Historian Aby Warburg urged his contemporaries to read the images as symptoms, no longer as symbols or as signifiers. The symptomatic emerges when a choreographic substrate (gestures, emotions …) articulates unconscious relations between them. Today, in a world saturated with images without context or entity, transversal readings are even more necessary.
Cristina Toledo, in her painting, strips the black and white surfaces of vintage photographs she finds on the internet, to rescue latencies captured in the underlying gray range. These traces, survivals (as Didi-Huberman call them) or symptoms are revealed in gestures, in daily rituals and, especially, in the spectral residue left on the bodies by the passage of time.
In its latest series, A Victorian Story (currently being exhibited in DA2), spurs our associative capacity, our ability to perceive the “dialectical fluttering” (again Didi-Huberman) between truth and illusion, between document and imagination, which unfolds over each image related with the rest of this “story” without linearity.
In a first approach, we feel an enveloping atmosphere of mystery and romanticism: the characters hide their identities by turning their backs or hiding behind black veils, tissues or newspapers. We see widows, mourners… The nineteenth-century paroxysm of mourning, the Victorian ritualization of weeping and the eroticism as a taboo come to our mind seeing those black dresses covering all the body…
After this initial overview influenced by preconceptions about a time apparently so different from ours, we realize that the photographic models were taken from a variety of sources. But Cristina plays with the ambiguity, so in our imaginary, we confuse beauty tips with magic tricks, and illusionistic spectacle with prosthesis advertising; and the flirtatious Lima woman appears to us as a demure Victorian lady. As for the horse rider lady with a thin waist, she does not turn her back on us for prudery. She is Catherine Walker, influential and beautiful courtesan, admired and envied for knowing how to live her life, without giving an account.
We associate Victorian times with the morbid customs of the post-mortem photographies, with the women confined in their homes, with superstitions, with double standards … Toledo wonders herself about these parameters and invites us to assume a prospective hindsight, that is, confront the past with our present, focusing mainly on women and their roles.
In Hidden Mother (2018), the mum is a pure headless lap for a toddler that occupies the whole picture. The light falls on the bib and on reflects on his plump face, resting on the black shadow of its progenitor.
We also find a girl with a disturbing doll dressed as a bride… The topics of motherhood, mourners, seduction, fanaticism and superstition (the last two may be applied to religion or morality, but also to the “miracles” of beauty treatments) are reactivated in what they have of “survival” in our time, either by rejection or by inheritance.
In contemporary societies, the exaltation of grief seems to have been reversed in the taboo of death, and the sexual taboo seems to have turned into a pornographic paroxysm. But, it is precisely in this inversion of values where one sees that there is no a rupture, only polarities between issues that express the same obsessions.
All the pictorial series by Cristina Toledo propose this game of mirrors between women of a not too distant past and women of today, always from the re-reading of photographic images (taken from fashion magazines, documentary photography, cinema, scientific journals…)
The Tattooed series (2014), like the veiled women, shows the double edge of the tattoo as an emancipatory and subversive weapon as well as an instrument of domination, reification or possession by a husband or a father.
An act of faith (2015) shifts the gaze from the battlefield to the civilian rearguard, that is to say, to the daily life of women in the domestic sphere. Painters, lovers, mothers, nurses … the resilience against all odds.
In a more recent series, Sacrifice (2017) we visit beauty salons with bizarre devices. Obsessed women submit to all kind of treatment, even in the office. Light contrasts, shades of grays and sepia tones, reminds us of film scenes of science-fiction from the 1940s. It is clear that today’s devices will seem equally bizarre to future generations. In fact, this is what this is really about, to bring the sinister in a daily life which is ours.
Cristina Toledo. Una historia victoriana
in DA2. Domus Artium 2002, Salamanca
until 13th January 2019
Cristina Toledo has participated in MARTE
International Fair in Castellón
with Galería Pep Llabrés Art Contemporani
curators: Fernando Gómezdelacuesta y Avelino Sala