First published by KC Studio Magazine, April 2014.
It begins and ends with the body. The photographs of and by Leonor Jurado-Laspina on display at Garcia Squared Contemporary are surface vibrations caused by disturbed waters deep below. There is an ominous narrative enclosed in each image, and they have been condensed and cropped to focus on the point of highest tension. These stories are told through body parts, intimate and disturbing moments reflected in a bowed hand, or a covered head. Alongside these fragmented portraits are broken natural structures, such as fallen trees, large branches, and deer skulls, seemingly at the tail end of decomposition. We are taken into a story created through many small, single-subject images. A palm, the bottoms of two feet, or half a torso are photographed with softness, yet the shadowy space beyond the figure is left invisible. This dark space that occupies the photographs is, in many ways, exactly what Jurado-Laspina is exploring. Jurado describes her personal longing for art movements passed, which may explain why some of her figures shield themselves from the lens, denying their inclusion in the canon. An alternate version of reality emerges to overtake the existing one, and so the truth of each photograph becomes more difficult to identify using the framework we possess in this world. How many of these image bear a semblance to the world we are viewing them from? Are the images, like the scarred hand pressed onto glass, living in a world just beyond our reach? If, in this alternate reality, we find truth and answers, would they carry over with the same weight into this reality? Each image lives an antiquated lifestyle. Even when photographed with an iPhone, they seem unassociated with today’s fast-paced technology and self-obsessed social scene. Perhaps they are visitors from the past.
Presented with these human parts in another context, we would swell with a kind of love, an instinct to protect, or at least intimate familiarity, but Jurado-Laspina’s series does not take us there. Our memories are disrupted by the macabre, Gothic sensibility of these images and we are denied some of our humanity in favor of fiction. The images truly represent those intimate pieces of ourselves and each other we protect the most, but even through their exposure they remain trapped and inaccessible. Some are more tactile, like the hand pressed against a clear, hard surface, presenting the audience with a long scar cut across the supple palm. Others have more abstract narratives: branches laid out alone or in a cluster of exposed roots and antlers removed from their original posts. In these shots of nature the medium speaks louder than the story, exhibiting Jurado’s skillful usage of antiquated cameras and old fashion processes. Any photographer to come of age before the digital revolution can appreciate the deftness by which she wields these dinosaur tools, although eventually every images becomes digitized. Such is the photographic way for those on a budget. The truly hands-on process is not in the images, but the porcelain mounts the photos have been transferred onto. She uses old fabric doilies, some of them from her own familial origins. The objects become heavy with clay as she continues to press them into the wet material, giving the images the weight of physical labor and personal history.
Around the corner from the small photographs are three large prints of the female form. Up close, they appear low-quality and unflattering. Jurado reveals the secret: These photographs have been shot with her iPhone and blown up much larger than the device is capable of shooting. In just three photographs of the canonical female body, Jurado is posing some provocative questions for Western culture. The otherness of the iPhone “selfies” defy both sets of rules for sexting and profile-pic-ing. They are not shot from the most flattering and publicly appealing angle, nor do they condense sexuality into expressions in the eyes, face, or erogenous zones of the body. They are forthright and bold, grainy and unfocused, and are more evocative of the (long replaced) female standards of the past. There are no frills in the black and white triptych. Jurado is only using the device to propagate the media to propagate the culture, and in doing so has challenged us to think about the edits we make to ourselves when we turn the camera (app) around.
When asked about materials, Jurado begins to discuss the negation of the materials and process she is using. As a photographer living in the digital age, she is quick to recognize her practice as having to evolve. A photograph still asserts itself as a photograph, but embraces the digital age whenever necessary. When I ask Jurado about her relationship to memory, she has a surprising reply. The series, she asserts, is not about the memory of the subjects, but the history of the art and subject matter. This feels existential and I consult the images for affirmation. I imagine the subjects weighted down by past lives and false memories of their condition. Gothic in content with Baroque references, the figures are trapped. Jurado talks about her photographs like a disturbed person might talk about another living thing. “I’m not afraid to put my subjects in precarious situations. They are the manifestation of entrapment and internalization of a situation”. She says this with tough love, and concludes “I want the work to feel slightly religious and spiritual without being preachy, like Bill Viola can accomplish in his works.” She expands on the research she has been doing on Viola, but is right to recognize her work as different in many ways. “I’m just very inspired by him right now,” she says, “but I could never make work on that scale.”
The shows larger theme is “displacement”, as enforced by Jurado’s statement. She doesn’t mention it in the show, but she’s moving back to Ecuador this year, leaving the United States behind. Everything she owns will be under scrutiny: Do I take this? Do I have ties to this? Will I be in contact with you? Her home country has become increasingly more appealing to her in the last few years as American policies continue to behave this way. When we know this bit of personal information about the artist, suddenly the broken branches and isolated figures mean that much more. This series is overwhelmingly a study of the past and a longing for a world different from the one we remain in. Just as the figures in the photograph appear to be trying to escape, we are trying to enter.
You can see Leonor Jurado-Laspina’s work at the Paragraph Gallery (23 E 12th Street) on April 4th until the end of the month.