Art as Knowledge (Against All Odds). Francis Acea in conversation with Ramon Williams

Ramón Williams is an artist that shows little concern about boundaries. Formed as an art educator, his perception of art is undermined by a sense of integrality that allows him to move from one art discipline to another without giving too much importance to the medium. They are there to be explored, exploited and brought to its essential function: to serve the artist’s spirit and mind. Originally from Havana, Cuba, relocated to the US in 1996 to reunite with his father.

This family affair led the then young artist to shift direction after realizing the potential of incorporating his 77 years old father as a collaborator to his art making. When I prompted him about why he decided to do so, Ramón answered calmly: “Art is all about knowledge”. He is now presenting Open Mongo Napoleón, an exhibition that gather some works from the “father and son” collaborative including a 53 min video documentary of the same name created by Ramón Williams.

As the main work of the exhibition, Open Mongo Napoleón, the video, surprises with its soulful and colorful portrait of this relationship and with its extraordinary mix of video editing and unique pictorial style. Although intimate and intriguing, the film honors its title, opening a voyeuristic view to the scrutiny on otherness and congeniality inherit to the collaboration. The exhibition opened on November the 12th, 2005 at Art@Work Space, a private initiative run by art collector Dr. Arturo F. Mosquera in South Miami, and will run through January the 7th, 2006.

Francis Acea: Can you tell me about Open Mongo Napoleón?

Ramón Williams: It is the result of an art collaboration with my father. We were apart for seventeen years and when we reencountered, I discovered that he was able to do things in a way that was of my particular interest. I rediscovered him as a creator who made me question my notion of art once again. I was so amazed and happy with our relationship that it became the center of my creative process. Collaborative paintings and drawings, photography, rough video footage… you name it. I accumulated so many documents and material from this relationship that it took me almost two years to decide what to do. I felt an irresistible anticipation; many objects were vanishing, time was doing his work and I needed to come to a decision. After my father death, I went back to his hometown in Cuba and interviewed a few of his childhood friends. It was like moving bones in an archeological site. Digging up, gathering pieces of information here and there and getting surprised by the findings, untied my dreams and illusions. Putting everything together saved me from cutting loose the experience. In this exhibition, I’m showing photographs, artifacts and drawings; some are real documents, other are apocryphal in the sense of an alternative mythology. I think the exhibition brings reality and fiction together to tell the story of father and son exercising art. You might or might not get to the father through the son, but I intend to pave the way for you.

FA: Open Mongo Napoleón is also a film. It has several pictorial elements and also computer animations. It seems you easily move from one media to the other. Why did you choose video as a media for this work?

RW: I think it was the need of motion what impulsed me. It was a slow transition from painting to pictorial photography, then still photography sequences and finally video. I keep asking myself what is the best way to approach the kernel of my concerns. The computer itself is a fictional universe where almost anything can be created or manipulated, endless possibilities at the reach of your hand. In order to have some accomplishment you will need some knowledge. I got fascinated by the possibility to learn softwares and being able to incorporate motion and sound into the work besides of having my photographs hanged on the wall.

FA: It’s been almost two years before you could see some results. How do you see your future work in relation to this media?

RW: It’s like being a teenager. I have the impetus and the will but there is a lot to be learned still. The film itself is like a teenager in many aspects, adapting to its own body, grainy as acne. But it doesn’t matter to me because it is just a media, and the media by itself doesn’t make the work. Usually the subject is so relevant to me that I cannot sacrifice a piece of sense just to fulfill technical standards. I don’t care much about any specific media or technique. They all serve my purposes. On the other hand, I appreciate and trust better that part of human sensibility that goes beyond dominating standards of representation or “state of the arts”.

FA: Was your father an artist?

RW: He lived like an artist. He had a rich life experience and always had battles to be won being an African American descendent living in socialist Cuba, being incarcerated for what he though was right and needing to do things his way. I always respected him for this. Mongo had a particular understanding of beauty that incorporated to everything he did. He was a free spirit. My father devoted himself to understand what I did as an artist and as his son. He took it very seriously and committed to create art with me although he was not educated in the arts. His perception of the whole thing ended up being quite influential on me. I presented him as an artist and people attended his performances. I arranged to exhibit his creations like a professional artist, and he performed a couple of times… He danced… He was a natural. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the end. He would perform for the first time in December 2001, and died two months later. I guess I wanted to legitimize his way of interpreting life through art. I brought him to perform but at that point, being an artist was not important. He was doing it the way he knew to do things, very simple, joyfully.

FA: There is a consensus about the growth of the arts in the city. What’s like to be an artist in Miami?

RW: That sounds like a trailer of a blockbuster movie: a promise of real action and delight. I think there is still too much of an aesthetic norm dictated by a few that results in an anesthetic effect for creation. It is difficult to see diversity or experimentation being accepted, as usually happens in newborn places.

FA: I agree. However the potential of Miami becoming an art city is there. Don’t you think that is possible at all?

RW: It could be. We know from history and literature, how beautiful cities happen to flourish on swamps. There are crocodiles, snakes, herons and orchids. Crocodiles clash their jaws, pitons squeeze and many feathers and petals fly around. Not belonging to a particular herd normally carries to isolation. Since I am not playing oyster, if there is an offer and I could avoid being eaten or squeezed, yes, it could be a great place to be an artist. For the time being, it’s cheering the sight of so many Art Under Construction signs. Accordingly, I feel I might come along with “La película de Miami”.

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