Since 2003, the Norwegian artist, Kristin Bergaust, has been collaborating with Cuban artist, Alexis Parra. They share a particular interest in street music and bars, and consistently address the implications of different forms of expression that take place within various social contexts. As an accompaniment to their numerous exhibitions and workshops, they established Bar Candela, an ongoing project that functions as a platform for their artistic endeavours. Bar Candela is an intervention that the artists arrange in existing bars. They adapt the bars so that the music, drinks and decorations take on a distinct Cuban sensibility. Bergaust and Parra make use of photographs and graphic works relating to Bar Silvia in Havana, ultimately capturing the mood of a typical low-key neighbourhood bar. At this particular bar, communication among the customers is spirited and intense, while the food, drinks and ambience are very simple; cheap rum is served in flimsy plastic cups with a panoramic view of the concrete pavement outside.
For each Bar Candela intervention, Bergaust and Parra create an artistic programme that extends over several days, a programme that includes guests, performances, concerts, video screenings, films and more. What makes the project particularly interesting is that each bar has its own specific theme. For instance, Bar Candela y su Rumba Colora at Sound of Mu in Oslo addressed the idea of hoe various forms of musical expressions evolve as a direct result of the meeting between different cultures. Bar Candela y los dos lados at Sting in Stavanger highlighted the political divide amongst Cuban people both in and outside of Cuba.
To better understand the underlying message of the Bar Candela project, it is useful to consider the significance of bars not only as social meeting places for Cubans, but as forums for the exchange of thoughts and ideas. Perhaps more than in any other country, a Cuban bar is a sort of safe haven where people can freely exchange information and even joke about various political issues. In truth, freedom of speech is not a right that Cubans are overly familiar with. In fact, Cubans are normally under surveillance by committees that have tremendous power over people’s privileges. As the only newspapers, radio and television stations are state run, censorship of the media is the norm in Cuba. In addition , access to the internet is highly limited, and those who do have access are closely monitored. Under such circumstances, the loud, music-filled atmosphere of a local bar is an ideal place for Cubans to relax and express themselves more openly.
For many Cuban immigrants in Europe, bars continue to be places where it seems natural and safer to express oneself than in other public places. The initial idea of implementing live streaming as part of Bar Candela grew out of Bergaust and Parra’s wish to invite two Cuban musicians and childhood friends –one living in Athens the other living in Madrid- to participate in an intervention in Stavanger. As neither of the artists had the necessary papers to travel to Norway, Bergaust and Parra created an interactive live web situation within the Bar Candela. This is how they describe the event: ”The result was a multicultural meeting between three places: Kelvis in Madrid, El Mago in Athens and Bar Candela in Stavanger. In Madrid and Athens there were also concerts and social gatherings in connection with the event. The musicians played together and presented their surroundings for each other and the public” It is precisely this kind of cross-cultural collaboration that provides the seed for further growth within the context of Equatorial Rythms. Through the use of live streaming and a webcam, Bar Candela at Café Stenersen will continue to extend beyond geographical and cultural borders.
Director of the Stenersen Museum in Oslo