LISET CASTILLO was born in 1974 in Camaguey, Cuba. She grew up in Camaguey where she attended the Elementary and Medium Level Art Schools 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 artists such 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 .Castillo lived in New York until her return to The Netherlands in 2013. Since then, she has been living and working in Amsterdam. The Netherlands.
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 leitmotif 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, completed 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.
In her work “Spectrum: Order and Disorder,” she creates several wall sculptures consisting of set of acrylic tubes which encapsulates 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 these playful color pieces.
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, but also taking as reference the Dutch painting tradition, from both the pictorial and historical point of view.
Castillo has intensively shown in the US and Europe. Among her most significant exhibitions are the 8th and 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, the Marcelino Botin Foundation , the Mondrian Foundation and several grants from The Netherlands Foundation for the Arts, Design and Architecture from Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 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.