Studio Visit: Casilda Sanchez

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A little over a year ago I went to an exhibition of video work titled Overkill curated by Jefferson Godard at the Mission Projects. It is there that I was introduced to Casilda Sanchez‘s quiet yet engulfing video work. The piece was titled as inside as the eye can see and was projected at a demanding proportion. The two eyes were staring into each other at a distance that most of us have never experienced. The tension between the two eyes is only broken when one blinks, causing the eyelashes to delicately touch. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Casilda was born in Madrid, Spain and holds an MFA Degree in Film, Video and New Media by the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. She currently has an installation at the Ground Floor Biennial at the Hyde Park Art Center that is on view until November 11th. Casilda is also represented by Godard’s new gallery, Aspect Ratio
as inside as the eye can see, HD video, 7 min, 2009
as inside as the eye can see, HD video, 7 min, 2009

On collecting:

My studio wall is a puzzle of pictures, text fragments, sketches and diagrams that map ideas, relationships and emotions that at some point have made me stop and look/think again. Some of them are myself excavating into my own practice, others are key references that speak to my interests and obsessions. They are pieces of a big puzzle that draws into an aesthetic and a series of concepts that give ground to my practice. This collection (that expands digitally in my computer, and in endless bookmarks and labels), is my aesthetic and concept dictionary. It is a way of keeping track and archiving all those notes and moments that call my attention, and that I could need to come back to in the near future, which I do when I need to re-focus.

In the case of images I collect, it is normally their capacity to isolate and represent moments and situations of absorption, intimacy and human connection what drags me to them. Also, the context where those personal states are represented is most often the domestic space, during everyday activities. In my work, I also magnify and pay attention to mundane “unimportant” moments and situations that otherwise would be overlooked. It is through zooming and raising them to the category of “events” that I make a statement for the importance of those details to define our humanity and identity.

On process:

In my perspective, projects are like a parallel fabric to the artist’s brain and ideas, they are inevitably intertwined, and many times one leads to the next. When I’m working on a project I’m working on a series of ideas and its relationships, and the final work is my personal materialization and metaphor for those ideas. This materialization is a choice among multiple possibilities that open up during the process of thinking and making, a process that opens doors that might become seeds for future projects.

In that sense my work is always a work in progress, where each piece could be considered autonomous, but shaped from the previous and a starting point for the rest to follow. This way of working produces an array of interrelated projects that could be understood as faces of a big complex prism, each of them looking towards a different direction but complementing the adjoining faces.

For instance, this is the case for a number of works produced around ideas of looking and intimacy made between 2008-2010, where I made symbolic artifacts using peepholes, a video of a camera observing my eyeball through a peephole, a video installation of two eyeballs looking at each other, a video of the bridge of the nose while the person reads historic quotes about the experience of seeing, or a video installation of a couple staring at each other.

My interest in voyeurism as an act of entering into another’s space and paying close attention to someone else drove me to explore how and when looking could be a means to comprehend and explore intimacy and relate to others or ourselves. Sight is considered to “maintain the most emphatic exteriority of its object”, as Cathryn Vasseleu writes, which makes it even more motivating and relevant for me to explore those moments and faults where it crosses the surface and partakes of the perceived subject. While working on the above cited projects I realized how the gaze has the special power of connecting without touching, while making it feel as intense as the closest contact, which is a big paradox. And that kind of mysterious magnet that makes relationships happen and moves us to keep avidly looking, continued to attract my attention project after project.


On material and medium:

For the past years I have worked primarily with video, which normally has become video installation by the way it incorporates the physical space. Video allows me to encapsulate and zoom in into my subjects, and do it through time. I can develop micro narratives that unfold the complexity of a very direct and simple image at first. It is a medium that I feel is capable of expanding my observations on human essence and intimacy. For me, the camera is passing through everything, zooming and extracting that moment that I’m trying to capture. It has a definite big power, it is “stealing the moment”, but at the same time it is making it available and opening it up, embracing the viewer with it.

Another reason why I use video is because it also allows me to project images in scales that wrap the viewer in a very physical way. The scale allows me to expand the videos in the space, and physically open up the portrayed situations to immerse the viewer inside them. Normally my work recreates moments that would go unnoticed, and by zooming in and blowing them up they become a place that is almost unavoidable. That same move of zooming and blowing up gives me also the opportunity to decontextualize the subject that is being shot, in a way that makes it almost unrecognizable, and create images that stand right in the middle of the thin line between beauty and estrangement. This allows me to focus on skin details, light and color, in a very abstract and classic way, while wrinkles, imperfections, color marks or molds become part of the disturbing yet beautiful landscape of our fleshy existence.

During the production of the videos I always keep the crew as small as possible, to avoid distraction and loss of focus from the performance or situation being shot. I would normally shoot myself or a very close person who would “perform” before the camera. This process becomes a sort of intimate ritual between myself, the subject and the camera, where I try to capture the intensity and essence of such unique closeness.

Lately, I am starting to incorporate drawing and sculpture back again, which I haven’t used for years. Before video became my main way of expression I worked with more direct and less mediated mediums like painting, drawing and ceramics. The relationship between the maker and product is very different with these mediums, where the material becomes tactile and direct, carrying the strengths and weaknesses of the doer in a very honest and transparent way. Materials and mediums are intimately tied to ideas, so combining such different mediums to materialize a project is a new and exciting challenge for me.

interior with red sofa, 2 channel HD video installation, 12 min, loop, 2010 (video still)
interior with red sofa, 2 channel HD video installation, 12 min, loop, 2010
(video still)

On her research process:

Many of my projects are grounded on text or image(s) as starting point. I often research imagery related to the idea that triggered a given project. Most of the time I will gather pictures of works across history and styles, that somehow contain the idea or subject lying in the core of the project that I am about to unfold. Sometimes I will look for expression and essence, others for form and color, image strategies, light, point of view, atmosphere, etc. These images serve me as visual thinking and a way of better understanding and nailing down what is it that I am exactly looking for. This process is very important to me, as it helps me contextualize the idea, learn from how others have dealt with it before me, and realize what is it that I can offer or add to it. It is also a very organic and inspiring way to discover works and artists that I didn’t know before, and very often works as a fertile ground for new ideas to be born, and paths to be walked in future projects. These references are sometimes kept in the form of a title, audio, aesthetic or composition. But most importantly, they work for me as entry doors to the project, and are a way of dealing with and transforming abstract and wide concepts.

I have recently being developing works that portray a very intimate moment that could even make the viewer uncomfortable by watching it, or on the contrary, feel so connected to it that draws her into the video. Among the representational strategies I utilized was to create a circularity within the video (2 subjects absorbed on each other, or subject-book) that is presented before the viewer. For these works I studied how 18th and 19th century painters developed a vast number of genre paintings that depict a close intimate space that makes the viewer more aware of her own position and gaze, but at the same time produces a centrifugal force that makes you forget about your own being and merge into that shared moment, travel inside the painting and loose yourself. This negotiation between having the privileged position of being able to contemplate an intimate moment alien to you, or forgetting about yourself and becoming part of that moment, is of great interest to me.

On space and site:

I have moved several times and there are some core interests and ideas that I always carry with me regardless of where I am, but geography inevitably has an impact in a person and thus her practice. For instance, being in NYC made me dig out an old sketch I made years ago about a person trying to lengthen, get tall and touch the moon. It is a city that feels vibrant and full of dreams to be touched, but can at the same time be stressful and sometimes scary. Those reflections and ideas have been the basis for a series of pieces I’m working on now, which I don’t think would have happened if I was living elsewhere.

Space plays an important role in the creation of my work. I often intend to create an immersive experience and speak to the viewer in a very sensorial and experiential way, and to do so, the space needs to serve the piece as much as the piece the space. Sometimes it is the piece that will be tweaked to properly integrate with a given location, or on the contrary I will modify the space to meet the idea. Video installation is a very magical medium that transforms a moving image into a living space. I believe a work is received and processed in relationship with its context and surroundings. For that reason, I don’t conceive piece and space as two differentiate entities, but work to make them speak the same language and serve a common purpose.