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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Cabello/Carceller

Madrid,
Spain

Cabello/Carceller (Helena Cabello and Ana Carceller) were born in Paris (France) and Madrid (Spain), respectively, and it is in Madrid where they continue to live and work. After graduating in Fine Arts and Art Theory in Madrid, they travelled to Glasgow and then to San Francisco, where they studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. Informed by feminist and queer theories, their work has a distinctive nature, due to their personal approach to these discourses. Primarily concerned with issues of gender (de)construction and their intersection with space and cinema as contexts in which patterns of behavior and the regulation of the gaze are built, Cabello/Carceller have been working together as a team on a regular basis since 1993. They work in video, photography, installation and drawing, and have published essays and reviews about topics ranging from the place of feminist discourses in contemporary art or the artistic collaboration and the role of the artist as critic. They also teach at the School of Art and Architecture, Universidad Europea de Madrid, and have lectured widely, mainly in Spain.

In 2000, they curated Zona F, an exhibition about the influence of feminisms in contemporary artistic practice. Recurrent interests for them are the gendered politics of space, and the construction of masculinity outside the male body. In addition to several solo museum and private gallery exhibitions, their work has been included in many group shows, including Monocanal at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofa (Madrid, 2003), Cooling Out. On the paradox of feminism at the Glucksman Gallery in Cork (Ireland, 2006), Don’t Call it Performance at Museo del Barrio in New York (2004), and Trans Sexual Express at Centre d’art Santa Monica (Barcelona, 2001). They have been invited to participate in L’oeil cran ou la nouvelle image: Cent vidos pour repenser le monde, at the Casino Luxembourg-Forum d’art contemporain (Luxemburg), a major international survey of video works. In 2007, their work was featured in Global Feminisms, a transnational exhibition of 88 feminist artists organized by the Brooklyn Museum.

Feminist Artist Statement

From the beginning of the nineties, we have developed a multidisciplinary work that uses video, photography, writing, sound or the creation of environments with the intention of questioning the hegemonic means of representation, and suggesting critical alternatives to them. Our research is the consequence of a personal experience in a conservative social and artistic context which tried to label us and simplify our work, a common practice when it comes to artists who openly address queer contents or who acknowledge an influence from feminist theories in their work. These are some of the reasons why we decided to engage in ambiguous practices which would try to escape easy definitions without avoiding conflict.

Working in collaboration was a point of departure to highlight the implicit contradictions that survive in an art sphere that still associates authorship with the romantic ideal of individual creation. Our work has also focused on an analysis of the spaces where alternative experiences of living and/or behaving are allowed to exist, either in an open or hidden manner, therefore addressing the gendered politics of space and architecture design. Sin título (Utopía) offer a counterview to the happy, colourful images of Hockneys’ California, but the swimming pools portrayed there are closer to post-AIDS 90s. Other works have concentrated in a representation that looks for transitional moments, like bars and discotheques in the absence of bodies, after the party has ended, or movie theaters.

Another recurrent interest for us is related to contradictory aspects in the construction of masculinity and with an exploration for new models of beauty. We believe that cinema could be considered as one of the most important “schools of behaviour” in our culture, operating simultaneously as screen and mirror, and we have used it to reveal some stereotypes that work in the production of dominant masculinity, also dealing with the possibility of masculinity as a construction outside the male body.

The work Un beso, shown in Global Feminisms, is a conceptually complex but formally direct self-portrait. The video reflects on the paradoxes existing in human relationships and the dynamics that operate in collaboration. The use of black and white recalls the performative video pieces in the seventies, but here the scene appears fragmented, whereas the two faces kissing on the screen seem to be fighting to occupy its centre while escaping the spectator’s gaze, a spectator whose visual pleasure is restricted by a violent discussion.

<p>Exercises of Power. Cases: Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List), Fred MacMurray, John Lemmon (The Apartment), DVD, b/w, sound, 8’15’’</p>

Exercises of Power. Cases: Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List), Fred MacMurray, John Lemmon (The Apartment), DVD, b/w, sound, 8’15’’

“Exercises of Power” explores the dynamics of power and subordination that lie behind the gender structures in capitalism. Shot in an abandoned tobacco factory, the video analyses the construction of masculine behavior in a working environment by recreating some significant film scenes played by Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List), Fred MacMurray and John Lemmon (The Apartment), and reinterpreted in this occasion by two women. The result is ambiguous, dealing with issues of sexual organization in capitalist societies and at the same time suggesting an underlying attraction generated by power strategies and offering new readings of beauty, far from stereotypes of femininity.

Exercises of Power. Cases: Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List), Fred MacMurray, John Lemmon (The Apartment), DVD, b/w, sound, 8’15’’

“Exercises of Power” explores the dynamics of power and subordination that lie behind the gender structures in capitalism. Shot in an abandoned tobacco factory, the video analyses the construction of masculine behavior in a working environment by recreating some significant film scenes played by Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List), Fred MacMurray and John Lemmon (The Apartment), and reinterpreted in this occasion by two women. The result is ambiguous, dealing with issues of sexual organization in capitalist societies and at the same time suggesting an underlying attraction generated by power strategies and offering new readings of beauty, far from stereotypes of femininity.

Casting: James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause), DVD, colour, sound, 32’ 50’’

Cinema could be considered one of the most important “schools of behavior” in our culture, operating simultaneously as screen and mirror. “Casting: James Dean” focuses on some stereotypes that work in the construction of dominant masculinity through the cinema, and it tries to reveal some of the mechanisms that function in this process. It is also an exploration about the possibility of masculinity as a construction outside the male body. James Dean has been one of the most imitated stereotypes of “masculine performance.” In this video, and after a public open call, more than 20 women of different ages and backgrounds accepted to represent him in a scene from the film “Rebel Without a Cause.” The video portrays 16 of these women playing the actor, and re-enacting masculine behavior from their perspectives and personal readings, therefore perverting a traditional casting into an experiment where gender exchange is the main character, and “actresses” construct a somehow forbidden identity.

Autorretrato como fuente (Self-Portrait as a Fountain), colour photography, 150 x 100 cm.

“…and since Duchamp urinated while standing up, he looked for a urinary that was appropriated for him and made it into a fountain …And since Nauman felt as an ejaculating subject/object, he transformed himself into a fountain and his image dripped on us…And since Cabello/Carceller don’t accept what they say they are, they invaded a forbidden space and spilled their WC stories on Nauman and Duchamp, among others… And after that, they had to explain all this to a security guard who appeared there, warned by a consternated user, and who didn’t give a damn about all this and moreover did not want to have any problems…”

Extract from “WC Stories. Self-Portrait as a Fountain”, in Negated Cities. Visualizing absent urban spaces (Ciudades negadas. Visualizando espacios urbanos ausentes), Impasse magazine # 6, Centre d’art la Panera, Lleida, 2006.

Instrucciones de uso (Instructions for Use), DVD, colour, sound, 6’30’’

“Instructions for Use” is conformed and organized as a visual guide where a variety of traditionally masculine gestures, attitudes and poses are displayed by a woman. This video is meant to work as an ironical but effective users’ guide to acquire a “correct” masculine image in a short space of time… Masculinity has not a compulsory owner and, as portrayed here, can be considered as much a cultural construction as femininity has been traditionally regarded.

Sin título (Utopia) # 9, colour photography, 50 x 70 cm.

“In a series of photographs inspired by a visit to California in 1996-7, Cabello/Carceller document the empty promises of utopia. Like the work on joined bodies, that both imagines and constructs a model of masculinity as shared and partial, the images of vacant swimming pools in Cabello/Carceller’s works signify the gulf between what we imagine and what is. The empty pools, full of longing and melancholy, ask the viewer to meditate on the form and function of the swimming pool. The swimming pool is a place of meditation, an environment within which the body becomes weightless and hovers on the surface of a submerged world. Like a tiled Atlantis, the exposed pool, filled now with air rather than water, reveals what lies beneath the sparkling surface of chlorine- enhanced blue.” Extract from Judith Halberstam’s “Swimming to Utopia,” published in “Cabello/Carceller. Under Construction,” exhibition catalogue, Culture/Education Department, Murcia, 2004. The series “Sin título (Utopía),” offers a counterview to the happy, colorful images of Hockneys’ California. The swimming pools portrayed here are closer to post-AIDS 90’s and show themselves in an apparent wrong time or moment, yet proving to remain beautiful and intriguing. Cabello/Carceller have worked in different series to address the gendered politics of space and have interrogated it to evidence this biased construction.

Alguna parte (SomeWhere) # 28, colour photography, 120 x 180 cm.

“(…) this time [Cabello/Carceller] photograph empty bars strewn with the debris of human interaction. These photographs, like the representations of the empty swimming pools, record the evidence of presence in the absence of the body. The photographs of empty spaces always demand that the viewer fill in the blanks; we are welcomed, in this way, into the collaboration, forced almost to complete the picture in front of us, to give it meaning and narrative. We people it ourselves by allowing it to reflect back to us, not the missing self and all that remains, but the active and sometimes sinister bond that we have to the artists. This bond draws the photographer to the site of dispersal and then leaves the viewer there alone to contemplate all that has been lost and what remains to be seen. This is the collaboration we fear and desire; this is the space of queer imagining where we join our look to the look of the artists and fear that we may never climb out of the negative space into which we have fallen so willingly.”
Extract from Judith Halberstam’s “Swimming to Utopia,” published in “Cabello/Carceller. Under Construction,” exhibition catalogue, Culture/Education Department, Murcia, 2004.

Cabello/Carceller have worked in different series to address the gendered politics of space and have interrogated it to evidence this biased construction. Clearly informed by feminist and queer discourses they have concentrated in a representation that looks mostly for the interstices of time, for those moments when spaces shouldn’t be perceived or observed, like bars and discotheques after the party has ended…

Un beso (A Kiss), VHS transferred into DVD, b/w, sound, 4’

The work “Un beso” (A Kiss, January 1996), shown in the 2007 exhibition “Global Feminisms” at the Brooklyn Museum, is a conceptually complex but formally direct self-portrait. The video reflects on the paradoxes existing in human relationships and the dynamics that operate in collaboration. On the surface of the image, the identity of its characters emerges unfinished, and the work of completing it is left to the public. The use of black and white recalls the performative video pieces in the seventies, but in this occasion the scene appears fragmented, whereas the two faces kissing on the screen seem to be fighting to occupy its center while escaping the spectator’s gaze, a spectator whose visual pleasure is also restricted by a violent discussion that resonates from the background.

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