Los Angeles


Todo Cambia” (Everything changes), a show of work from 1997 by Kcho curated by Alma Ruiz and Paul Schimmel, is a message in a bottle from a Caribbean island. The first room is filled with nearly life-size sculptures made of clay over wire armatures that take the shapes of different objects related to flotation and navigation: a raft, a kayak, a sail, a surfboard, a boat, an oar. Precarious and deteriorating, thetr surfaces thickly patterned with cracks, the sculptures emphasized their nonfunctionality, their rough craft production and the non—waterproof material of which they are fashioned. Kcho calls attention to the status of these objects as art by displaying them on beaten-up wood tables brought from Havana's Instituto Superior de Arte, highlighting their figurative passage from waters to museum walls. Like many of Kcho's works, this installation combines a delicate sense of nostalgia with strong political undertones: the boat, Cuba, its boat people.

The more remarkable piece occupied the second room of the exhibition. It consisted of several flimsily constructed wooden stands filled with a couple hundred secondhand books of various origins, fields, periods, and languages, which visitors were allowed to leaf through. The slightly inclined wooden stands, holding the books face out, were arranged in a U layout that resembled a boat open at the back. The poor quality and craftsmanship of the stands, typical of Havana's street vendors of used books, were of a piece with the volumes themselves, sometimes battered and soiled, their covers faded, the designs simple if not naïve. This library—its U design functions as an invitation to the otherwise hands-off museum visitor—could be seen as a humbler relation of MOCA's sleek reading room at the nearby Geffen Contemporary. Though the reading room is furbished with Frank Gehry chairs and a better class of books—weighty art catalogues and high theory—Kcho's hook stall trumps it for superior status: it was art.

The vast majority of Kcho's books were, of course, in Spanish (a few are in English and Russian, and at least one is in Portuguese), and their contents generally seemed outdated. Yet this collection speaks in an eloquent and cacophonic way of an experience that is far from most of its viewers: the time and place of their collector, the artist himself, represented in volumes on Russian literature, on the poetry of revolution, on the geography of Cuba, on José Martí, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro; and on medicine, biology, advertising, management, geometry, mathematics, music, dance, high and low literature, and, of course, art. It is worth noting that Kcho was not granted a visa to tnstall the work: the library-boat, then, stands in for the absent librarian.

There is a strong textual character to Kcho's library—not so much in the endless succession of printed pages, but in the interrelationships between foreign languages and categories of knowledge and the different narratives one may construct in browsing through them. Each time you walk through the exhibit, everything changes. The interpretive barriers to this part of “Todo Cambia” were manifold: the books' origin in embargoed Cuba, their (for many viewers) foreign languages, their diverse contents, their sheer quantity of items. Open as the work seems to be, it raises obstacles for the viewer to surmount and multiple possibilities that he or she must choose from, posing a piercing metaphor for the perils and limits of this highly enigmatic activity: reading.

Adriano Pedroso