Thanks to the IDEP project supporting several exciting and important collaborations in Cuba, in December 2015 the UCLA Library was invited to participate in the second annual international Festival del Cartel in Havana. One of our IDEP partners, Claudio Sotolongo, who is an instructor and graphic designer at the University of Havana, first suggested the collaboration after my first visit to Havana, proposing that the Library exhibit a selection of posters as part of the Festival del Cartel to take place at the end of April 2016.
The inaugural Festival del Cartel emerged from an initiative to promote the Prográfica Cubana Committee and was presented in conjunction with several Cuban arts groups. Organized in dozens of galleries and cultural centers throughout Havana, the Festival offered workshops and colloquia by artists, writers and curators in addition to the displays of posters. For our contribution, we were advised to bring facsimiles, since environmental conditions or security could not be guaranteed. This parameter posed a slight challenge, given the short time-frame of just under four months before the exhibit and a mere three months before we were asked to deliver the physical posters. Indeed, selecting posters and then conserving, digitizing, and printing facsimiles from our collections would have required at least twice the lead-time. Still wishing to participate in this prestigious event, I proposed that the Library acquire posters from a local art, performance, and educational entity, Machine Project. Located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the non-profit Machine Project has been an innovative and inclusive force in the L.A. intellectual and artistic community since its formation in 2003. Finding that these works fit neatly into our Collecting L.A. initiative, the library acquired two sets of the limited edition boxed set of ten posters entitled The Machine Project Field Guide to L.A. Architecture (2013), as well as two sets of posters produced around Asher Hartman’s The Purple Electric Play (PEP!) in 2014. One set of these acquisitions will join special collections, and the other set was donated to the Center for the Development of Visual Arts in Havana.
To round out the show in the Galerìa L (University of Havana), I selected 35 more posters from the Library of Congress' publicly available digitized collections, using keywords inspired by the Machine Project works and broader ideas of art, design, machines, printing, and technology. I wanted the selections to relate to my theme, but the files had to be at a resolution suitable for printing, and be free of any known copyright restrictions. Finally, beyond connections derived through metadata, I wanted all the posters to relate to one another visually. We had the digitized posters printed at their approximate original size. In consultation with our head of the Conservation Center, Chela Metzger, we devised a system for hanging the show within the constraints of the gallery and the desire to avoid creating holes in the works. I hand-cut eighth-inch thick Volara foam strips to size and adhered them to silver bulldog clips using double sided adhesive tape. On site in the gallery, Claudio could use these modified clips to hang the posters using monofilament (aka fishing line), a tried and true exhibit technique. For finishing touches, Claudio and I collaborated on the design of a brochure about the show to be given to visitors. I printed 100 copies in house on good opaque paper on our color laser printer, folded, and saddle stapled them. I also created information cards (aka tombstones) for the show. Machine Project donated a copy of their book and DVD of The Field Guide and collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Claudio and his designer crew ¡Mamey! created a stunning commemorative poster for the show which was hand silkscreened in Cuba in an edition of 100.