Photographer and Filmmaker
“Anna Ehrenstein’s work ironically and humorously explores the possibilities and limitations of virtual reality to bridge the gaps created by eurocentrism, colonialism and racism.“
Daria Tuminas in conversation with Mariela Sancari about her dummy The two headed horse. Reenactment in ten acts, which was shortlisted for the Unseen Dummy Award in 2018.
Daria Tuminas: The two headed horse. Reenactment in ten acts derives from ten photographs of an earlier image series, The two headed horse, which includes staged self-portraits with your twin sister and a number of still lifes. These images reappear in your dummy and are mostly laid out along the left-hand side of each spread against a beige background. The rest of the dummy comprises a script from a play and photos of actors posing as siblings. The dialogue and visual sequences revolve around your late father, the relationships between the sisters, the nature of performance itself, and the body – as a performance tool and space of its own. It brings together a number of visual and conceptual elements – from photography stills and graphics to performance and script – all of which interconnect. Can you tell us why you chose the medium of the photobook for this project and how it keeps all these components together?
Mariela Sancari: The book is a series of photographs transformed into a theatre of sorts, a script waiting to be performed. The idea arose from my interest in the performative aspect of photography, and the use of the body as a sculptural or scenic device. I re-photographed some images from my previous work but treated them differently by aligning them with text, posing questions about the philosophical aspect of staged photography – specifically in relation to self-referentiality. The text in the book is divided into four distinct voices: an omnipresent voice (myself or the director of the play), the voice of the actors themselves (their thoughts), the actual dialogues within the play, and a technical one (with comments on scenography, lighting, etc). The photobook form, conceived as an illustrated and annotated script, allowed me to intertwine all of these elements. The book gave the project a certain structure that could be followed and even presented on stage, as well as creating an immersive experience for the reader.
DT: ACT IX opens with the phrase ‘Between us, everything happens twice’. For me, this sentence is both a reference to twin-sisterhood and a key to understanding your method of working. A subject, or even the whole work, can reoccur in another form. Your first book, Moisés (La Fabrica, 2015), which quickly sold out, introduced the story of you, your sister and your late father through portraits of men in their seventies – the age your father would have been at that time. In 2017, you produced the xerox version of the book called Moisés is not dead. On one hand, it’s a self-pirated publication, and on the other, it’s an autonomous work based on the last one. The two headed horse. Reenactment in ten acts deals with these overlapping themes, and, again, builds upon past work. Why do you like to repeat and re-activate older work?
MS: I vividly remember reading about French artist Louise Bourgeois’ artworks I do, I undo, I redo. Beautiful wording for a feeling that I often have: an insistent, almost primary need to delve deeper into my work and ideas, to contemplate them from different viewpoints, and in doing so, create poetic iterations. If art is about understanding – life, otherness, self –reworking the same subjects is a way of digging deeper, of seeing other facets and angles. I cannot think of my work as a separate series, it just doesn’t work for me. I am unable to jump from one topic to the next. I instinctively go back to the same topics over and over again. Moisés, Moisés is not dead and The two headed horse. Reenactments in ten acts do exactly that: doing, undoing and redoing my obsessions.
DT: This is the second time, after Mr. & Dr. (This Book is True, 2017), in which you collaborate with writer Adolfo Córdova, and in which text plays a major role in your work – from appropriating a classic horror story to adopting the narrative of a play. Why is it crucial for you to work with text, and what does your collaboration with Córdova entail?
MS: Using text is my way of working with images. Both are so complex by themselves that I try to establish a context with which to make sense of them. If words are images in our mind, and we describe images with words, I thought it would be a nice challenge to transfer this dialectic to the book.
Adolfo Córdova is a writer and researcher who is specialised in children’s literature. He is also my partner. Working together has been different for every project, in terms of involvement and the dynamics of our collaboration. In the book Mr. & Dr., we developed the concept and edited everything together. Then we worked separately, I with the images, trying to take them as far from the text as I could by printing, scanning, photocopying, scanning and printing them again, several times over. And he by adapting the original text of Stevenson, turning it into a beautiful poem in the first part and editing the last part, Dr. Jekyll’s confession. For The two headed horse. Reenactment in ten acts, Adolfo was the editor, attentive to the musicality of the dialogues and their rhythm. He pushed me to get the full potential out of my texts. He was my rehearsal partner.
DT: What are your plans for the dummy and the project at large?
MS: I am looking for a publisher who appreciates a challenge and is interested in connecting photobooks with other disciplines and audiences. I am also working on a hybrid exhibition or performance of the project, which will be presented in Los Angeles and Monterrey. It will consist of prints from the image series on the walls, which will function as scenography, while two actors will re-enact part of the story.
Dummybook images © Lilia Luganskaia
Daria Tuminas is Head of the Book Market and Unseen Dummy Award. Submissions for the Unseen Dummy Award 2019 are now open. Find out more here.