The work of Norwegian visual artist Herman Skretting is on exhibit at the Casa de la Poesía in Old Havana.
As if it were the migration of the monarch butterfly, dozens of butterflies are invading the spaces of Old Havana’s Casa de la Poesía these days. Butterflies of winter, of fire, of powder, of words, cholera… That’s how Norwegian visual artist Herman Skretting’s work is introduced. He’s showing his solo exhibition Love in the Time of Cholera until July 18.
Inspired by the homonymous novel, written by Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez in 1985, the exhibition uses engraving as the basic technique to unfold a personal interpretation of the well-known Latin American novel, through 75 butterflies of different colors and sizes.
Pastel tones join, combined drastically, other more aggressive ones, suggestive textures and abstract forms. From charcoal, paving blocks, stone, plants, Skretting’s butterflies seek to catch with their wings all that’s diverse, sensorial and complex between love, life and death also.
An exhibition whose main motif is butterflies can appear an empty, because repetitive, topic to whatever public. However, within the work of this artist, it’s seductive to find these convergence points with which the artist – with butterflies as the only motif – has been able to capture an image, a passage leading to García Márquez\'s work.
What strange connections lead a Norwegian plastic artist, getting close to Latin American literature for the first time, to re-write a text from engraving? How is a story - sometimes sweet, sometimes visceral - written with butterflies?
An inspiration doesn\'t necessarily have to be the live reflection of what we do. Sometimes, a stain makes us think of a cloud and a clock makes us think of oblivion. Nevertheless, standing in front of Herman Skretting’s work only makes me remember how many butterflies there were in Love in the Time… Five. And almost always, inside the mouth of a caiman.
Then, beyond the phrase engraved on the canvas, which guides our thinking towards the fragment of the book used as referent – also defined by the Norwegian plastic artist as “inspiration” – is the meaning itself the phrase acquires read out of context, next to a winged butterfly: “Who doesn\'t have memory, makes one of paper” and next to this aphorism, the image of a broken white winged moth, drawn nonchalantly with a boy’s crayons…. Which reminds me that we journalists go around the world creating paper memories.
The fundamental merits of Herman’s work are to create a bridge between the figurative referent and the abstract one, to evade textual and imaginary frontiers and to create a parallel universe of textures where the words integrate harmoniously into the object until they become a unique speech of color and forms.
Although it’s true that the butterfly motif has been used many times to represent beauty, fragility, fineness or innocence, this time, in his first solo exhibition, Herman Skretting wisely avoids such primary referents and works on the basis of other discursive anchorages.
Metamorphosis, resistance, perseverance, pain, maturity, utopia and sacrifice are the new meanings these butterflies acquire, guided by the complex and no less risky love between Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza, García Márquez’s characters.
As if it were the migration of the monarch butterfly, precisely, the Norwegian plastic artist also makes feelings and interpretations migrate, fly over cognitive, contextual, geographical and poetic distances, which place the characters of the novel, with their conflicts and fears, in the spotlight again, of those who view this physical and sensorial reading.
“These are things you do only for love.” “We\'ll grow old waiting.” “Come back every afternoon, and wait until I change my seat.” “Nothing that does not talk will come into this house.” “All I ask is that you receive a letter from me.” These are some of the texts used as referents. Some are subject to one single engraving and one possible interpretation; others vary their meaning according to the butterfly they accompany. The result of “reading” the engraving is always the same: a sensation of inner shock.
When the exhibition finishes in the capital city July 18, Herman Skretting\'s butterflies will fly to Colombia and then to Europe, in an endeavor to shorten the distance between the artist and his public.
After 27 years of “comings and goings,” Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) is returned to us with a winged figure under the evocative stamp of a Norwegian, who has proposed to tattoo on the memory García Márquez\'s unforgettable phrase: “…love was always love, anytime and anyplace, but it was more solid the closer it came to death.”
Translated by Roberto Espí Valero
Revised by CF Ray