Through several strategies of implementation and technique, art has become a great source of social change and influence with the primary material of this deviation coming from the person-to-person exchanges, relations, and participations. ‘Turismo’ is the name given to the photography technique and installation created, developed, and displayed by the Argentine artist Judi Werthein, with the help of her husband, Leandro Erlich (Smith 45). Judi Wertheim was born in the late 60s in Buenos Aires and has been passionate about art from her childhood (Smith 47). She has managed to produce quality work, which has seen her art shown regularly in shows at galleries in both Buenos Aires and New York, with most of her work being recognized nationally (Smith 52). In Turismo, we are made aware that the relationship between men and their surrounding area is not set (Permanent), but rather they can continually be reinvented. We are faced with the unsteadiness of the different experiments but at the same time, with the likelihood of making it appropriate in an exciting and inventive way.
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As a part of the Havana Biennial Art Exhibitions that takes place after every two years in Havana Cuba, the Artwork Turismo principally tries to promote the socio-cultural activities of the Cubans and is considered as one of the most important voices of the Latin Americans. The artwork Turismo, with its connection to the Biennial Art Exhibitions, has had several central themes, amongst them the contemporary traditions and challenges of art and as a form of reflection towards the society and their major-socio-economic activities. This artwork is also used as a means of storing memories of life and rural-urban life of the Cubans, about their tourism-related activities and tendencies.
At its core, Turismo shows a series of beautiful, joyful, but nonetheless ineluctably emotional photographs made by the artist in her makeshift studio, depicting ordinary Cubans posing, as they please, in rather unlikely settings (Alonso 34). In one of the photographs, there is the picture of a bunch of Cubans posing happily in a sparkling winter wonderland that has the incorporation of bright and festive looking Alpine backdrops. There is fake snow on the underfoot, with most of the props used during the photography (such as the skis and snowballs) looking rather disingenuous at first sight. There is also the inclusion of a superbly done recreation of a snow-scene set, looking very pristine and inviting (Werthein et al. 17).
There are pictures of families with children, couples, soldiers and even fort employees, most of them putting on skis and playing with snowballs. In one such scene, the incongruity-the evident clash between the background climate and the cultures of the photographed characters- is so palpable and intensified, that the viewer cannot help but marvel at the artist’s talent. For example, in one of the photographs, there is the image of a man, woman (seemingly his wife) and children, who seem to step out into the snow wearing summer clothes, but adorned in skis and holding snowballs. There is also the inclusion of uncanny props, such as the horse, the pushcart, and some goats, further increasing this incompatibility and inconsistency with the norm. in one of the most curiously affecting photographs, there is the photograph of a janitor leaning forward while holding one of his skis in the air and smiling fixedly at the camera, giving the viewer the impression that he was still holding on for one more shot before he “skied down the slopes” (Alonso 34).
The playful and free-spirited manner in which the Turismo pictures are made point out to the innate paradox that life thrusts upon people, making them behave in a certain manner with relation to their environment (Werthein et al. 22). For instance, while tourism is the main economic activity in Cuba, the natives are themselves not free to travel and engage in this tourism because they have other engagements to meet. Nonetheless, in the pictures taken by the couple, they are depicted as “acting” like tourists, having fun while enjoying the jokes they are creating (Werthein et al. 27). Though the contrast between the cultures of the characters being photographed, the props, and the backgrounds is evident, it helps to bring out a sense of artistic beauty as well as the meaning and sense of belonging that everyone has to their environment.
It excites the sense of the viewer on first and immediate interpretations, while at the same time introducing people to experiences that they have limited or no access to. There is also the revelation of the way in which the media has molded our interpretation of the surroundings and what to expect. Through the artwork, the viewer is made aware of the fact that the relationship between their surroundings and their cultures and current situations is not permanent, centrally to the media perception and indoctrinations. Highly regarded as a source of social artistry because of its cultivation in the belief of cultural as well as creative expression, the Artwork Turismo created by Elrich and Werthein has become a means of escape for the local Cuban communities, having deep and everlasting social effect changes on their lives and the way they view their livelihoods. Through this art, the Cubans, and all who are interested in the photographs, have become challenged with many of the societal assumptions about a certain group of people, that has been created over the years through a series of media ridden reports and stereotypes. By building upon the power of artistic creativity and imagination, Turismo has been able to spark new ideas in the social minds of the local people, as well as becoming a social catalyst for the development and upholding of critical thinking and philosophy. Werthein has also been able to elicit new actions and ideas of though in the people, while at the same time inspiring and creating visions for the people to look forward to, both as an ethnicity and as a community. Socially, Turismo has become a political act offering the people a conscious effort for the facilitation and participation in the social change that they would like to see in their society. Thus, as Werthein puts it, if we want change and respect, love or even beauty, we must be ready to accept within ourselves as well be ready to promote it through art.
Alonso, Rodrigo. The world as reality and representation. Chicago, IL: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2004.
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Smith, Roberta. Tourismo. New York, NY: Kent Gallery, 2001.
Werthein, Judi, Erlich, Leandro, and Gallery, Kent. Turismo: La Habana, Cuba. New York, NY: Kent Gallery, 2001.