For the first time in its history, the 6th Havana Biennial inaugurated an Asian section into which I was curated and invited to create the site-specific installation Third World Extra Virgin Dreams 1997 which was honoured to be assigned one of only two vaults that featured a special skylight in its dome ceiling at the historic site of the Cabania Fortress. Implicit in the centuries-old architectural display of impregnability and power, protection and defence is also the aura of a past relevance in the contemporary world, hence its reconfigured status as an open site repurposed for the display of art. Given the extended embargo imposed upon Cuba by the United States, the regime itself is produced relationally as the abject other, expelled from membership of a sphere of influence in the capitalist world that views it as a threat. Its Guantanamo Prison is also a politically abject repository for the extraction of confessions and the recoding of criminalised bodies which have been deemed hostile (the differentiation of boundaries) to America.  

Yet again, I found myself in an architecture that was haunted with a colonial past, reconsigned as it were, to mainly house the art of Latin America. I decided to use an object that is permanently imprinted with the human form - the bed. This object functions metaphorically as a site of both beginnings and endings, birthing and death, sex and sleep; solid and physical, yet vulnerable and abstract - a place of rest and restlessness, dreams and nightmares. It is also where our sentient bodies impress impress its surface with a corporeality that mark bodily events. In return, we imbue its surface and depth with bodily confessions - the seepages emanating from our interiority - a silent witness to the body’s performance of desire and woundability.                                                                                                            

As a young Chinese girl, the patchwork quilt, made of discarded remnant pieces of fabric, has existed as a sign of frugality, poverty and female labour in Asian society. My response to the abjectness of this sign, however, was to monumentalise it whilst retaining a desired quality of fragility. Unlike quilts made traditionally, I chose glass to produce a ten metre quilt, and was assisted by both male and female friends in the course of its production in Sydney. In Cuba, I embarked on an exchange of political social memory with the Cuban family that chose to house me. A representative of the family volunteered to donate blood, which together with mine, was used in the work. Suspended under an open skylight in the vault of the fortress, the ten metre glass quilt symmetrically cascaded onto the floor from both sides of a single metal bed that was suspended in mid-air.  This architectural featuere, one of only two in the Cabania Fortress, was chosen because of the way the bed could be configured to allow the viewer to project a scene in which the bed appeared to levitate upwards towards the sunlight streaming through the large opening in the centre of the vault’s elongated dome ceiling. Caught  in mid air, the bed could be read as either ascending into or descending out of a hole that obviously could not fit it, thus allowing  for another narrative to emerge - a performance of either an invasion of the architecture by the bed or an expulsion of the bed by the architecture through its ‘orifice’ = the skylight. The architecture’s status as a historical fortress allowed an ambiguity in the work that shifted between a performance of “escape” or “invasion”, “intrusion” or “expulsion”.                                                                                              

Made up of almost three thousand glass slides, each displayed a drop of blood that was mixed from the combined quantities withdrawn from my body and that of Victor Miguel, the only voluntary blood donor from the Cuban family that chose to host me in Havana.  It was mixed together with a very small amount of wine for preservation and individually placed between each glass slide and a square centimetre section of magnifying Fresnel lens. Each drop of blood spread out like calligraphic brush strokes because of the diagonal hatchings on its underside. 

As a scene, Third World Extra Virgin Dreams 1997 can also be envisioned as the process of an imaginary collection of hymenal fluid where each drop of blood appeared to have a quality of anonymous subjectivity trapped between each glass slide and a lens, representing a scientific insturment of scrutiny. Thus, it enacted a subtexxt of objective observation in the manner in which the blood appeared to have been collected and displayed. It was as if each child/woman, as signified by a single glass slide, had been reduced to her most “valuable” commodity in the Third World - a single drop of virginal blood - the ultimate essence of desirability /use value in the practice of hymenal nationalism (the sex trade of young girls in Asia). 

The reflected light from the sun produced a scintillating quality from the glass and lens, making the quilt appear to liquefy and slide from the bed to the ground. The architecture itself became a screen for the shadow of each drop refracted onto the floor without any need for showy lighting effects. For me, the transfixing quality of this work was the way the object became part of the architecture in encompassing and transforming the whole space. The transparency of the glass quilt appeared to hover between the states of fragility and strength, appearance and disappearance, visiblity and invisibility;  intrusion and expulsion.  

Caught in a limbo of sleepless dreaming, a glass quilt descending from an ascending bed became an installation bed became an installation that operated within the surrealistic grammar of the dreaming state. 


     © Suzann Victor 2020