Magazine article Sculpture

Second Skins: A Conversation with Marcela Astorga

Magazine article Sculpture

Second Skins: A Conversation with Marcela Astorga

Article excerpt

Marceia Astorga, an Argentine artist born in the province of Mendoza, creates work with both visual and conceptual impact. For the last 20 years, she has used art as a means to face issues of importance to her: violence, memory, identity, and construction/deconstruction as represented through architecture, as well as the marks that we leave and the deficiencies that we suffer. Her installations establish a dialogue between materiality, physical space, and symbolic power. Skin, hair, and fabricscraps representing tears as well as traces-testify to those who once inhabited and wore them. In creating these witnesses of existence, Astorga works from a silent place, appealing to the forcefulness of the image, not to the word. Her search leads to the boundaries between outside and inside, to natural borders, like skin, and those that we create to demarcate territories of our own.

María Carolina Baulo: Algo huele a podrido (Something smells rotten, 1998), one of your first meat works, is clearly linked to the issue of violence and the Argentine social imaginary. How would you describe the experience of making this piece and the passage to working with skin in later works?

Marcela Astorga: I have always had my eyes on social issues. I was born in a family in which the other, the one in need, and politics were all dominant themes. To talk about the production of that work, I would put it in context. I started painting, and little by little, I began gluing and sewing different materials on the frame, which led me to the idea of meat.

I spent my adolescence under the military regime. From that age on, I was aware of the real circumstances in which I grew up. I think that the horror we lived through, without being fully conscious, was somehow "exorcised" in those painting-objects. The passage from flesh to skin came naturally, logically. From a conceptual point of view, the skin covers that flesh. But from a practical perspective, I got tired of painting and sewing and became interested in the object, the material, and so, I moved from representation to presentation. At the same time, I gave more importance to volume and space. I felt much more comfortable and identified with that mode of production.

MCB: Skin and body go hand-in-hand in your work. As l understand it, the concept of skin expands to everything that shapes us as social beings - what we wear, where we live, how we connect with the other through body language. You work the skin as a border, as a medium. Your exhibition "Cuestión de piel" ("Matter of skin," 2001) highlighted all of these concerns, as well as the sensuality of skin and how it can make us choose connections through a sensitivity beyond the ideological, political, or religious.

MA: I once read that lames |oyce, writing before Ulysses, said that modern man had epidermis instead of soul. The skin is presence, our configuration, a large file, the receptacle. That is also part of the concept.

MCB: "Cuestión de piel" also questioned the functionality of objects. A chair without a seat, for example, doesn't serve any use; it becomes an art piece. Heidegger spoke of the substantial difference between the mere thing, the tool, and the work of art.

MA: Functionality, the roles of things, can vary, move, and disarm. I believe that for something to become a work of art, it must be transformed with signs of a world of its own; at the same time, these meanings are part of the artist's visual narrative. That operation, the change, must be anchored with or in some material that relates to or belongs to the form with which you are working. The chair that you referred to may have had a leather seat; I just combined it with something that belonged to it in a strange way. And even if it hadn't been made of skin, the bodies it held were shaped by skin. Then, I decided to show the skins in long strips.

MCB: Architecture is another central theme in your work. You establish a parallel between the skin that contains us and the buildings that we construct as a "secondskin,"for refuge. …

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