Using photographs her father took during Pinochet’s regime, the project An Oscillating Shadow exists in a space between archive and memory.
Unseen Platform: What is the story behind An Oscillating Shadow?
Celeste Rojas Mugica: During the 1970s and 1980s my father, a photographer, was part of a revolutionary movement fighting against Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile. Because of this, he had to flee Chile and spent twelve years exiled in Ecuador. When he finally returned home he stopped taking photos and abandoned his entire archive of images. When I was a child I found these negatives along with different cameras and photography equipment from my father’s past. I built a small dark room where I learnt to develop photographs, and that’s how I became a photographer.
A few years ago, I decided to start working with the archive. I think because of this political trauma – which is part of my life too – it was impossible for me to work with these materials before. Paradoxically, it was only when I decided to move from Chile to Argentina (my second country, as my mother is Argentinian) that I began to digitalize the thousands of negatives. This started a conversation with my father about the past, which he finds difficult to speak about. It’s interesting to me that this archive mixes the intimacy of my family life and the political context of those years.
What does the title of the project, An Oscillating Shadow, symbolise?
For me, the title synthesises the story and character of my father, who had to move between light and shadow in different senses: between origin and exile, between a dictatorship and a revolutionary project, and between different identities. Oscillation also refers to the project itself, which exists between absence and presence. From the oscillation of light and shadow, a flash of lightning appears - a space between the ‘past’ of the archive and the ‘now’ of its recognition. That is a place in the present for the construction (or disintegration) of a memory.
An Oscillating Shadow is a photo series, an installation, a film and a photobook. Which format did you enjoy working with most, and why?
For me, working with different media and materials is not about enjoyment, but the possibilities of what can be shown and what I can research with each. For example, as an installation I am able to experiment with light and shadow, as an experience and also as a sort of scenography. Something very different happens when I am designing a book where images establish a relation and narrative - not only between the photos but also with texts, sizes, textures of paper, etcetera. The reception of the work is also very different when it’s not in a gallery space but alone, viewed individually. The combination of the different spaces, images, sounds, and topics I’m able to incorporate in film is different again.
In some senses, An Oscillating Shadow becomes a new work every time I change the media and the context of exhibition. The origin (photographs) remains the same, but the investigation and the results are always different.
Text by Jenny Willcock, Unseen Platform