centuries, and the colonial façades of the Old City speak as much to the identity politics of the twentieth century as to the morality plays of the fifteenth. Havana eagerly and shamelessly gratifies the touristic gaze, all the while painting a picture of decadence that would be perfect if it were not totally devoid of indulgence.

Our work in Havana spans a number of fields. We are concerned with the decay, but are perhaps somewhat more concerned with the efforts to stem it. The preservationist project itself is an index of the global and national approach to Cuba, always inseparable from her Revolution and her bearded El Primo, but even more fused to them when made the subject of the international gaze. One of our original truisms is the observation that the choice of what not to restore is equally revealing, if not more so, as the investigation of actual restoration projects.

Not only are we fascinated with Havana’s built environment and the relationship that it has to national and international politics, but are also deeply interested in the extrapolation of that environment from the physical to the cognitive plane. The stemma of language, argot and idiom is a useful tool for the understanding of movement and paralysis, (auto-)censorship and expression, identity politics and political identity in the contemporary urban core of the last communist bastion in the West. Language, in our worldview, functions as both landscape and artefact, its architecture symbiotically forming a cognitive blueprint of, and being constituted by, the built environment. To speak the word Havana is to invoke both the polyglot, polyvalent and violent past, as well as the nebulous future. The Center for Landscape & Artefact seeks to disseminate a deeper understanding of both.

 

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