“I am an artist, but a ghost too…”
“Photographer Interview, Lima, Peru
Rather than considering myself an illustrator, I think I am someone who needs to capture invisibilities through images. I grew up in an environment where both the creative process and art were important: a child in an adult world where art criticism and aesthetics were part of everyday conversation. I think this, as well as the importance of play areas, shaped my sensitivity to the real and the imaginary.”
Mary Vareli: Can you tell us a few things about your background as an illustrator, your studies for example and your professional background?
Angela Caro Córdova : Rather than considering myself an illustrator, I think I am someone who needs to capture invisibilities through images. My relationship with them started from a very early age since my father is a hyperrealist painter and my mother a great storyteller. I grew up in an environment where both the creative process and art were important: a child in an adult world where art criticism and aesthetics were part of everyday conversation. I think this, as well as the importance of play areas, shaped my sensitivity to the real and the imaginary.
I am a professional photographer, and I have worked on restoration projects for historical photo archives for a while. Moreover, I have been teaching photography from the perspective of conceptual analysis, creative processes and the history of the evolution of the image from representation to the limits of post-photography. In addition, I have studied digital design and screen printing techniques. Yet, beyond my formal education, I may say I am an artist, but a ghost too.
Do you remember your first drawing? What was it?
I do not remember my first drawing. I have kept some early ones, though. I think that growing up surrounded by pictures, large paintings, projections, and things like that made books, rather than visual stimuli, a new area to explore. Books created more powerful mental images because of my own childlike interpretation of them. I liked stories, but I especially remember the strong impact that trying to read Georges Bataille’s “Tears of Eros” had on me. I also recall a graphic novel where several hands got down the curtains of a theatre and ended up in the audience’s necks to strangle them. My passion for the poetic image was born from these disturbing experiences, which opened an incompressible yet fascinating world to me.
Would you categorize yourself in any special genre?
Yes, in the genre of fiction and the surreal. I identify with them because they find their momentum in imagination, in dreams, in the unknown, in the uncanny, and both propose the denial of reality as an expansion of what is real.
Tell us about your technique, you also use mixed media right?
It is true. On the one hand, my technique is based on the use of old images. Like Max Ernst, I look for illustrations dating from the early 1800s to 1920s: pictures, illustrations of crimes, anatomy, silhouettes, and clothing taken from the Victorian era, which I then scan. I search for them in different places like flea markets or antique shops in my hometown, travelling, and, of course, on the Internet although this is a more rigorous and disciplined process.
Later, I digitally deconstruct these images and make another composition following an idea that I already have in mind. This is the part of the process that I like most: the act of destroying a reality to build a new one apparently nonexistent until that point. My latest work is a little different, though, because it relies on the use of old photographs of children’s portraits of the late 1800s. By using digital photomontage techniques, I reconstruct an illusory photo shoot with such a degree of accuracy that makes it look like a real image, except for a tiny almost imperceptible illustrated detail that I usually add to each scene. This series is called “Théorie des Catastrophes “.
I also do papercuts in which I assemble scenes using scalpels. These tend to be time-consuming and require a lot of patience due to the fragility of the material and the kind of detail I want to get. Finally, part of my work is called “Objects of Desire”, an intermittent series which has its own creative process and time. It is a mixture of my illustration techniques assembled inside cages, small boxes, terraria, and all kind objects from the past which that I end up using as containers
Are you in favour of post-production?
Reality is out there to be transformed and not believed in. I like to think that way. It is all about distrusting images and how we see, in general. Talking about being for or against post-production is not as interesting as questioning the fact why someone creates images, I believe. I am far more interested in this drive to create more vacuous images and the possibility of reaching a time when an image does not mean absolutely anything. We should also wonder whether there has ever been any sort of naturalness of the image. All in all, every act of representation involves a degree of fiction, which is absolutely necessary to assimilate reality.
But, answering your question, yes, I’m in favour because I am into fiction. Post-production is part of the process of creating the image. You can choose it or not. But as any other technique, you should know how to use it. There is a poetics even in altering reality.
What inspires you?
Personally, I feel inspiration depends on the quality of the stimulus that one experiences. I am inspired by silence and empty spaces, cold weather, travel and distance myself from the city, remembering a dream, a chance encounter with an object, the antique and curio cabinets, calligraphy, poetry, the miniature mechanisms of music boxes, melancholy for childhood, the architecture of shadows, music and grand pianos as secret hideouts, old houses where nobody wants to live any longer, and the beauty of disaster. There are many things, but above all, reading and the constant feeling of being a foreigner of my time and society.
How important is imagination for you?
Very important, indeed. Imagination, as Walter Benjamin said, is an almost divine faculty which captures the intimate and secret relationships between things. Having it is what allows the artist, come and go either side of the mirror. It is not an inborn talent but a personal language that is grown and must be constantly developed. Like anything delicate, it requires one’s ability to protect it over time, and, above all, believe in it. In my case there were some factors that contributed to forming a personal imagination but perhaps the most decisive was my status of being an only child, aloneness and/or loneliness during playtime in my childhood in the 1980s, when terrorist attacks used to plunge the city into complete darkness while somewhere not too far the echo of the explosions was heard. They were very hard times, but I remember them with nostalgia. Those were times of play and darkness.
The imagery you use reminds me of the works of Lewis Carroll, the essence of Alice is everywhere, Am I right?
Yes and no. What may give you such impression is the appearance of mirrors, infants and an altered reality in my work. What I like about Carroll’s photographs is that the little girls pretend to be asleep. In Alice, it is the dream itself which leads to a crisis of consciousness.
However, I am much more interested in the idea of the doppelgänger, the double, the secret life of objects if exposed to a certain kind of contemplation, and tragedy behind beauty and wonder. Either in these rooms that I build or those backgrounds as empty landscapes, where a poem bursts into, everything is on the verge of becoming inevitable.
Tell us a few things about your favorite symbols, mirrors, birds, old dolls and clouds are some of them as I can see.
Apart from being beautiful traps, all of them are the sinister origin of passions. I must confess that in some way I envy birds and clouds because both dress the precious costume of fragility. I am fascinated by dolls since, as I once read, they are born without a mother, and also because of the void inside their bodies, which at the same time makes them small boxes of nostalgia. Finally, it is in the looking glass where the specular geography of our double is reflected. Rather than lying to us, they constantly remind us that we are just an illusion. If a mirror falls to the ground, it creates a kaleidoscope of reality, but if a person breaks, it ceases to exist.
Are you a visual storyteller?
I tell stories – it is true. Every day, I stand up in front of my students or in the middle of the classroom and begin to narrate stories that seem to be fiction but most belong to the real world. My classes take place in the gloom. I need darkness as my speech is accompanied by projected images. So the first thing I do when I enter the room is to switch off the lights. If it was up to me, I would turn the classroom into a large stage.
The same happens when I am working on my personal projects. Everything starts at night: reading, research, the birth and development of ideas, etc. I collect the materials at daytime, but it is actually at night when everything begins to take form. And throughout all this manufacturing process, I talk to my work. So, one who owns one of my pieces, owns part of my secrets.
I think that childhood attracts you a lot, do you have your own children?
No, and I do not think I will ever have any. I have always had this certainty. It is the idealised childhood and its imperfect recollection what attracts me. I like to think of it as a country from which we have been expelled, and to which, throughout our lives, we attempt to return. Perhaps that is because of the nostalgia of having left behind that apparent madness and desire for helplessness that every child has. And, because in adulthood, we realise that as children, we had an imagery which had not been taken over by words. Rather than wanting to have children, I wish I could see myself as a child, in that miniature body that fades in my memory.
What do you mean when you say “Life after all is to be a master of the delicate art of camouflage”.
This can only be answered with poetry. “I was born in a city where I am myself a foreigner. My sense of belonging is reduced to a few places. All of them are uninhabited. This condition reaches exquisite degrees of misanthropy. However, I love a few. All of them are romantics and dreamers in danger of extinction. Perhaps that is why I am a ghost: a ghost that has no regard for the realism of reality and whose only obsession is poetry, wonder, childhood and invisibility.”
How is life in Peru for artists?
I guess I am not the one to be asked. Having grown up seeing my father’s fame has made me have a different idea of the world of art and artists. As far as I am concerned, it is a bit more complex. I have an obsession with my works. I do not like to see them in the hands of someone I share anything with or in any commercial market either. Therefore, I stay away from galleries. I prefer them to be exhibited them either at cultural centres or museums. What is certain is that fiction has little place in Peru and the vast majority of works concern social and political issues. Particularly, I do not identify with these themes at all.
Any publications or exhibitions?
In 2005, one of my stories called “Minuet” appeared in Intermezzo Tropical magazine. In 2012, I self-released a limited edition of a little illustrated book called “Diccionario Lúdico” (‘Playful Dictionary’) on “Hôtel des étincelles” (a small publisher run by myself). In the same year, I was invited to participate in an illustration project as a tribute to avant-garde collage artist Alfonso Buñuel for Poisson Soluble N º 8 (a magazine based in Spain). And in 2013, some of my works were shown in the digital magazine Catalog Magazine.
Since 1995, I have sporadically participated in a few exhibitions here in my own country. I am currently participating in the II Biennial of Photography of Lima with part of my newest series called “Théorie des Catastrophes” at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Apart from that, I was also a member of Polaroyd*, a minimalist musical project alongside Issey Satori. We self-released two mini-albums: “Crépuscule” and “Traum”.
Cesar Moro, Carlos Oquendo de Amat, Jorge E. Eielson, Louis Aragón; Paul Eluard, Desnos, Bataille, André Breton, A. Cravan, Gherasim Luca, Didi-Huberman, Henri Michaux; Rilke, Artaud, Sebald, Georges Perec, Bruno Schulz, Walter Benjamin, Raymond Roussel, Gerard de Nerval, R. Walser, Unica Zürn, Fleur Jaeggy, Natalie Sarraute, Apollinaire; are some of them.
Virginia Astley, Arvo Pärt, Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Dustin O’Halloran, Basinski, Nils Frahm, Goldmund, Deerhunter, Efterklang, Chris Watson, Sylvain Chauveau, Savoir Adore, Shout Out Louds, Asa-Chang and Junray, Muse, Piano Magic, Massive Attack, Soap and Skin, Pacific!, etc.
Favourite painters and illustrators?
Van Meytens, Max Ernst, Magritte, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Toyen, Grandville, Ernst Haeckle, Fortuné Méaulle, Joseph Cornell, E. Hopper, E. Gorey, Anne Siems; and also, filmmakers as Lawrence Jordan, Jiří Barta, Olivier Smolders, Christiane Cegavske, Peter Greenaway, Tarkovski, Sokurov, Svankmajer and Brothers Quay.
Angela Caro Córdova is Objet-Fantôme
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