ARIEN CHANG CASTAN
A BASE DE VIANDAS
ON VIEW: January 19 – February 27, 2022
Image No. 1 (Color)
Thomas Nickles Project is pleased to present Arien Chang Castan's A base de viandas Series, which celebrates the art of body building in Cuba. In a country where scarcity is the norm, these portraits of hyper-muscled, half-naked men posing for the camera contain a certain narrative of the improbable. In Cuba, bodybuilding is not forbidden, but it is not government sponsored either, and here Chang captures a cultural sub-universe of unexpected tenderness and unabashed physicality amidst public and private moments; where men build their own materiality, even their own gym equipment.
In the photographer's own voice: “with my work I try to share part of the daily life of Cubans, to discover instances of another reality, one in which the individual is the protagonist of an unrepeatable moment.”
From National Geographic's Pumping Iron in Cuba: Arien Chang Reveals an Underground Scene: In Cuba, the bodybuilding culture is largely underground. Bodybuilders manage to sculpt their bodies to this extreme level despite lacking many necessary resources. Chang explains that “gyms without the basic requirements, deficient meals, and nonexistent vitamins” make it difficult for most Cubans to maintain an average level of health, let alone achieve the perfectly honed muscles bodybuilding requires. Some competitors’ families in the U.S. ship them vitamins and supplements, but most have to make do without.
Wednesday, January 19th, 6-8pm
Wed – Sun 11am – 6pm, Thurs 11am – 7pm
Hércules handmade by Orlando Hernandez
Look at this, he said. And he held his breath until he almost choked to pull out for a moment the six small, almost perfect squares of the abdomen. Plop! Plop! Plop! jumped one by one the hard little globes of flesh overpowered by the deep contraction, while his eyes bulged a little from the effort. (I didn't want to say it, but it seemed to me that his head had become too small compared to the enormity of his body.) And look now, he said again bringing back the two arms replete with thick veins and fibrous protuberances. He twisted them as if they were two tree trunks that a hurricane was trying to braid, to weave together. Or better, as if an invisible policeman had shouted at him in the middle of the street "turn around, just fucking turn around so I can put you the handcuffs." Even though everyone knows that there is no need for any of that, that force is not a threat here, nor does it have anything to do with brutality, with violence, but simply with the beauty of the human body, male and female. What need would they have to attack when the mere presence of one of those walls of flesh is already capable by itself of stopping any possible fight in its tracks? Contestant number 63 starts slapping his arms as if he were greeting an old friend: These "hammers" are very elegant and real showpieces, museum pieces, he laughs mischievously, although if I had to use them, you know. Sure, dude, says 53, while he smears his muscles to make them shine like freshly molten steel when he goes out to compete on stage. But sometimes you guys exaggerate, as if you were trying to push the body beyond its natural limits," I say to provoke him, perhaps to flatter him. The stocky number 48 squints a little as he looks me up and down as if he were pitying me. The body is always natural. There is nothing exaggerated when it comes to musculature. There are no limits. It can always give more. Here we become little by little statues, sculptures of stone, of bronze,said 34 over there as the shadow of the sudden flash doubled its corpulence on the grimy wall in the background. Photographer Chang moves stealthily among them, trying not to get in the way, to pass unnoticed, which he fails at doing. Seemingly focused on their exercises, they are all very attentive to his movements. They pose for him. They enjoy it. Tell him to take as many pictures as he wants. That's what we are here for, to show the body, to exhibit it, although no one supposes the sacrifice that it has implied, nor the daily ropes that we have had to do to achieve it. We are Cubans, aren't we, so a good part of these muscles is made of boiled sweet potato, bread with croquette, river fish, whatever the ration book allows us to eat. A little vitamin here and there and other nutrients when we get them, and the occasional discreet steroid shot. This is a closed universe, man. A masonry. We look at each other to comfort ourselves, to measure ourselves, to correct our flaws, to improve our appearance. And the mirror always tells us the truth. We want to be classical. Perhaps like the Greeks. To feel like Hercules. Handmade, manufactured Hercules. Although this marginal, improvised environment, full of junk and walls stained by sweat and grease should not look much like the Parthenon. I'm talking about our bodies, but if you look closely, you'll see that our real bodies are behind us, they barely exist anymore. Our biceps, triceps, thighs, backs, shoulders, trapezius have ended up covering, hiding our initial, original body. We have been molding it, sculpting it until it disappears. We are now something else. Isn't that what the photographer came here for? Tell him that when he's done with the photos, he can take off his shirt and pump some iron with us. Maybe he'll get hooked. And he'll see that then he'll have more room on his body to get tattoos.
December 24, 2021