In Conversation with Ana Álvarez-Errecalde

Q: Blood and nudity seem to be a leitmotif of your work. Why? And what is your relation with them? 

A: I have created many artworks that deal with nudity but only a few that include blood. Many things motivate the direction of my work. I am interested in the vital cycles and the passage of time. I am interested in the body as an intimate territory: a map of registered memories that are not always in line with what religion, science and socioeconomic interests have led us to believe. How I relate to nudity and blood is a mirror of my fascination with life. I am accepting of my changing body, amazed with how my children grow and intrigued by the aging process. I have enjoyed my pregnancies and have had joyful, intense home births. The blood and nudity seen within the context of my artwork is linked to authenticity and undiluted sensuality.

Q: Identity is a repetitive theme in your work. Has identity become so important since you are an Argentinian living in Europe? Is it a need to find and define (or re-define) yourself?
I have lived half of my life away from my family and country of origin as an immigrant on two continents. These experiences have influenced my interest in Identity. In other projects, I do not focus so much on nationality as an identifying factor but in those experiences that we live that permeate us and determine the way we see the world.

Q: Female nudity… Is it a sort of re-appropriation of the female figure?
A: Yes. In my artwork I intend to go beyond the physical and aesthetic re-appropriation. My intention when photographing female nudity is also to re-vindicate the right to openly share experiences and add to the collective imagery. Love and sex among the elderly, orgasmic births, scars that leave testimony of a survived experience, all these have something to contribute to our common reality.

Q: It is obvious to me to link Canova’s Le Tre Grazie with your Tres Gracias Sangrantes. What does it mean for you to take a tradition and use it? Is this just an endorsement or are you doing something else with it?
A: Tres Gracias Sangrantes was conceived as a parody to Canova´s Le Tre Grazie which are supposed to represent beauty, charm and joy and preceded banquets for the mere purpose of delighting the guests of the gods. Raphael created a chaste version of the piece and Rubens painted the Graces in a voluptuous and exuberant way. I wanted to add an irreverent image to the vast voyeuristic and salacious representations in Art.

The advertising industry tries to convince us that women´s blood is blue, that menstrual cycles stink, that menstrual pain is normal and should be medically numbed, and that mood swings are part of a syndrome (PMS) which is treatable by a huge range of pharmaceutical solutions. External control over women´s physiology and psychology reach debates about abortion legality and illegality, backs up the endless interventions on pregnancy and birth which ends up in an incredibly high rate on C-sections in most of the developed countries. 
The external manipulation of women´s hormones sometimes starts in the beginning of adolescence.
 The devalorization of old age sends more and more women in an anguished and frustrating search for eternal youth.
 In Three Bleeding Graces I give visibility to blood in order to denounce the devitalization, domestication and exploitation of this process that negates women.

Q: Is HISTOLOGÍAS a metaphor for the lack of empathy toward others?
A: HISTOLOGIAS proposes getting into someone else´s skin and alludes to the complexity of this act. I present the skin as a canvas which is both influenced by the life that marks us from the outside (aging, illness, aesthetic, etc.) as well as the marks that come from the inside (the subconscious that overflows, explodes and stains).
 There are moments in life when it becomes almost unbearable to fit inside the boundaries that conform who we are, those are the moments when we are able to grow emotionally and expand our limits.


Q: ALQUIMIA seems a spiritual work where the absence becomes presence. Would you tell me more about this work?
A: I created this series of photographs and sculptures soon after the death of my sister Bany. We were very alike and very close. We would laugh at the same things, we had the same smile. When she passed away unexpectedly from cancer I could not accept that she was gone. I was searching to be with her in a tangible way as an intent of transcending her absence. I brought her back into my life by creating this collaborative work. I based the artwork on her poetry, which I even embroidered on the dresses that I used for the series.

Q: I found El nacimiento de mi Hija (The Birth of my Daughter) the most "transgressive" of your works. How do people respond to this work?
A: There are people who admire the work and appreciate my motivations for creating and sharing these self-portraits. Art history, Hollywood, the media and the advertising industry show maternities from a viewpoint which mostly corresponds to a heterosexual masculine fantasy. Everything related to the mother is portrayed as sacred, virginal and aseptic.

Other people are horrified by seeing a naked woman giving birth, smiling and showing the baby, umbilical cord, placenta and blood. Some feel it is not a “sincere” image of birth because their accepted version of women birthing involves pain, being out of control and needing guidance and assistance. They feel confronted by an image that challenges their most profound beliefs. 
For me, experiencing birth without interference was always an incredible and powerful event. A rite of passage that is transcendental and primordial. I know that my experience is similar to that of many women and I wonder why that experience was never portrayed before and hardly ever discussed.

Q: Why do you define yourself as an artist? And what is the role that art has in your everyday life?
A: Everyday I am talking, planning, thinking, avoiding, fed up with, enjoying, loving, hating, amazed by, bored by, getting hope from and creating Art.
 My artwork is a way of processing some of the most meaningful experiences that I have encountered: birth, illness, displacement, death…
I can't separate art from my daily life. My husband, Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, is also an artist and we have three children who love to be involved in our projects. Discussing concepts, learning and working in an organic and combined manner can happen at the dinner table or keep us busy for weeks.

Q: Can women do everything?
A: Yes, if you are comparing women´s ability to men, women have already shown that they are as capable as men to execute the most physical and intellectually demanding jobs as well as also being capable of the same ability for error. The problem is that they should not be doing everything.

During approximately the last sixty years, women have been struggling to do everything because that was another expectation that society had placed on them. Women became an active part of the workforce but kept the initial role of taking care of the household. For many women is an overwhelming amount of responsibility.
 To add to all these, the societal pressures of doing it all, doing it happy and doing it while being young and beautiful had made of women incredible consumers, making huge profits by fomenting insecurities. 
It is great to know that we can do everything we want but we need to free ourselves from the external pressures of doing it all.

Q: What do you want to achieve or demonstrate with your art?
A: I like to make visible experiences that did not have much exposure, that for different reasons were not sufficiently recognized, accepted or validated. I am amazed by the richness and variety of human experience and I do not want to conform to a narrow and limited version.

Q: How men react to your work? Does this vary by class, by culture, by ethnicity?
A: Most men give support to my artwork regardless of their background. I have received some negative feedback from both men and women who do not feel comfortable with how I portray nudity because it does not coincide with their “ideal” of what “beauty” is. I do not strive to show “beauty” in nudity because I do not believe that art must be beautiful. I want to go beyond the aesthetic and if you find it beautiful or troubling it is because of your perception. 
Regarding the self-portrait Birth of my Daughter specifically, some people made commentaries comparing the vulgarity of these birth images to the vulgarity of photographing someone defecating. I am not offended by these comments because I know it is an indicator of how these people were raised and that their belief system connects these natural processes to being sinful or dirty. This is an indicator of the lack of respect that women´s bodies have and it is worrisome reality that this is the value that some people give to birth, breastfeeding, infancy and other natural things in life in general.

Q: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
A: I embrace the value, uniqueness and equality of every person and that is for me what feminism stands for. I wish there was another word that would not have a gender connotation to oppose to the concept of Patriarchy. As with any other label used to gather many people with similar ideas, there are different ways to understand feminism and the nuances of what feminism is, is easily lost within this broad label. There are some feminists that do not appreciate my focus on maternity because they have been trying to conquer other roles for women to occupy and talking about motherhood seems like a step backwards to them. But for most of the women alive today motherhood is a reality. My work is created in order to counteract the predominant over medicated and detached view of maternity.

Q: Can art change the way we perceive our life?
A: Once all essential necessities such as food, health and shelter are guaranteed, art can have an amazing impact on our lives. It can influence thought, provoke dialogue and question all facets of existence: from politics to education, from religion to entertainment. Art has a way of transforming ideas into emotions and that has the potential of awakening society from indifference and indoctrination.