Jury Report: Tilting Axis Fellowship 2021/2022

In autumn 2019, Het Nieuwe Instituut joined forces with Tilting Axis to offer a fellowship to an applicant based in the Caribbean. Cuban architect Fernando Martirena has been selected as the recipient of the Tilting Axis /Het Nieuwe Instituut Fellowship 2021/2022. Together with Anadis González, Martirena founded the architecture office Infraestudio in Havana in 2016.

See the announcement on the Tilting Axis website here.

Procedure

The fellowship is supported by Het Nieuwe Instituut as lead partner and host, and will include collaborations with the Amsterdam Museum, De Appel, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Kunstinstituut Melly. Between the announcement of the open call on 25 May and the deadline on 4 July 2021, Het Nieuwe Instituut and Tilting Axis received 10 eligible entries in response to the open call, from six territories in the Caribbean region: Aruba, Cuba, Guadeloupe, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas and Suriname.

All the proposals were reviewed by a committee composed of the following members:

  • Holly Bynoe, independent curator and Tilting Axis co-founder
  • Aric Chen, Artistic and General Director, Het Nieuwe Instituut
  • Annalee Davis, visual artist, Founding Director/Fresh Milk, and Tilting Axis co-founder
  • Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, Director, and Jessy Koeiman, Curator Collective Learning, Kunstinstituut Melly
  • Charl Landvreugd, Head of Research and Curatorial Practice, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
  • Imara Limon, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Amsterdam Museum
  • Marina Otero Verzier, Director of Research, Het Nieuwe Instituut
  • Mark Raymond, Director of the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa and the current Plym Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (spring 2021)
  • Monika Szewczyk, Director, De Appel

Proposals were evaluated on the basis of their engagement with the theme of the open call, and clear interest in the areas of research/practice and organisations highlighted in it. Four candidates were shortlisted and invited to an online interview with members of the selection committee on 15 July 2021. Following the interviews, the committee selected Fernando Martirena as the recipient of this fellowship. The other shortlisted candidates were A k u z u r u (Trinidad and Tobago), Sonja Dumas (Trinidad and Tobago) and Dr Ian Bethell Bennett (The Bahamas).

General Comments

The members of the jury were impressed by the relevance and timeliness of the projects, as well as the expertise and ambition of the applicants. The set of applications showed a variety of working methodologies and media, ranging from installations and architectural designs to performances, workshops, archival research and forms of public engagement and activism. The projects represent the creativity and power of the work developed by artists and intellectuals in the Caribbean.

The jury was pleased to have received applications from applicants based in all four linguistic territories of the Caribbean. Submissions responded to urgent themes including climate change, colonialism, de/colonisation, architecture found in nature, ritual, myth and paradise.

Further Reflections on the Open Call

Following this second edition of the Tilting Axis Fellowship, Het Nieuwe Instituut and Tilting Axis, together with the partners, will consider how to further develop these collaborations across and beyond the Caribbean, acknowledging not only the inhabitants of these territories but also their diasporic communities and their histories.

Comments on the Selected Proposal

Cuba-based Fernando Martirena will use the fellowship to expand on building a body of knowledge on the different manifestations of what he terms the Architecture of Cruelty, and find those examples that react against it.

The jury felt that Martirena’s proposal was relevant and coherent and responded to the call in compelling ways. His submission articulated the prohibitive bureaucracy and difficult situation in Cuba in relation to architecture, and a desire to reflect on his immediate environment from afar. Furthermore, the jury was intrigued by his interest in working on the political character of architecture and in considering how to care for and think differently about the local challenges architects face in Cuba, as well as in other regions in the Caribbean and beyond, by mobilising the forms of collaboration, solidarity and engagement that the fellowship offers. His ambition includes the creation of a database, the production of a suite of collages, models, craft books and texts, and a deepening of his relationship with the archives so as to develop another understanding of the political implications of architecture and social-spatial practices, resonating with the fellowship partners’ interest in opening up their archival collections and spaces to greater scrutiny and interpretation.

Untitled (The Universal Art Museum of Cuba and the 5 Star Hotel Manzana Kempinski) by Infraestudio, 2020.

On receiving the news that he had been awarded the fellowship, Martirena shared this statement with the jury:

“Each city, each landscape, has its own political and social conflicts, increasingly similar everywhere. Architecture responds to latent conflicts, once they have already been resolved or forgotten: it always comes too late. It is the last representation of the economic and political power games of a territory. Inspired by the Theatre of Cruelty (The First Manifesto), by Antonin Artaud, my research seeks to build a body of knowledge on the different manifestations of cruelty in contemporary architecture and find those examples that react against it. Thus, I will illustrate dystopian but possible fantasies from a poetic and personal point of view, taking as examples the city of Havana and the political figure of the architect as a servant.

I will use the fantastic opportunity provided by the Tilting Axis Fellowship to investigate the current condition of my city and the many intersections that exist between architecture and politics around the world.

Once this is done, I hope to be able to make a mise-en-scène that not only talks about architecture, but makes architecture speak for itself. This will be possible thanks to the access to libraries, archives and interviews, and to the study time provided by the institutions associated with the fellowship. The final result will be a series of ideas whose documentation will be inspired by the ‘bookworks’ that Ulises Carrión made in Amsterdam in the 1970s. I am immensely grateful for this opportunity that I consider as both a gift and a challenge.” 

Biography

Fernando Martirena (b.1992) currently works and lives in Havana. He graduated from the Technical University of Havana, where he gave lectures on the theory and criticism of architecture. Martirena co-founded the art and architecture studio Infraestudio together with Anadis González. Infraestudio is a transdisciplinary practice interested in space, politics, the minimum and fiction. In addition to architectural projects, Martirena has produced books, collages, installations, urban research and editorial projects. His work seeks to illustrate the poetics of a minor architecture focused on ideas rather than forms. Currently, the studio has five buildings under construction, including the Line 508 Contemporary Art Center. Infraestudio has participated in exhibitions in the last two iterations of the Havana Biennial, the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, the Gorría Gallery Workshop and Cuban Art Factory.

Fernando is also Coordinator of the Cuban Architecture Studies Group. Being one of the protagonists of contemporary Cuban architecture, he has thoroughly studied its political and social condition, and has published critical texts about it in ArquineRialta Magazine and No Country Magazine. Other examples of his positioning towards national architecture have been the curatorship of two group exhibitions featuring installations, performances and digital art. He has also been one of the main activists and leaders of the Campaign for the Legalisation of Cuban Independent Architecture, which up to the present day remains illegal.

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