Interview carried by Uprising during the 11th Havana’s Biennial (May 2012) in Cuba and during the festival of photography Phot’Aix, that is taking place in Aix-en-Provence, France, through November 18, 2012.
Introduce yourself in a few words.
At first I started by the self-portrait. I have very personal artworks but from a point of view which evokes society and environment. I make object-photographs but I am a painter by training. I have worked a lot with painting in relation to objects, and now I develop another type of artworks, especially installations.
How did this evolution between painting, photography and installations occur?
The very artwork keeps asking that question. I started as a painter but I have always linked my painting to other materials such as lead, threads, hair for the symbolisms they represented. I like the symbolism of the material itself in the artwork: the material almost becomes an object. I choose it according to the artwork and what the latter requires to express my ideas.
After, I made photographs linked to painting, like my series on the Canto de Penelope (1997): pictures and painting entering in a dialogue, answering to one another. I then started working on the photographs alone, but I was always trying to establish a visual game between what painting is and what photography is. I like the fact that pictures gave out a kind of ambiguity. I aimed at triggering a game between what is real and unreal.
From there, a recurring component of my work was brought forward. I embroidered photographs with thread. It led me to work with iron objects embroidered with thread. I made a series of embroidered iron casseroles.
I do not really see myself as a photographer for example, I am a visual artist. I use photography as a medium among others and I use the medium I want to use independently from the idea I want to represent.
What kind of discourse the recurring use of embroidery in your work allows establishing?
At first I was looking for a traditional thing like women embroidering. I kept using it in that sense and I pushed it further on as a mean of ardor and passion. Tradition is the symbolical pretext to talk about patience, waiting, daily life. Using embroidery in my work creates an aesthetic which deals with a cycle that goes on.
During the biennial for the project Detrás del muro on the Malecón, I had one installation: two women embroidering a black carpet, which referred to this patience, and besides, the piece was created in an emblematic place of the Cuban life: the Malecón.
During the exhibition HB at the 11th Biennial of La Havana, some of your artworks were presented, embroidered in iron on objects which were no longer domestic, but on base-balls and on baby clothes.
The clothes are part of a 2010 artwork which was exhibited at the Galeria Villa Manuela in December 2010 on the occasion of my exhibition El Jardín de la intolerancia. I used images of flowers as a pretext to talk about society. I took photographs of different colors, I printed them on cloth and I dyed them red. On the wall of the gallery, there were falling stones, as a metaphor of the rain of illusions. And the exhibition ended with the baby clothes, referring to protection. They were the symbol of the need to come to the world shielded, protected.
The baseballs are from 2012. The ball is a masculine game. Using this reference allowed me to talk about masculinity and femininity.
Is the theme of the woman in the domestic realm important to you?
You also said that self-portrait had been a starting point. This seems to have changed with time. Is your work less self-referential?
I no longer use the self-portrait from a visual point of view. I nevertheless keep making something very personal. It is not autobiographic but personal in the reflection I have as regards the outside world. It is like starting from my own experience to talk about something else. The woman is present in my work but not because I want to turn it into a feminine or feminist artwork. It is something that I incorporated within myself and that I use to talk about the ideas in which I am interested, to get to the question of society and context.
I think what has really changed is the way I create.
Let’s go back to your photographic artwork which is currently exhibited at Phot’Aix. The Atributo series which is presented here represents women with masks in a classical aesthetic and surrounded with symbolical objects.
This series of photos of 2004 is much linked to painting. I started from sculpted and painted wooden masks that I then used in the photographs. A lot of people ask me if these photographs are retouched. They are not, the mask already is on the model.
This series evokes the attitudes and postures that an individual adopts faced with specific moments of life. It deals with the individual in their own society and context. That is why all these images depict a game between the mask and the very symbolic and meaningful objects and a person who one never gets to clearly see.
What meaning do you give to these objects? The series is reminiscent of a hide-and-seek game.
You also changed the background color, from black to red in some photographs…
The dolls and the child both evoke childhood and maternity. They are also linked to memories and the memory.
Concerning the sword, this object evokes the constant struggle with daily life. It is turned into the symbol of the struggle in the daily life to assert oneself as an individual.
The book is the knowledge and its transfer.
And finally the mask. This mask is the attitude that an individual adopts in life, he can use them or not in determined moments.
I have indeed changed the background color: it interested me more to be concrete with the object in itself on the black backgrounds in order for the individual not to stand out too much. Contorsión for example deals with the way one looks for a way out or an attitude faced with a situation, it is more about the way one acts in life.
The mask looks like your face…
It is because I am a painter by training. My starting point has always been the self-portrait. Not because it is autobiographical but rather self-referential. There I talk about the society and context which surround us.
Is the question of mirage important in Atributo? There are two photographs which hint at that theme, the one where a woman is holding a mirror and the one where a woman is looking through a lens.
In the photograph with the mirror, the woman is looking at herself in the mirror but the person she sees is not her but the reflection of the mask she is wearing…
Through the lense, the woman is seeking another look on herself which could be directed to the viewer in a game of exchange of glances or on the contrary directed towards herself and her interiority.
I like playing with these symbols, which are reminiscent of a symbolic language close to the one used during the Renaissance.
By Clelia Coussonnet
Headline picture’s credits : Aimée Garcia when we met in Aix © Uprising Art