UNPACK STUDIO is an independent platform for artistic collaboration based in Toronto, Canada. It is aimed at coordinating and curating contemporary art projects.
Our mandate is to provide a context for aesthetic research developed in the cultural, linguistic and political articulations of knowledge, particularly reflecting on the understandings of migration, race, gender and power. We are interested in investigations aimed at exploring the conceptual intersections and points of rupture of these definitions.
We seek to potentiate artworks that reflect on the negotiations that discrete concepts and fields of knowledge are subjected to when extrapolated to other cultural spaces or disciplines, whether through life experience or research. Our objective is to promote the work of artists and curators that question the validity of definitions as absolutes, in light of the trans-disciplinary nature of contemporary thinking.
UNPACK STUDIO IS A
The UNPACK STUDIOHavana Art Residency program is open to visual artists, curators and researchers. The residency runs from three to seven weeks and comprises of independent workdays, meetings with an internationally recognized Art Contact twice a week and one or more presentations at the prestigious universities of Havana.
The artist can create local-foreign collaborations, interact with contemporary Cuban practitioners and give Cuban art students the opportunity to see diverse practices. Creatives can research, produce new work individually or in collaboration, network with artists, art students, galleries, curators, and explore Havana.
Unpack Studio residency in Cuba is strategically situated in Vedado, a central and popular neighbourhood of Havana, with easy access to all areas of the city (view map). There is walking distance access to food markets, stores, internet wifi spots, jazz bars, swimming pools, art galleries, cinemas and theatres.
I arrive in a heat wave so hot I will need a coping strategy. I rent a bike that’s too expensive and realize I should have bought one to donate to Unpack. Oh well, I am happy to be freewheeling through the colourful streets of Habana. I head west beyond the seawall searching for ocean access. Beach #1 is rocky with what looks like tufa and fossils, hard to walk on. I cool my feet but not much more, something nibbles at my toes. Beach # 2 is as rocky and looks too dangerous to enter. Beach #3 holds potential but I must traverse a thin ledge to reach the shore. Courage required and soon I’m swimming in the cool clear water with los muchachos. It’s over the bridge at Calle 12, doable on bike for a daily swim.
I settle into a routine making art in the mornings, reading Spanish, buying provisions para la comida. I find milk for café con leche, guavas for shakes and peanut bars for strength. On my outings I venture deeper into Centro Habana, gaining confidence and inspiration. Small architectonic paintings develop from the forms and colours noted. I’m interested in the space between house and street where public meets private with brightly painted pillars, gates and steps; each plane a different value that satisfies my painterly gaze. It hits me that Cubans decorate with concrete! I visit art galleries and begin to grasp the conceptual sophistication of contemporary Cuban art.
We visit Ernest Hemingway’s house and are swept away by the tale evoked in the objects and spaces he occupied. We linger by the pool… I reread Old Man and the Sea and am struck by his visceral descriptions. Hemingway loved Cuba, It fed his complicated soul for over 30 years. I begin to grasp the contradictions that exist in parallel worlds. The dual currency is emblematic – collectivo taxis cost 10 pesos to Habana Vieja (a few Canadian pennies) while regular taxis are 10 cuc’s ($14). We use both depending of what we’re buying. Cubans love to shop… yet there is little available. Advertising is absent yet slogans are everywhere, architecture is outstanding though much in ruin, streets are alive, detritus abundant. Cubans are warm loving people and I am grateful for the care and hospitality I feel (gracias Omar, Laura y Matilda). There is irony in the evening ritual on the Malecón where lovers gaze out at the dividing sea. What will linger for me are my wanderings through Centro Habana feeling the pulse of the neighbourhood and the beauty of its buildings while peering through grated windows into tiny dark rooms where life unfolds in the shadows.
Thank you Unpack, it’s been a crazy and wonderful adventure.
My residency at Unpack was my second visit to Cuba. My first was in 2008 when I was a student at ISA on a study abroad placement. This was an incredibly influential time and I was keen to return and experience working in Havana again. I found my visit to be extremely interesting to see… Read Full Post
Cuba felt like home but with its unique twist. I’m a visual artist hailing from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago… So being introduced to my Caribbean cousins was, in short, an experience like none other. The people are some of the warmest hearts I’ve felt. Starting with Omar Alberto, the ever smiling daily coordinator… Read Full Post
My name is Norman Barney, from Ontario, Canada. I just returned home from a short fifteen day stay at the Unpack Studio Artist Residency in Havana, Cuba. I have had two residencies at the Banff Centre last fall (2016) as well as the spring residency in 2015. Having gone to Cuba now and then for… Read Full Post
January 12th Almost a couple of weeks in Cuba and I feel like I’m just starting to get into the island rhythm. There’s a lot to adjust to here, but what I’ve enjoyed most is the warmth of the people I’ve met and the simple day to day moments of life, whether it be… Read Full Post
I am a photo-based artist. I’ve been working on a long-term project that involves travelling in Latin America. I have participated in numerous artist residency programs while pursuing this project, but my experience at Unpack Studio Havana Art Residency has been my favourite. I’m Mexican, but I have a long personal history with Cuba. I… Read Full Post
Upon my arrival to Havana, it quickly became clear that Cuba is not an easy place to navigate for a foreigner, much less if you don’t speak Spanish. During my stay at Unpack Studio Havana Art Residency they arranged studio visits with artists’ whose work was relevant to my own, planned excursions outside of the city, and… Read Full Post
My residency in January 2015, was the second time I had been to Havana. The first time I went, I wanted to see the sites, experience the space, and try to understand how to move about the streets. The second time I went I wanted to meet people and start producing artwork. Having the opportunity… Read Full Post