LISET CASTILLO was born in 1974 in Camaguey, Cuba. She grew up in Camaguey where she attended the Elementary and Medium Level Art Schools there for 7 years. In 1993, she moved to Havana where she studied at the prestigious Higher Institute of Art (ISA), graduating in 1998 with a Master in Fine Arts.
In 2000, she moved to Amsterdam to attend the International Artists Program “de Ateliers,” an independent artists’ institute focused on the artistic development of young, talented artists from within the Netherlands and abroad. During this two-year program she received regular studio visits from such artists as Marlene Dumas, Steve Mc Queen, Tacita Dean, Jan Dibbets, Rita McBride, Albert Oehlen, among many others. Having obtained the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004, she went to New York City and participated in the year-long International Studio and Curatorial Program.
For the past 20 years, Castillo has constructed complex models out of sand, wood, Plexiglas, powder pigments, and other materials. Some of them, she later photographs in her studio. The photographs are illusionistic in scale, allowing each model to become full size—a dramatic landscape that is seemingly vast and all encompassing.
The idea of the impermanent state of things, chaos and order, creation and destruction have always been a leitmotifs in her work.
The ephemeral natural of sand, one of the most used materials within her work, not only reminds us of the impermanence and eventual demise of any human–made structure, but also of the humans who make them. They intend to project the illusion of purpose, sense of order, and proof of existence that we so desperately need.
That desire for systems that regiment, organize and dictate existence is evidenced, for example, in her work “Grid” from 2005 , which represents the ideal of suburbia. A small town, complete with Monopoly-style houses, is installed on a Plexigrid. Each model house is painted in a different color in order to make them distinct from one another and to demonstrate the artificial environments we create for ourselves. The colors are fake, the grid is fake, the tidy of the installation is unrealistic.
In a previous series “Departure Point, she builds roads and interchanges out of wet sand and photographed them, transforming infrastructure into a temporal construction.
In her 2007 series of photographs “Pain is Universal But So is Hope,” the artist creates a fictional city or utopian microcosms where particular historical and cultural iconography converge and fuse in the universal experience of creation and destruction. The photographic series encapsulates eight sequences from a specific “state of change.” Each photograph has a different background color, from white to the seven colors of the rainbow. With the use of these spectrum of color backgrounds, the artist tries to summarize the belief that in both social and organic worlds, there is calm after the storm.
In her new body of works, Castillo continues to create conceptual and metaphorical work that challenges in formal terms the definition and boundaries between sculpture, painting and photography. From the outset, she creates works that defy categorization and re-use the perceptual skin of subjects, giving new meaning to objects and materials that reflect the antagonisms of topics such as: order and disorder, the material and the ephemeral, disintegration and development.
A symbiotic relationship between the subject and the material she uses plays an important role. The objects capture an experience of the liquefying and dissolving of any original form, and why not the anachronistic pictorial language of abstract art.
For example in her work “Spectrum: Order and Disorder,” she creates a wall sculpture consisting of 2 sets of 14 acrylic tubes. Each set is filled with a spectrum of 14 continuous and non-continuous color pigments. Castillo creates parallels between the symbiotic relation of “spectrum” as a condition that is not limited to a specific set of values and a spectrum of colors than can be varied or presented in indefinite ways.
For example, a single left-right spectrum of political opinion does not capture the full range of people’s political beliefs.
The question of the purposefulness of our human enterprise and perhaps the “one Ideology” politics of her own native Cuba inspires most of this work. At the same time, these works offer the possibility of change and the freedom of the open road, through the selection and arrangement “by chance,” as it is presented in this playful color piece.
To express these ideas, she simply uses one of the basic elements of visual perception: the color spectrum, which is also used in its basic structural form: pure powder pigments. The volatile state of material is analogous to the volatile state of contemporary ideologies.
The idea of working with pure color pigments in this new body of work also has a very personal side to it and involves her visual perception and pictorial observation of Havana, from the perspective of diaspora, of absence and distance.
Castillo has intensively shown in the US and Europe. Among her most significant exhibitions are the 10Th Havana Biennial, ” The Edge of Intent “at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, MoCP, Chicago, “Sand ” at The Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons, New York, Via Simbolica” at St. Mary’s College, Maryland. Curated by Sarah Tanguy. “Paradiso Terrestre” Bonelli Lab Gallery, Canneto S/O.( MN)Italy,“ Itinerarios ” at the Marcelino Botin Foundation, Santander, Spain, “Infinite Island. Contemporary Caribbean Art” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in NY, El Barrio Museum X- Files Biennial, New York, “ Pain is Universal but so is Hope” at Black & White Gallery , New York., “ Stumbling Towards Paradise” at ( UCR ) California Museum of Photography, Riverside , the 8th Havana Biennial and “ Poskort fra Kuba ” at the Henie Onstad Kunstcenter in Oslo, Norway, among others.
Castillo is the recipient of numerous fellowships including ones from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Cintas Foundation, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and the Marcelino Botin Foundation. Her work has been collected by numerous museums and private collections including The National Gallery of Washington DC, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, MoCP, Chicago, the Marcelino Botin Foundation Collection, Progressive Art Collection, West Collection, Frost Art Museum at Miami International University, ( Cintas Collection), Graphicstudio Collection, University South Florida, Tampa, The Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida, among others.
Between 2005 and 2013 Castillo lived in Brooklyn. Since 2013, she lives and works between Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Havana, Cuba.
Liset Castillo: “Pain is Universal but So is Hope”
“Making sand castles is child’s play, unless you are Liset Castillo. In the yard behind her Brooklyn studio, this young, Cuban-born artist builds wild, intricate sand castles incorporating elements of different world civilizations and architectural monuments: the Taj Mahal , the Coliseum, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Great Wall of China. She then destroys them, recording the ruin in big, high-gloss photographs (left), half a dozen of which are now showing at Black & White Gallery in Chelsea. (More of her photographs are showing in the survey ”Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art” at the Brooklyn Museum.)
Ideas of chaos and destruction come to mind when looking at these images, reminding us that the unrest in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere is nothing new. There is something sad about that, though Ms. Castillo has found a way of exploring it with an acerbic detachment. The sight of the Hollywood sign crumbling into the pyramids is playful yet poignant. All great civilizations eventually come to an end, even our own, just as sand castles on the shore will surely be erased with the rise of the ocean tide. It is only a matter of time”.
By Benjamin Genocchio
September 21, 2007
“About Liset Castillo and Pain Is Universal But So Is Hope series”
Pain Is Universal But So Is Hope by the Cuban artist Liset Castillo documents the construction of a fictitious city, a utopian microcosm where particular aspects of different cultures converge and fuse in the universal experience of creation and destruction. By focusing on the metaphoric use of materials, the belief in metamorphosis, and the relationship between action and its documentation, Castillo condenses the narrative into sculptural dimensions – using her signature sand – to extrapolate in space what she explores in time through sculptural articulation of historical landmarks separated by generations and geography but sharing a complex social narrative. The photographic series encapsulates sequences from a specific “state of change”, with each photograph documenting continual processes of decay, destruction and regeneration, all symbols of transformation. Each photograph also has a different background color bearing the insignia of that specific “state of change”. As in her earlier photographic work, Castillo continues to infuse sand with metaphor in particular by creating sand sculptures and capturing them on film as symbols of the ephemeral nature of our existence. Castillo’s photographs are deceptive illusions. They exist as physiochemical, two-dimensional images reflecting a three dimensional “reality”. By laboriously constructing the photographed images Castillo turns time back on itself; forcing viewers to first believe the illusion, then, as they understand its unrealistic nature consider the nature and construction of truth and reality”
From Press Release at Black and White Art Gallery, New York, 2007
“A symbiotic equivalence binds Castillo’s materials, process and subject ”.
Castillo’s Departure Point series also tells of transience. In these aerial landscape photographs, pristine yet desolate sand highways pit man-made structures against nature in a perpetual cycle of construction and destruction. Emblematic of an imperiled utopia, her images of transportation engage our need for order and legacy. They question the very purposefulness of human enterprise, and perhaps, the politics of her native Cuba. At the same time, they offer the promise of change and the freedom of the open road. This ambivalence carries over onto the series’ title. Although her highways and cloverleaves are fragments, they indicate a starting place for a journey, a skeletal story line awaiting completion, while alluding to the experience of life and death we all share.
A symbiotic equivalence binds Castillo’s materials, process and subject. She became interested in using sand on a visit to Cuba after living in Holland. An enduring metaphor for the passage of time, sand comprises countless, crushed particles that together act like water. This fluidity synchs with Holland being claimed from the sea and her becoming an immigrant without a permanent residence. These volatile conditions, along with her passion for architecture and the social impact of urban and natural forms, led to her own vision of ebb and flow. Outside her studio, the artist painstakingly builds her fragile models, shooting them from above at a moment of transition. In the oversized prints, the illusion triggers a kinesthetic reaction. Rugged landmasses and smooth highways create a palpable contrast. Meanwhile, the rush of a straight stretch, the up and down loop of an interchange, or the meander around corners fuels the unseen driver on these landscapes of the soul.
Via Simbolica Sarah Tanguy, curator BOYDEN Gallery St. Mary’s College of Maryland