“To a large extent, Adrift, rather than a strict concept to define a specific project or work, is a state of consciousness (awareness).”
Ricardo Brey’s most recent ongoing body of work lacks the defined cohesiveness of previous artistic projects, which were united by shared formal and thematic concerns. After being confined to a wheelchair for several months due to medical issues, the artist described himself as “drifting around … wandering in my study not … working in my total capacity.” Discovering that this description—“drifting off”—described his new state of mind, he began to create a series of disparate yet interconnected works from, in his words, “fragments that float in my memory, images that have no place in the rigid parameters of my previous work.” Ranging in form from sculptures and installations to photographs and drawings, these works recall earlier projects while breaking new ground.
For example, after more than twenty years in exile, Ricardo Brey returned to Cuba in 2014. Constructing works in response to the changes he observed in Havana, he produced a series of installations and photographs that evince his intense connection to his homeland while critically reflecting on its metamorphosis. As Brey recounted in an interview, “The most iconic Cuban painting of the … [past] century was made by the artist Wifredo Lam, the name of the painting is La Jungla (The Jungle). I mention this to emphasize how important the relationship of the Cuban people with the natural world is. … When I went back to Cuba … I found out that this relationship was broken. The urgent need of fuel during the hard times in the 90s … made the population see the trees as fuel and not as a source of medicine, wisdom or shade. … [Ancient] trees were torn down. Today this is still happening.” Lamenting this destruction, these works articulate Brey’s belief that “With the roots of the trees in the air, the roots of the human psyche start to perish.” Sepia-toned photographs and assemblages that feature tree stumps and roots decorated with small objects—melancholic shrines—the pieces allude to deforestation and are a contemporary call to action, highlighting the international problem of climate change.
Warning of global peril, such works present concepts that are further developed in recent drawings, which take as their inspiration texts like Galileo Galilei’s Dos lecciones infernales, a scientific treatise based on Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, Inferno. As Brey states, “Do not think the Inferno stayed in the past. It is here in the present and hopefully avoiding ecological and social disasters we will be able to close its door in the future.” At the same time, these pieces expand on Brey’s artistic project of challenging dualisms between fact and fiction, science and art, and the rational and irrational through the construction of images informed by both.