Candela al jarro, hasta que largue el fondo’ by Michel GMG at Centro para os Assuntos da Arte e Arquitectura (CAAA), Guimarães, Portugal

Por: Kirsty Entwistle
Fotos: Michel GMG.

The hands that create a new bicycle wheel out of old parts are beautiful and graceful; the hands that cut and scrub off thick, encrusted, black grime from big metal pans are tough but vulnerable. Whether its candles, cigarette lighters or wristwatches the hands at work are intelligent and efficient in their actions. In fact, the scenes are so compelling that I began to wonder if there is a biological instinct for the eye to be drawn to skilled hands at work.

The hands in these films belong to Cuban men, we do not see their faces. We can only speculate as to who these men are in their entirety; taking our clues from their skin colour, the witheredness of their skin, their shoes, the ground they are on. On the basis of the visual information alone we will all jump to different conclusions about who these men are and whether or not they like their work; whether or not they are poor and, if so, to what extent?

Without seeing their faces we can only hope that things are not so bad that they don’t feel the joy and satisfaction of the newly functioning bicycle; the gleaming pans; the cleaned and repaired wristwatch. And as we don’t see the faces of the customers we can only go off our own experiences as to how much they will value the repaired object and respect the skills of the repairer.

For those of us from places where it usually costs more money to fix something than it does to buy another (England in my case) these films are disorienting. The cigarette lighter repair man is doing a brisk trade. Does this mean that in Cuba new cigarette lighters are very expensive to buy or that cigarette lighter repair men’s prices are very cheap? And how is it that so many people have not lost their cigarette lighters before they fizzled out?

The simplicity of the films brings trouble as the mind attempts to create a context. The lengths that the man who makes a dozen, brown candles goes to is extreme. Surely, his motivation cannot be money as there must be easier ways to make the few pennies the candles can only be worth? But it looks even less like it is a hobby in the way that some people, in some places, make candles for a hobby.

Michel GMG says that the films are about survival, about how Cuban people keep going and that the films are to show that whilst some places are only coming to realise the need to recycle Cubans have become expert recyclers out of necessity. I asked him, and maybe it was the wrong question, whether the people he filmed are respected by the community. “Of course!” he replied. Which leaves me wondering what it would take for a person who fixes cigarette lighters to be respected where I’m from.

These films are important because they can make us think of our relationships to these universally important objects through the lens of Cuba; and our relationships to other people via the actions of these Cuban men’s hands: what we’ve kept, what we’ve thrown away, what we’ve wasted.

Kirsty Entwistle

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Candela al jarro, hasta que largue el fondo’ by Michel GMG
at Centro para os Assuntos da Arte e Arquitectura (CAAA), Guimarães, Portugal

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