Curated by Direlia Lazo
Dreaming with Lions is the product of a year-long reflection by Alexandre Arrechea inspired by The Old Man and the Sea, the seminal short novel by Ernest Hemingway, written in Cayo Blanco, Cuba, in 1951 and published in 1952.
Constructing a rotunda sixty-two feet in diameter that resembles an enormous forum-cum- library, Arrechea uses beach towels to spell out two quotes from Hemingway’s novel: “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is,” and “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated”. Materials like beach towels signal Arrechea’s mode of working site specifically, a process he prefers to reserve-engineer rather than approach in its more traditional context.
The Old Man and the Sea is a visceral novel. For most of the book, we are in the company of Santiago, an elderly fisherman, who philosophizes as he drifts in search of a catch that will justify his existence. In his thoughts, an impressive fish would end his misfortunes, having caught nothing for months. With this will to triumph, he sets out to sea determined to defy his run of bad luck. Out on the waves, he braves a series of misadventures that turn out to be life- changing. Emerging from uncertainty over his immediate future, Santiago’s reflections draw some striking parallels with this year of global crisis in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has proved equally visceral as a collective experience.
The two quotes Arrechea has selected visible from outside of the installation are from two moments in the novel when the protagonist has to steel himself to new circumstances, step back from his previous narrative and summoning his strength for the task ahead.
Dreaming with Lions is a living monument to the sheer force of the human spirit. It embodies our ability to withstand enormous, relentless challenges and to persist even in the face of defeat. Drawing on the structural potential of the forum to reinforce its ideological messages, the installation marks a continuation of Arrechea’s exploration of public spaces, and their philosophical legacy as interpretative centers of power, hierarchy, and social progress.
This year has seen a resignifying of the public space and participation in the social sphere by individuals from the private space. The structure of the Roman forum, recalled in this installation, has historically been a space for meeting, dialog, and convergence. The latent question over the course of the work’s development is what it means, after months of isolation, to encourage dialog in the public sphere through art? It is undoubtedly a gesture of hope in extraordinary times, an attempt to restore a sense of community and produce an experience of participation that reminds us of the interconnectedness that sustains us as social beings.
The work’s title is taken from the last sentence of the book, confirming what proves to be the character’s real victory: his resilience. In the end, Santiago, who disappears during his struggles at sea, doesn’t dream of the marlin, sharks, or dolphins; he dreams of lions. We are left with a sense of empowerment because the character whose company we have kept for more than a hundred pages and who could easily be our own alter ego, has risen to the challenge of grasping the triumph of the voyage itself, of embracing his apparent defeat as an opportunity to rethink his identity.
Standing amid Arrechea’s installation, looking out to sea, I recall the last lines of The Empty Glass by Louise Glück, Nobel Prize for Literature 2020
“And I think in the end this was the question
that destroyed Agamemnon, there on the beach,
the Greek ships at the ready, the sea
invisible beyond the serene harbor, the future
lethal, unstable: he was a fool, thinking
it could be controlled. He should have said
I have nothing, I am at your mercy.”
Direlia Lazo, Director of Exhibitions Faena Art