contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the month / June 2019

Inversion II
Glenda León

Video (Single channel, Sound, Colour)

Courtesy of the artist


Glenda León’s video “Inversion II” illustrates the abrasion of the colour of a banknote and the sniffing of the resulting powder. The first images are introducing to the used objects, lying on a white plane: in the left lower corner, there is a coca tree leave; in the centre lies a 100-US-Dollar-Note and in the upper right angle appears a part of a carpet cutter blade. All is recorded from an aerial view.

A hand takes the blade, another hand retains the Dollar-bill and the first hand starts to scrape-off the printed colour off. The sound of the abrasion is audible. During the process, the resulting green colour powder is shuffled together. This procedure continues until the superior layer of colour is removed. Afterwards, the green powder is chopped by the blade. A little part is separated from the rest and formed to a line. Then the two hands roll the coca leave. Thereby, the pale bill remains visible on the screen. A head enters the scene and the sound of a soft suction is hearable. When the head disappears, the green line has vanished. In the ending sequence, the rolled coca leave lies in the upper right angle of the screen, the remains of the money powder are situated almost in the centre and the abraded Dollar-bill appears in the lower left corner.

Compared to the beginning, the arrangement of the objects is now inversed. Formally, this is a hint to the video’s title. Regarding the content of the film, there are more inversions. The depicted process reminds to the preparation and sniffing of cocaine and the coca leave is an obvious link to this. However, cocaine is made out of coca leaves and the resulting white powder is often sniffed through banknotes. The video reverses the operation: the money is not tool but substance, the drug itself. Another inversion is the colour scheme. In cinematic presentations, the white cocaine is placed frequently on a dark underground, whereas the film acts on a white one. This conversion illuminates the process; during the cinema scenes are often clandestine in twilight. Nevertheless, in fictional narratives the consumer appears to place the actor in the context. Here the active player remains anonymous.

However, there are also parallels between the drug cocaine and money. Both could ruin livelihoods by addiction and improper use. Though, the use of drugs is ostracized, money is a status symbol. The inadequate use of the bank note in Glenda’s video could point to its destructive energy. At the same time, the Dollar-bill has lost its value after the process; the note is worthless.

The video shows an active operation. Nevertheless, it transmits tranquillity by the almost steady movements and the quasi monotone sound of the abrasion. This invites to meditate on the ambiguous object: the money. In most societies, money is essential to survive. A lack of money often signifies bad living conditions, regarding nutrition, health education, but also in social and cultural participation. Whereas frequently the possession of a lot of money frequently facilitate luxury, respect, and power. Therefore, wealth plays an important role in many societies. Every now and then, people manically chase for financial fortune.

While choosing a US-Dollar-Note, the artist refers to the superordinate meaning of money. The US-Dollar is not only a national currency, but also the valuta of the global economy. Moreover, it is recognised as second currency in many, often poorer countries. Due to its important role in the world, it is easy identifiable. Traditionally, the dollar sign “$” stands in visual illustrations like comics and cartoons as placeholder for money. At the same time, the US-Dollar has a strong symbolic value and represents influence and power. With Inversion II, Glenda wanted to break visually with the semantic, emotional and rational weight that social conventions have given to money.


Glenda León

Born in 1976 in Havana, Cuba, Glenda León had a first artistic education at the School of Plastic Art “20 de octubre” in Havana. Followed by an instruction in classical ballet in the Centro Prodanza, she studied also art history at the University of Havana. Additionally, she made her Master in Art at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany and had a research scholarship from the MAEC in Madrid. Furthermore, she was several times artist in residence in Canada, France, Panama, Philippines and the United States and was honoured by Cuban and international awards, inter alia the Premio LARA 2017 by the Asiaciti Trust Foundation, the Pollock Krasner Foundation Grant and the UNESCO prize for the Arts at the VII Biennale of Havana.

The oeuvre of Glenda is very versatile. Besides videos, she creates objects, sculptures and installations. These might reappear in interventions in public space. Moreover, she makes drawings and photos. Additionally, she published several artist books for example a series called “Fragmented Reading”, where a triangle part of the book is cut out and presented as piece of cake on a white plate.

In her work, Glenda often reflects upon conditions in societies. In 2018, she created a series with ancient typewriters. Depending on her additions to the machine, the objects are aiming at language and its fervent applicability (Incendiary discourse), at the fragility of elements added to the body for aesthetic purposes (Noli me tangere – or the impossible writing) or at the insatiable appetite for taking and not giving (The insatiable writer).

Glenda seized money and its conventions several times. The video “Inversion II” from 2011, our artwork of the month June 2019, witnesses this interest likewise the later version from 2016 (Inversion III). This video is similarly structured, but has another ending. Also in 2016, she published a pocket version of the Holy Bible, where 50 One-US-Dollar-notes are added to the binding.

Since 1999, Glenda’s creations were presented in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Latin and North America and Europe, but also in Senegal (Dakar Biennale) and China. Her sound installation “Music of the Spheres” was part of the Cuban Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (2013). Currently, her works are on view in group exhibitions in Havana, Bilbao, Toulouse and Assier. Until 20th July, she has the solo exhibition “Escuchando las Estrellas” in Turin at Recontemporary. “Inversion II” is also projected there.

Glenda’s works are part of many public and private collections in Cuba and abroad, for example Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Centre George Pompidou, Paris, and The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

Glenda lives and works in Havana and Madrid.