Frency Fernández is an art historian, art critic and theoretician, curator and artist. (He is secretly called “Dorian Gray”, because of his timeless-seeming youthful appearance). I met Frency first in 2015, when he worked as a Guest Professor at the Alanus University for Art and Social Science. Together with two professors of Alanus, he built up the senseLAB program at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, Cuba, which I was able to participate in 2017. We met for the interview between the beautiful cúpulas on the ground of the ISA.
It makes me happy, when I realize that I have achieved something. Not necessarily in a material way, but also spiritually. I am a work-addict, a workaholic. When I see the results, when I am satisfied – I enjoy that very much. I also have a ritual going with this: always, when I finished something, I smoke a cigarette, a cigarette of pleasure. But it's not only the finished result – it's when I follow my feelings. Other people may be more rational here. When I am in front of something that is getting the shape that I envisioned it to have, may it be in the field of personal relationship, in the professional life, in the creative way... I feel this certain kind of happiness.
For me, the sensation of happiness is completely virtual. Because directly after it, I enter into a critical moment with myself, asking myself what is not finished yet. I don't believe in perfection, but I am always aiming for another level. It is like the carrot for the donkey, that I put in front of myself all the time: It is like following a sense of happiness in several ways. I don't divide my profession from my spirituality or my emotional work; it is like a blend of elements.
So, the sensation of happiness can come through several ways, but it is always the same reaction: “Oh, all right. Let me go to another level”.
Of course, I am now talking as an individual. But this type of responsibility that I have been carrying in all these years implies many people. As a critic, you can work completely isolated - But in the end, you are working with the work of other people, and you are talking about human beings. You are involved with a lot of people and basically, it all has to do with communication. Being critical is one form of communication. Clapping, for instance, is another form, which can also increase happiness.
I hear a lot of music, also when I am working, for everything, and my sense of happiness is also very much connected with that. Because it increases my production, intellectually, mentally, it is also connected to some spiritual things. I am not believing in religion, but in my art, I am also connected to spiritual elements. It is a happy moment when you realize, that you are providing something, that you consider to be important for other people, and when you get the results and reactions, no matter if they are grateful or not. It makes me happy, when things flow together due to my work, according to the vision I had.
I don't have a sense of home; it is very strange for me. Since I was a child, I have been living in more than 20 places in my life, for shorter and longer periods. I feel at home in a place where I am somehow balanced. It can be one square-meter, but it can be the perfect place for me to create and work. It can be in an airplane, in a car or a room, I don't care.
For me, it is very interesting, because I don't have a bond with specific spaces. Home is something that is mental. I have that joke, that when I am going to Europe or when I am returning to Cuba, I always change my “micro-chip”. Because you have to enter into different realities, and the journey is the moment to realize “All right, now you're entering another dynamic, another reality with a different structure”.
Home to me doesn't describe a location, but how I am connected with myself in the context of where I am. Home as a defined, physical ground is an illusion to me, it is more like a state of mind. I can be home in many places.
The question reminds me of a story that happened many years ago. When I was a teenager, I regularly escaped from my house to go to my family in Matanzas. I took the train to go there, it took about six hours because the train went incredibly slow, you could literally walk aside. I would always take the train in the middle of the night, to arrive in Matanzas in the early morning hours around seven or eight.
It was like a ritual, to arrive there and to sit at a certain place, watching the people slowly coming out and opening their houses, following their morning routine, while waiting for my auntie to wake up – what she did around 8:30 – and to knock at her door to surprise her. Then, she would prepare one of the best coffees, a moment that I also connect with that happiness in the small things.
In Germany, I experienced a very similar situation, going from Bonn to Berlin Kreuzberg very early in the morning. Sitting in a corner of a small Turkish bakery with a Capucchino and a piece of bread, seeing the very same – also people opening their businesses, following their morning routine – and enjoying it. It has been the same in all the other countries I visited, like in Spain or Central America. I think, this is like a psychological thread that I create for myself. I create coincidence, analogies between spaces. They are not the same, but quite similar for me. It is like a salvation for me in places where I am strange, where I am an outsider, somehow.
Coming back to the story that I want to tell: In one of those occasions, I was in the train returning from Matanzas. I was reading a book, “Panchatantra”. It is one of the masterpieces of Indian literature, one story inside another story inside another story... And a beautiful girl was sitting beside me, I didn't knew her. We started a conversation about the book, and the conversation continued about other themes, art, life. We were nearly arriving to Havana, when she asked if she could give me a kiss, a normal kiss on the cheek. And I said “Of course, but why?”, because her reaction didn't seem very normal to me. And she said “It's because you saved my life”.
She took the train to jump from a bridge in the middle between Matanzas and Havana city, to commit suicide. And she didn't, because of the conversation we had. She said, that it gave her a sense of life again.
I was a teenager, around 17, I think. I never saw that girl again, but for me, it was a very intense experience. In a lot of situations, I am reminded of this situation – because in the end, it was very dramatic.
Our talk continues about art, our work as artists.
We are in something, that we call art. We are producing something. And from time to time, you really have to ask yourself, if the things that you are doing are essential or not. Some years ago, I wrote a text that was very important for me, because it included questions that are still important to me. It started with the question, why we choose to do things that maybe aren't important to other people, that maybe other people don't even think about. Also, about all the sacrifices that you have to make, because the condition of creation is not really looking for profit. It is looking for another level of satisfaction, which is individual and collective and social, too – but why would you do something, that is not really materialistic? I think in the end, we are providing something that is spiritual. Symbolically, we increase the domain of language – this again connects to your synapses and helps to create a new way of creation.
The work of a doctor, for example, is very essential. Are people that deal with life and death. And we are in this comfortable position not to directly dealing with humans, but with the topics. I realized, that I am always working to reinforce the sense of life. I understand that as the beauty of creation, which can also provide something for a doctor, for medicine, to think in other levels than saving human beings in the more drastic, concrete sense of life.
I am not quite sure if that is something, that people who are producing art are questioning. What is our role, not socially speaking, but in the world? Which kind of values are we producing? What is the relevance of our productions?
The question, why we are doing art, is a matter of ethics with ourselves. If you choose to create something – we call it art, but I prefer to call it creation – you have to be aware of which are your main problems as a human being, as an individual. If you are aware of this, if you are conscious about your very own problematic and contradictions, which are your main issues.
In my case, it is the possibility of freedom in all the levels.
If we don't find art as a kind of “exorcism” to eject our problems and to share it with other people – because maybe other people are facing a similar situation – This is, how we are connecting symbolically and metaphorically in art – you are not doing anything.
This is what I always tell artists, no matter of their age “This is beautiful, this is nice – but what are you pursuing with this? How are you? What are your problems?” Because these problems are your main path. It is a matter of self-consciousness. Then, you can be more happy - And then you will find a new problem, and so you are trespassing different levels. This is how development happens. And you can share that with other people. Otherwise, you are like “out of compass” in the world.
In my case, I would take my computer and my devices and I could go anywhere. The problem is, if the places I go to have electricity or not (Frency laughs). Because it is an extension of everything that I have in my mind. For example, 2012, I was living in the old town of Bonn in a very tiny space with an oven. I was always too lazy to light a fire, so I was sitting in the cold, because it was winter – but I was happy, because I created, like a nerd, my set with the computer. With the computer, I can basically do what I want (I don't mind if there is internet, you rarely have it in Cuba). The computer is an extension of our brain, somehow. When I find the possibility to combine this material element, that goes with me everywhere, with the physical work that follows later, like doing an exhibition, it doesn't matter where I am. With it, I can keep my memories and if there is internet, I can connect with my family in the distance.
The computer is the first thing that I always take with me. When I was a teenager, when computers didn't exist, I would take my sound equipment and my cassettes.
Frency's question: Which is the main issue, that moves you at the moment?