Luis González Palma

(Guatemala, 1957)

Artist statement

From its very beginnings, my work has offered a meditation on the gaze. How in our internal experience are eyes that stare fixedly at us constructed? How are shadows, glimmers and the whole geography implicit in each picture interpreted and elaborated inside of us? If our way of seeing is concocted from the social and the cultural, we may conclude that every gaze is political and that every artistic production is subject to that judgement. The gaze as power. From that vantage point, I may feel that the artwork represents a possibility for taking that into evidence, for questioning our way of seeing, for interrogating a history that has produced all those gradations of the gaze, and thus our ways of reacting before the world. In my artistic process, I have tried to create images that beckon to be examined through what I call “emotional contemplation”, their form acquiring meaning through their intrinsic beauty. Through the years, I have constructed stagings and modified certain faces to create images allowing for other perceptions of the world, other forms of understanding it, and for its internal modification.

In the first period of my work, I conncentrated on the creation of certain metaphors through formal portraits of fixed and direct glances that displayed the dignity of models and simultaneously evidenced the frailty of their being: the face was but a pretext to represent the human condition. Portraits in which the loneliness and the emotional firmness of the subjects could be perceived at once, and in which the gaze was a space of contradictions and ambiguities. In that series of portraits, generally of Guatemalan people, the face became the mirror in which I stared, interrogating myself and looking for meaning. In these portraits, the strength of the gaze resides in its power to invert my own gaze, and it attains its most intense value if and when it also manages to invert the spectator’s gaze with the same strength and power with which it offers itself. For the observer, to discover him or herself in that internal, silent gaze, joined by that impossible, observing face, is to gain consciousness of the common fate we share. A meditation on beauty as frailty, memory as pain and time as demise, photography presents death with eyes wide open.

In this present time, after great life changes, both emotional and geographical, I have been working on a different representation. I have worked on these projects with my life partner, Graciela de Oliveira, always from the vantage point of my constant obsessions: beauty as political power; love- and pain-filled religious experience as a reading of the articulation of world and man; the evidence of a void in interpersonal relationships in a fallen society, in which healthy links are scarce due to the complexity of emotions. All this new series, entitled Hierarchies of Intimacy (2004-2005), I have produced in Argentina. I have strived to represent in it scenes rife with significant psychological experiences, “investing” them (through the naming of the picture) with dialogues that are part of a silent script in apparently unconnected films. An essay consisting of images fraught with mystery and tension that present a still and disquieting drama, in which each picture acts as an instant in an elongated dream, and in which timeless figures function as memory wounds.

In every image, the visible body and the object are vehicles to enter a secret albeit bright world, openly present though encapsulated, denying to the caress but offering itself to the gaze in the manner of religious iconography. The staging presents the temporality of the unconscious, with its free association, its hopes and its fears; human acts have been woven into an unreal, off-kilter world; death is staged anew inside the sacred glimmer of gold foil.

These projects, my most recent, I have conceived in the hope of the image containing, and perchance reinforcing and expressing, the invisible. That is the word and the fundamental experience supporting all of this visual adventure. In the manner of what is not seen when gazing, what is not said when speaking, or of all those silences contained in a symphony, this work is an intimate and highly personal attempt to embody the ghosts that govern personal relationships or religious hierarchies; namely those that rule over politics and life.

— Luis González Palma

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