The time of the body

Monday, 02 June 2014 13:33 Written by Christine Frérot

From the text of the catalogue from the exhibition Innate at the Cultural Center of Mexico, Paris, 2001.

[. . .] The work of the Mexican artist Carmen Mariscal is located in this formal spirit of creation from a personal and cultural imagination, using iconography in the form of a diary. A long-time resident of Paris, Carmen Mariscal has a close relationship with the body, which goes far back to her own pictorial history - painting bodies or fruits cut into two, which she associates with the organs -, and to her work in Mexican hospitals with bulimic or anorexic women. Born into a family of Catalan origin in which the strong personality of the women deeply marked her personality, her liberal education (at Summerhill), along with feminism and a traditional Catholic heritage, created a duality in her. Carmen has learnt how to channel her influences, and self-portrait is omnipresent in her work. Thus, she questions, stigmatizes or exorcises, delicately and subtly, the complexity of her numerous heritages and origins.

Carmen Mariscal speaks of the time of the body - physical, affective, spiritual, mental and cultural -, of its fragility - the unbearable lightness - and eternal nature. However, she is not solely interested in the body. She questions the essence of body-history, extracting her images from her earliest setting, her family. Though interested in fragility, she also refers to that of feelings. The fading effect achieved through the transparency of the glass on which the image is printed, or the subtle division through the reflection of the image in the mirror contribute to the modesty she defends as a woman. In this staging of portraits or self-portraits she is committed to the implicit over reality, to the disassociation between body and spirit at the heart of her creative process.

Her presentation of the whole body photographed in increasingly large sizes, after a long time spent depicting hands, feet or facial features, has imposed itself as a syntactic space, her preferred format for a metaphorical discussion of femininity. The nude and the issue of identity, though still present in her work, is no longer a closed conflict but an open proposition, both personal and universal. The series of “stomachs” called Broken, and Eggs or the fragments of faces, always contain an intentional opacity - cracked wall textures - as though the artist wished to create a screen or filter between the body and the other's gaze. The tangible immediacy of the flesh or the facial features (eyes, nose, mouth, lips) are more of a suggestion than a reality, as though the artificial alteration represented that of time and thus enabled, in this shift and distance, a different knowledge of identity. The artist incorporates various objects into her bodies: feathers, spoons, branches and cloth. In her boxes, a kind of altar or reliquary enclosing the enigmas of the female, the symbolically placed body is both a receptor and a receptacle.

For Carmen Mariscal, the body is a body-pretext, a suggested body, sometimes stolen, but a living body that expresses the depths of the being, particularly when it is threatened. She has chosen a nuanced, poetic and delicate visual vocabulary with a discreet eroticism. Using a sensitive formal and conceptual discourse, Carmen Mariscal studies that which concerns us most, our body.

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