Totems, on the borderline
Densely complex implications in the photographic work of Anabell Guerreo defy generalizations and reductive interpretations. Her take is analytical, speculative and traditional in the sense that it is founded on the respect and full comprehension of the photographic medium, all the more stimulating given the discipline and method it imposes. Thus, with deep sobriety, she has structured her photographic reflection along schematic axes such as the body worked on in transparencies and deformations, the internal landscape in the series Ultimos limbos, 1992 and exile, refugees, and life in transit and transience in Los refugiados, 1996, Convocacion a la presencia, 1997, and Sangate, 2002. Beginning with a work on America entitled América inalcanzable (“Unattainable America”) commissioned in 1992 by the newspaper Le Monde, the theme then developed further on the isla de Margarita and in eastern Venezuela where she photographed the people, their corporeal geography and slices of life, which in turn led to the project called Tropicos-tropismos, 1994. With the same calm obstinacy and dominating rigor, Anabell produced the series Totems, On the Borderline (2000) in the Guajira region between Colombia and Venezuela. Totems opens up new perspectives for reworking renderings of exile, refugees, life and the limit, moving between two worlds, and being on the borderline.
La Guajira, a world on the borderline
The notion of border generally implies a plurality of figures, confrontation, a place of transit and division. In the case of Guajira, it is a place of resistance, ploughed through by a demarcation line that does not divide as much as it allows for transit and integration to take place on it and through it. The people of La Guajira live and stake their sovereignty on the dialectics of limits and sharing, on fragmentation, within a tension-ridden territory of resistance. The photographic work of Anabell Guerrero investigates this people and especially its women, constructing the image that will become the medium for a testimony within the poetic realm, something impossible to realize in any other. Her work avoids facile and direct condemnation by presenting us with a clear, carefully developed document capable of leading to a new reading of a forgotten world: not as a celebration or reporting of the same, but rather as an inevitable narrative interpretation devoid of lies or stating the obvious; more a reference and a presence than anything else.
The photographic images in Totems rise up, as monumental, noble and sober as the vertical and solitary wayĚ women against an arid and inaccessible landscape. Beings captured in their timelessness, these are the women who ensure survival and detain the heritage and traditions of the guajira ethnic group, one of the most populous and important populations in the northern regions of Latin America.
The frontal character of these images, the narrowness of the area that contains them, and the organization of the tension lines dock the drama inside the photograph. They dialogue with sculpture in their massive and stretched out way of going beyond the visual field. They also bridge over to painting in their just play on proportions and their detailed register of gray tones.
The strong frames introduce a rupture inside our perceptive habits, fracturing verticality and canceling out perspective. This recourse to foreshortening and reorganizing reality makes it excessive. The foregrounds emerge enormous and overextended, inflated fragments of the body or clothing. The spectator’s eye is filled with a great optical pleasure in seeking out the details and rediscovering the signs of some life story in the folds of a sleeve. Fragments and details are elevated as a photographic theme in and of themselves and are treated at the same aesthetic level as the whole image.
The works’ large format submerges the spectators within the very enigma of the subject, obliging them to test the medium not only in terms of how they see it with their eyes but also of how they feel it with their bodies. The spectators fall into the unformed, or into what Rosalind Krauss called “the invasion of space.” We find ourselves confronted with a representation of autonomous reality, isolated from the continuum of wholeness, a reality that takes the liberty of appropriating all narrative or descriptive coherency and imposing what is is a function of the photographic image itself.
Absorption and distancing
Anabell involves herself with images that she records and, in a play of tensions, she moves away from them. Somewhere between intimacy and objectivity, a phenomenon of absorption and distancing occurs that structures relationships between a mental phase and a material phase, evidencing a contradiction inherent to photography. As soon as the imprint of an event is thrown at us, it is already history, at the same time that it ceaselessly situates us in our present, it distances us and separates us from what is photographed, a healthy distancing that manages to unhinge the image’s discourse from descriptive or narrative temptations.
In this case, the images appear to us as the testimony of an extremely dense and complex state of things that is simultaneously the reflection of a given mental and emotional state of the person taking the photograph, someone whose eye selects and decides what will be visible or demonstrable. This act is not fortuitous or vacuous since in it a series of parameters flow together: the way of holding the camera, of moving, the consciousness of the composition and the medium of the space, the intensity and velocity of the light that denote the existence of a “pensive eye,” the presence of an unconscious thought that orders and predetermines the relationship with reality. We would be amiss if we were to ignore the urgency of the sensation that these images produce through their material and technical aspect without trivializing the dialectical capacities they entertain with other images that must be understood. We do not forget that they are instruments of the creative expression of the photographer.
The force of this work resides for the most part in its capacity to allow for perceiving the potency of these dense and complex energies within a refined construction of the image and in managing to transfer to these representations the aptitude to feel and think as if they were transformed into spirit, while the individual character of the portrait escapes. Anabell Guerrero produces icons which act as memorials to the wayĚ people.
Jepira – land of the dead
In stark contrast to the austerity and rigor of Totems, Anabell Guerrero has also developed a full register of color photographs. In these, she claims to give body and material to the fleeting images of the world of wayĚ myths that, like their daily life, is replete with vibrant, strong and pure colors. The secret complicity fed on shared life experiences of emotion and respect that she established with some wayĚ families, allowed her to come to know these stories, passed down from generation to generation, which constitute the basis of guajira traditions.
Through a process of overprinting and overlapping, she gradually builds the place of representation that is the space of exchange among the different planes: the background, the intermediary planes and the final image. The resulting unevenness in the images inscribes the existence of the image in time as if on a palimpsest. The sequence of prints invokes a space-time between them, not a time of illusion or permanency but rather one of abstraction, time as in a dream world or in metamorphosis, time inside the image, “vertical time” like time in memory where various forms of the present meet up with each other. We do not enter into it and we do go out of it, we remain inside it.
Through the multiplication of images, a sedimentation or a condensation, a kind of viscosity, occurs that is the opposite of the dry objectivity of the process of simply recording. There is no one, single reading that emerges but rather, on the contrary, a conversation unfolds between and among the different planes that is a discontinuous discourse, perhaps not unlike the interweaving in dreams, hallucinations and revelations.
The choice of duratrams as support media for this work and their obvious transparency inside the light box accentuates the immateriality of this poetic tale’s dreamlike discourse fluctuating between matter and abstraction and creating an ambiguity that detonates mechanisms of the unconscious and memory.
Paris, mai 2005
Rosalind Krauss, Le photographiaue, Corpus delici, Ed. Macula, Paris, 1990 (American edition)
Régis Durand, Le regard pensif, Lieux et objets de la photographie, Editions de la Différence, Paris, 1999
Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1991