Comunicato Stampa disponibile solo in lingua originale.
Sala10: Ana Gallardo
20.04.2020 — 03.05.2020
Study I for a Profile Restoration:
Reading Essay III
To write is to rummage through a tumult of burnt bodies for the arm bone that connects to the leg bone. A miserable mixture. I restore, I reconstruct, so surrounded am I by death.
I reflect on different forms of gender violence, currently focusing on the violence of aging. On several occasions, I have used the image of my mother as a reference, as she was a woman who was trapped in a family, religious and social system. She painted, but because of the prejudices and social prohibitions of the time, she could not be the professional artist she would have liked to be: this was a world fenced in by the patriarchy. She died at a young age. Some time ago, I was given the letters she had written in her youth: love letters to my father.
I later met Mónica Baptista, a Mexican woman who was then trying to study art in Europe. As part of her academic journey, she met a famous art restorer who took her on as his assistant and apprentice. She finally settled on restoration as her life’s work. I familiarized Mónica Baptista with my mother’s life and work. Different generations, but similar patterns of education and options.
Learning to touch, to feel, to live with ancient objects was quite a challenge. I needed to approach pieces with humility, so that they would tell me their story, their sorrows, their place in the thought of the Twentieth Century and beyond.
I give a tour through a house restored and inhabited by Mónica in the 1980s. A mansion with its own history, located in Mexico City’s Historic Center, next to the Templo Mayor.
In this tour through the house, I read my mother’s letters as an act of reparations. An encounter in time that manifests that which was and what it has become today. To give a body blow to art, to expand and overcome the material, to transcribe something by means of the other. To rescue these memories and give them a body in a real space. To give body to trauma by vomiting it up. In the present moment, in which we are recognizing those female artists who have been erased from history, I use the invisibility of my mother to question the system in which I operate today, which, despite all the time that has gone by, continues to suffer the same limitations. I am interested in the effectiveness of affect in the role of art.
That group of us three
A conversation between #anagallardo and Cuauhtémoc Medina
Cuauhtémoc Medina (CM): It is notorious how Study I for a Profile Restoration (2020) involves a series of overlaps: it merges spaces, times, stories and bodies and your location as an intermediary between a series of characters. How did you get the letters that your mother sent to your father when she was young?
Ana Gallardo (AG): I went to Granada and my father’s friend, a man about to die, gave me a package that he guarded for more than sixty years. He said to me: “This already belongs to you. I'm going to die already: it's time for you to have this.” When my father migrated to Argentina with my mother, he left them to this man, his childhood best friend, and who admired him because my father was a poet, who managed to transcend his situation of misery. It was he who kept all that confidential material. He must have never returned them due to the fact that my father got married many times, he had been with several women.
CM: It is still strange that such an intimate collection of letters, which suggests that it is part of the body, are kept as a treasure and released to the next generation. The letters register a very difficult negotiation: a very deep love, an obsession, but also an artistic pursuit. Your father is a poet, your mother is a painter, and she tries to think what to do with that sensitivity.
AG: Actually the decision to work with her is first, to work with an absent body that has always been violated in some way. She never managed to be that painter she would have wanted to be. Those times and her social class would not have allowed it. My Mexican-Spanish family is very religious, very tied to rules, the majority have not studied, almost all my cousins are workers without a formal education, and she who studied Fine Arts had no opportunity to pursue a career. She was not allowed to be an artist: she could paint still lifes, or something like that, but in the longing of those letters there was a feeling of great frustration, that she wanted to think, study and see the world differently and she was forbidden. And she doesn't pursue it until my father appears, already being an adult.
So that love is also the idea of romantic love that saves you. Almost all of us have also been educated for generations to think that the man, and the patriarchy, will lead you to complete certain achievements. Then she manages to really settle into her desire when she goes with him to Argentina. There was something in all of that I wanted to understand. How can it be such a small fight in a world that is so forbidden, as fenced as these women were in Santander, under Franco, with religion, social class, all that? Today I reread the text and in one part she says: "Now I will be able to read and study, I will be able to better understand your poetry." There is something of naivety that is powerful too, for there is a thirst for knowledge.
CM: It was painful and revealing for me a few days ago to read a tweet of a young woman who expressed her ambition not to get hooked on romantic love, since she preferred to create a “chain of responsible affections.” In the theme that feminism introduced, is the weight of love being a tactic where patriarchal power is introduced. That is painful for me because I can understand the plot but I belong to the idiot generation that thought falling in love was life.
AG: I question that myself. I actually live in a romantic love situation. I have a partner within the norm, and I have fallen in love all my life. Suddenly all the words in my mother's text question my thinking: "Ah: that is all of us and it is very difficult to move away from that place." What I liked a lot about the text is that for her, romantic love is her tool to leave and manage to do what she wants, even if she later fails. He was the man, the poet, the intellectuality. In this discussion that we feminists are having, I think it's beautiful what happens to her: she at least managed to fantasize, get on a boat, with that man she loved, because, it was also art, it was bohemian, it was a party. Her desires were condensed in all of that: it was not only love but freedom. There are moments when she surrenders, thinking, "I want to be what you want me to be." I have also experienced those parts and it means not even being able to understand who one is. We have been educated so that the other ends up conforming us. You give yourself and you receive this: your soul, your being, your intellectuality. That discovery and that fight in that moment seems to me to be feminist.
CM: It is a fight of many phases and experiments and none can consider a definitive emancipation. In the presentation text of your video you say that it connects with your criticism of the violence of old age. I don’t understand it fully.
AG: I actually decided to work on my mother's idea long before this video. In a lot of my work I argue with systematisation of art. There are certain rules where a woman artist after 50 tends to disappear, even in market value, and in respect to knowledge. The project of the Escuela de envejecer (2016 to date) always raises what this knowledge is. Returning to my mother, I began to think that she had been an artist who had not had recognition at the time. Being a young woman, she was 39 years old at the time, criticism also did not accept her because she had a practice that was not contemporary. She also suffered: I found in a newspaper in Rosario, Argentina, the criticism that must have been from a friend to the only exhibition she had, that he did not want to destroy her to give her "hope". He destroys the work but ends up saying "she is young and at some point she will find her way and her language." That protectionist way also seemed violent to me.
There is something about this situation that I was interested in bringing to my work. I found her paintings, I am going to repaint them, and I am going to exhibit them and I am going to make a show to give her visibility, ironically at this moment where so many female artists are being rescued. I want to start a dialogue with old age from there, even with my own old age. I am already working from a third age; that's why I also appear in my videos. I am already old: I am in that same place of suffering as those situations.
CM: In the video you have yourself filmed touring a house that belonged to the restorer Mónica Baptista in Calle de Seminario 12, next to Templo Mayor at the #mexicocity Historic Center, and you use that frame to read your mother's passionate letters. It is a place that can’t be more central in this city: under the balcony one looks at the Aztec ruins and at the concheros doing a ritual cleansing. What prompted you to use that place to make your mother's voice emerge and why do you associate that act with “reparation”?
AG: When I investigated Monica's life, I was very surprised that she studied painting in Belgium. At university she met a restaurateur who then converted her into a restaurateur. She leaves Fine Arts to be her assistant and learns the tools of restoration. But Mónica Baptista always wanted to be a painter or an artist, and she did not dare, I also understand according to the stories that the economy intervened: it was appropriate that she was a professional restaurateur but not a Bohemian artist. Then, when touring the house I saw the gestures of a restoration that took a lot of time and love, and I saw there a bond with the relationship my mother had with Mexico. There was a relationship in their “failure,” in terms that the two of them did not understand who they were or how they could take a position. There are a series of steps, of power struggles, that I found interesting to restore by visiting that house, which is one of the most affective pieces restored by Monica, and which is also a gesture of frustration. There is a ceiling, in the dining room, where she was finally able to make a certain painting; it is a minimal rebellious gesture, and a permanent frustration. I decided to unite them and go around the house religiously, casually I dressed in a black dress: I looked like a nun, "healing" the house. I have never done anything performative like this before, after the Casa rodante (2007), where my body is present in a very loving way. I felt that it was very loving that the three of us were together in the face of failure.
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