Alysa Nahmias and Ben Murray (Ajna Film), Producers and Directors
(2011) is a feature length documentary film that tells the turbulent story of the Cuban Revolution through its most significant architectural achievement—Cuba’s National Art Schools—and the lives of the architects who built them.
The film follows the history of the schools from 1961 when Castro and Che commission Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, and Roberto Gottardi to design “the world’s most beautiful art school” on a former golf course. During the Cold War, construction stops and the architects are branded counter–revolutionary. Fifty years later, in 1999, Castro invites them back to finish their unrealized dream and reconsider the country’s utopian ideals. Unfinished Spaces also features well-known Cuban artists who have attended the schools, including Mirtha Ibarra, Ever Fonseca, Manuel Lopez–Oliva, Felipe Dulzaides, Dafnis Prieto, and Kcho; and the voices of architects known for their expertise in Cuba, such as John Loomis, Mario Coyula, and Selma Diaz. Unfinished Spaces is not a heavy political documentary; audiences will be engaged with cinematic storytelling, unique characters, and a novel portrayal of Revolutionary Cuba.
Felipe Dulzaides, Artist
is an ongoing series of installations that address different issues related the completion of Havana’s National Art Schools. The project, a mixed media installation, functions as an archive, and has organically evolved as if it were a living organism, functioning in direct relationship to the exhibition context.
Utopía Posible began with the 2004 exhibition Invitación that featured a wall/theater designed by the architect Roberto Gottardi. Gottardi had been in charge of designing the School of Dramatic Arts that, when construction was halted in 1965, only 45% finished. The school’s theater was never constructed. Then forty years later things changed, and the architect became immersed in developing a new project to complete the original. Dulzaides became interested in following Gottardi’s process. He videotaped an ongoing dialog with Gottardi. The end result is a video that captures the architect’s ideas, struggles and process to finish the school. For the 2008 Gwangju Biennial, Gottardi designed a brick wall dividing the pavilion into different spaces. Each space featured different aspects (model, photo documentation, sketches, digital renderings), presenting the evolution of Gottardi’s design from the first project of 1961–65 to the four projects of 2007. Utopía Posible was recreated at the 2009 Havana Biennial. At the close, the bricks were donated for use in the completion of the school since one of the reasons that construction was not advancing was because building materials, especially bricks were lacking. In 2010 a new expanded installation of Utopía Posible at the Graham Foundation introduced two new works: “Next Time It Rains” 1999–2010 about Vittorio Garatti’s School of Ballet and “Broken Glass” 2010—about Ricardo Porro’s School of Modern Dance.
The genesis for Utopía Posible is found in 1999, after Dulzaides’ chance encounter with Revolution of Forms in a San Francisco bookstore, which inspired him to return to the unfinished schools where he cleaned out one of the water conduits of Vittorio Garatti’s School of Ballet as a performance. This gesture was an allegorical attempt to restore the original function of the building whose construction was 95% complete but never used. This work of architecture, with an amazing design, had become home to the tropical jungle, its birds and other fauna.
Revolution of Forms–the Opera
Charles Koppleman, Producer; Robert Wilson, Director
“We will turn this playground for the rich into a wonderful school. We will build schools for the arts—art schools for the people!” Thus begins Revolution of Forms, an opera in five knee plays and five scenes. Its contemporary musical score replicates, and abstracts from, the wealth of rhythmic and sensuous (sometimes minor-key tragic) Afro-Cuban musical traditions: danzon, rhumba, son, balada, guajira, mambo, among others.
Revolution of Forms, based in part on the eponymous book by John Loomis, deals with the real people and actual events surrounding Escuela Nacional de Arte, the Cuban National Art Schools. This is a political, cultural, and personal drama of classic proportions with an epic arc, passionate characters, and intense conflicts. Counter–intuitively perhaps, the primary drama lies not with Fidel and Che, who are minor characters. Instead we experience this revolution in culture and forms from the point of view of the architects, builders, workers, and art students who made it. There are no sides to take. Instead, this story retains an open–ended, ambiguous quality that touches on timeless and universal themes: creativity, revolution, community, and the desire for permanence.
“As an architect, I appreciate John Loomis’ Revolution of Forms for its layers of historical nuance, visual detail, and scholarly research. As a filmmaker, I love this book for its cinematic drama, unexpected plot twists, and larger than life characters. Loomis’ non–fiction narrative reads like a Hollywood script. The visionary designs of the Cuban National Art Schools will capture the imaginations of architects and non–architects alike.”
“John Loomis’ book addresses in a brilliant way the story of the schools I was familiar with but never heard discussed. I studied at the School of Dramatic Arts in the mid–1980’s. For me Revolution of Forms opened up a Pandora’s box, setting me on an incredible artistic journey. I became interested in addressing the recent developments concerning the schools possible conclusion. To engage the National Art Schools is to reflect on the blurry line between art and life, poetry and ethics, politics and ideology, design and the historical moment in which a work is conceived.”
“This powerful story has colorful characters, big dreams, and a universal timeless conflict: art and politics. Loomis marvelously pulls together threads of architecture, political history, community and aesthetics, all within Cuban culture, in a masterful way. The book affected me deeply, so much so that it inspired me to produce an opera based on its characters and story.”