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28 Mar

Carlota Guerrero desires to make you’re feeling uncomfortable

Known for her work with Solange, Rosalía and Arca, the artist’s first-ever solo show captures the complexity and discomfort of life in a patriarchal society

Carlota Guerrero is a photographer from Barcelona perhaps best known for her photographs of musicians; she’s worked with Solange, Rosalía, and Arca, amongst others. Her photos have the immediate impression of softness; low contrast images of girls with velvety skin and delicate eyes, dancing, braiding one another’s hair.

It’s natural that her first solo show is at Sainte Anne, a women-run gallery in Paris. The exhibition, titled Registro 6: Manglar, traces the story of eight women as they orchestrate a mystical, imagined ritual “towards the centre of the earth”. This show has teeth, quite literally, in the shape of nails; if you enter the space, you’re instructed to take off your shoes and stand on a bed of nails to observe Guerrero’s video installation. Very like Guerrero’s photography, the video is gorgeous and soft, featuring the ladies orgasming together amongst mangroves. The nails, as Guerrero tells me within the interview, are a reminder of the devastating price of that beauty.

I loved how this show handled themes of privacy and pain, the way it made viewers work for intimacy – turning them into participants – by standing on a bed of nails to observe your video of girls orgasming amongst banyan trees; the experience of the photo of Rosalía which one could only view by pressing oneself against the wall. What inspired you to display the work in this manner?

Carlota Guerrero: While creating these pieces I felt pain, discomfort, pleasure and joy; so did a lot of the girls that worked with me, as we overcame our fears or exposed our vulnerability. But we also felt fulfilled as we took back a fraction of the narrative of female representation. I often create aesthetically pleasing images that come from difficult places, which might be confusing. It was essential to me to contextualise these images of their structural complexity. I desired to be quite literal about it, meaning I find beauty in all this pain and vice versa. As a spectator, there isn’t a way you may enjoy the photographs without feeling the pain of the nails in your body.

Intimacy can be very present in my work, so when placing the visitor so near the artwork there’s an intention of recreating that initial proximity and the respect that comes inherently.

‘I often create aesthetically pleasing images that come from difficult places’ – Carlota Guerrero

Your work made me take into consideration goddess iconography; how every woman looked powerful and self-contained, even while nude, almost less a female gaze and more a real subversion of the male gaze in that you may feel the ladies you depict gazing at you, judging you, versus the opposite way around. How do you effectively capture this strength?

Carlota Guerrero: As Mariona Valdés, the curator of the exhibition, wrote:

‘Symbolic representations don’t function as mere images isolated from their socio-political reality; they’ve historically served as catalysts for gender metaphors. Amongst all these symbols, that which is religious and mythological appear especially relevant because of their ability to represent an influence that human beings have interpreted as divine and unquestionable. Because the feminist theologian Isabel Gómez brilliantly points out, ‘Un Dios descrito como varón se convierte en un varón Dios‘ (a God described as male becomes a man-God).’

There’s a certain symbolic reparation I would like to realize while taking back the narrative of depicting femininity. It is not uncommon that in response to the oppression women suffer, the photographs of liberation that appear in my head result as divine, timeless, elevated. It’s also my personal perception of femininity, so I just capture the strength that I see. I’m creating references the patriarchy has stolen from us throughout history.

I get the sense you’re extremely protective of the ladies you capture in your photos. How do you foster trust on set and throughout the editing process?

Carlota Guerrero: I ask so much about the way it is working with fashion photographers to the models I shoot with, and the response I get probably the most is there’s a scarcity of empathy. It still may be very common that the model looks like an object, mistreated or not considered. I wish they’d understand how vulnerable it may possibly feel to place yourself in front of a camera and the facility we hold while shooting. It’s something that feels obvious to me but that doesn’t all the time occur; the topic and photographer need to bop together in a flow of consent and respect.

I’m sure despite your efforts certain men project a certain sexuality or submissiveness onto your work. What do you do to guard yourself from this categorisation?

Carlota Guerrero: Sex isn’t my call when portraying nudity. A sensitive woman, a confident woman, a witch woman, a depressed woman, a drained one – the body is a vessel of infinite things. I stand by my vision and I protect it in many various stages. The male gaze isn’t present in my creative process – I’m not involved in what category they could project into my work, it isn’t the filter I feel should think about. That doesn’t mean I’m not aware of it – but what’s the purpose of being consistently aware of a series of values which were imposed on us, including the values attached to our own bodies? Why should we take them into consideration?

‘It’s my personal perception of femininity, so I just capture the strength that I see. I’m creating references the patriarchy has stolen from us throughout history’

What have been your favourite reactions of your subjects upon seeing the ultimate images?

Carlota Guerrero: ‘Organised pain’, the nail platform, brought probably the most interesting reactions. There was something ritualistic in regards to the visitors having to take off their shoes and undergo such an intense experience to give you the option to see the photographs – parallel to the one which the ladies contained in the artwork needed to live, naked for hours on top of the mangroves, with crabs biting their feet; or me and my crew filming it on a tiny unstable boat, all wet and muddy and surrounded by mosquitoes. It made us all converge in a particular uncomfortable intensity.

My stepfather told me days after the opening that he was checking a girl’s body from the back on the street and that he suddenly remembered the sensation of the nails in his feet. He asked me if that was my intention, and even when it wasn’t exactly what I considered when creating the nail platform, I realised how we as women feel unsafe by being observed by strangers, and he as a person got an uncomfortable feeling back by extrapolating the experience from the exhibition. I’m committed to expressing how complex our experience navigating a patriarchal society is, feeling understood all the time looks like a step forward.

I loved how conceptual this show was – do you will have any future shows like this within the works?

Carlota Guerrero: I’m working on a series of performances that involve women in the general public space. For the time being, I’m on the very starting of my research, in order that’s all I can share.

If there’s one lesson you’d want women to remove out of your art, what wouldn’t it be?

Carlota Guerrero: You turn into what you admire. The pictures turn into symbols and references for individuals who need them.

Registro 6: Manglar is showing on the Sainte Anne Gallery in Paris until March 31

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