When the one who looks is a man

                                                                                             David Barro

I start writing almost without wanting to. With a certain fear of not finding answers. I immediately assume that Laura Torrado’s works derive from a sort of unfolding, even when they are disguised as a simple self-portrait. I naturally think of Artaud and the double, but above all of a statement by Alejandra Pizarnik: «I cannot speak with my voice, but with my voices»[1]. Those other voices, those other identities or deformed translations are distilled by Laura Torrado into photography, often turning to her own body and more specifically her own face as a subject, as a setting. If in her first works they were objects that revealed the ephemeral, she gradually began to distil that scenography into the body.

Like in Pizarnik, alongside the poètes mauditsand the doublings, there is something of surrealist incoherence in Laura Torrado’s work. The unspeakable, the brevity of the line, the lack of answers and alternatives to the fissures raised, to a certain existential anguish, leads us to question into those silences. Laura Torrado’s space of strangeness is not far from that first person singular wound that Pizarnik confesses to having, in which the “I” becomes a phantasmagorical being. The protagonist of the photographic shoot recognises herself in her “I”, but the image, Artaud’s mirror, shows back an unrecognisable and unknown “I”. It would be something like that dream in the manner of a second life that opens Gérard de Nerval’s Aurelia.“For me here started what I will call the spreading of fantasy into real life. From that moment of everything sometimes took on a double appearance, and that it without reason ever suffering from lack of logic and without memory making me forget when it happened to me, not even its slightest details. Only my apparently unwise actions we subjected to what is called illusion according to human reason”[2].

Laura Torrado’s photographs have a frontier quality to them, a transit between the representation itself, of itself, and poetic synthesis. From “being” one goes to “showing”, in a photography that deals with penetrating the darkness in order to recognise itself. That is why it is so tense, because it is indeed in this search that it discovers a re-encounter with the other gaze, which is born out of the fragment, out of a body capable of re-making itself, rarefied, poeticised. Something takes place in her video Lágrimas negras – La llorona[Black Tears – The Crying Woman], in which the mascara draws shapes on the female face after running because of timid tears, that are almost imperceptible except for that black line.

Deep down there is a paradoxical moving towards the abstraction of the figure, more of sensations that of forms per se; almost abstraction, in short. Laura Torrado’s photographs are the products of a complex figuration. As Deleuze points out, there are “two ways of overcoming figuration (meaning the both illustrative and narrative at the same time): either towards the abstract form or towards the Figure. Cézanne gives a very simple name to this move towards the Figure: sensation. The Figure is the sensitive form related to sensation (…) Sensation is the opposite of the easy and finished, the cliché, but also of the sensational and the spontaneous”[3]. Deleuze indicates sensation as the uniting thread between Cézanne and Bacon, with the latter being the one who insists on sensation as that which is capable of going from one orderto another, from one level to another or from one domainto another. That transit converts the body into a setting and the image into a scene suspended in waiting for a happening. In other words, Laura Torrado constructs sensation, the scene; we see this in The Endless Story, from 1999, in which Bacon’s maxim of painting the cry rather than the horror is carried out. The figure of the medium is restated in that Baconian intention of breaking with the figurative, of moving without moving place, a “phatic” moment of sensation that leads us to think also of videos like L’eté Indien.

Also in The Endless Story, we can note how her works are the product of a fragmentary and truncated narration. Something that is repeated in the form of a sequence in all the chapters of La tormenta en los ojos[The Storm in the Eyes], although also, in a less explicit manner, in each of her proposals.

Santiago B. Olmo states “Laura Torrado uses scene-staging in order to accentuate, like in a synthesis, the problems and plots of a report without a guiding line, opening up the possibility of narrative syntheses in the symbolic, in the representation of enigmas or visual hieroglyphics”[4]. For him Laura Torrado’s self-portraits stand as lay allegories, closer to Renaissance symbol theatre than to religious ritual. This is how we understand the windows and stairways (the transit) and the overlapping faces (the mystery); once again the theatre, the setting and the act (the photographed performance).

But it will always be an intimate space, for private gazes. And this is an important issue. Like that of the gaze that in many cases is cut by the photograph (Mujer escalera [Stair Woman]; Endless story), covers or blinds (Autoretrato VII [Self-portrait VII]; La tormenta en los ojos [The Storm in the Eyes]; The insides), slides (Lágrimas negras -La llorona [Black Tears – The Crying Woman]), is avoided (Erased Portrait), is veiled (El silencio y la noche [The Silence and the Night]) or is masked (Le mensonge I). The gesture, close to the dance – I am thinking of L’été indien– possesses a basic force in that introspective drive. Laura Torrado “stops us from getting too close, and a great deal of her efficiency lies in that distance; she develops a metaphorical order in which we enjoy the freedom to project and read our own disquiets, fears, dreams or certainties”[5]. Indeed, in the gazes of Laura Torrado’s models there is no offering, nor reception, just distance and distraction. The feeling is contained, concentrated in the apparent distension of the characters. The cryptic tone of the image shows its critical side, which is not complacent with a spectator who definitively loses control over the scene. Laura Torrado’s works are formalised in difficulty, like when Artaud’s writing suddenly breaks in to start over again. There is an intention to transgress everything that protects us as spectators, and thus her discourse, which is at first glance pleasant, turns out to be violent and extreme.

Laura Torrado in many cases uses her body as sculpture or as painting. These are studies of a body seen as a fragment, as a prolonging, or even as a prosthetic, but always as a surface. Because the idea is not to deny the gaze, but to intensify it, to take it to the limit. Each element seems to obey a ritual, and even in her simpler and more elementary compositions what we receive is a dense image, one of those that with the slightest detail brings possible references to the surface; those quoted include Jana Sterbak, Ana Mendieta, Louise Bourgeois, Meret Oppenheim and Rebecca Horn… I am thinking of the latter author, and I here can recover one of her texts entitled Der Eintänzer(1978): “The lived past is understood in stories, which arouse associations and at the same time become a space open to fantasy itself. If anyone decides to inhabit this space, their fancies will acquire density and will become independent in new stories”. These stories are drawn out in gestures, tattoos and disguises in Laura Torrado’s photographs. Her body and once again the minimal plot, as fragile as a tear and as strong as a gaze by the model (I am thinking of La Sibilia [The Sybil], the Las mil y una noches[Thousand and One Nights) or of Filles modernes), mark the times. So, continues Horn, “it only remains to be seen whether the action specifically constructed for such a space has already been produced or whether it starts to develop at that precise moment. Hesitatingly, the new skin of the events poses on the space and tries to be identical to the old one”.

That film of skin is emphasised in the titles of the works, based on feelings (Si te quise [If I wanted you]; El presentimiento [The Forewarning]) or in intimate spaces or situations (Hogares y silencios [Homes and Silences]; El abrazo [The Hug]). Because all of these strange and apparently alien atmospheres are constructed from the artist’s most personal nature and her everyday relationships. And everyday life hides the most unsolvable equations, the most difficult interrogations. Like in El dormitorio[The Bedroom], in which the artist herself and her grandmother appear in underwear and allow us, as spectators, to shamelessly invade that space. It is as if time had stopped in a sort of parenthesis, as unsolvable and rich as the virtually cut intimate conversation between women from two different generations made equal through the time of the photo.

Laura Torrado works on the outside, but from an intimate point of view. Thus she allows all possible narratives to flow that are resolved from the poetic tension, always moving on from the silence of one of the characters to those that we only have access to in a superficial, exterior manner. That empowering of the everyday, individual and generic at the same time can be extended to the moment or time of the action, which never obeys an event understood as a success, but an event seen as a becoming, as a time in which apparently nothing happens, as a routine. For that reason she values the pause, the moment of waiting. Each pose, each gesture, thus takes on a different value and ends up defining us as individuals within a society, in our scene. Thus the faces, more than faces, turn into masks that make information difficult. We notice this explicitly inLe mensonge I, in Mujer escalera[Stair Woman], in The insidesor in her Sherezades, but also in the above-quoted Baconian sensation that makes everything blurred. She shows all of this in works like Hammam. The models’ tense waiting leads our though out of the scene. “In these scenes the report of a close and precise scene appears beneath the weight of the symbolic, with social connotations, like a critical reflection of the history and culture in relation to women and the feminine: an interior history of woman through her cultural and existential symbols”[6].

One has insisted on how Laura Torrado’s work is centred on the intimate space of the feminine. “The autobiographical space is obvious, but equally obvious is that this is a work constructed on the universal intimacy of woman, highlighting the relationships between us women, the personal space, and a different way of looking at bodies, sensuality or feelings”[7]. It is clear that the majority of her models are women and her contained manner of exhibiting sensuality is proper to the feminine. But in that contention of the minimum plot one can sense formulae capable of overcoming that which might be more suited to homage in order to seek a greater reflection on that apparent simplicity of what is around us. “Torrado seeks to reflect the deformation that is produced by states of anxiety, the weariness or the harm done to the body. However, the connections between the works are too ambiguous, and we only touch the surface of issues that are presupposed to be of greater density”[8].

This is why we cannot help concluding that the most attractive element about the situations set up by Laura Torrado is that they are indecipherable. Everything is the product of an impenetrable image. Her stories are possibilities, often impregnated with a studied erotic tension and at other times showing much more and yet retaining a part of that tension. In works like Hammamor La SibilaBataille’s statement seems to make sense: “The decisive action is to get naked”[9]. But also the attractive paradox of the scenes constructed by Laura Torrado in which the falsification is more real than ever: “In pornographic photographs it is increasingly frequent for the subjects to look, with calculated strategy, at the lens, thus clearly showing that they are aware of being exposed to the gaze. This unexpected gesture violently negates the fiction implicit in the consuming of such images, according to which the person who contemplates them is looking on without being seen, catching the actors by surprise: the latter, consciously facing this gaze, force the voyeur to look them in the eyes (…) The fact that the actors look at the lens means that they are showing that they are play acting, and yet, paradoxically, in the sense that they reveal the falsification they appear more real”[10]. In La Sibila, for example, two of the those being watched strip the spectator of any possibility of shamelessness.

Yet in works like Historias Bucólicas[Bucolic Stoires] reality is now no longer simulated, but exceeded. One of the women is wearing a deer snout and they are all dressed strangely. The mask vomits an absurd, incongruous reality, but it also produces a form of criticism, the construction of the other, the demonisation of the different. In Mentiras de agua[Water Lies] the title says it all, and what one sees is the sky, like in a dream capable of duplicating reality.

In short, we will never know the full truth about Laura Torrado’s photographs, given that the reality in them is veiled, and the world of the secret belongs more to fiction. For this reason, in one of her latest photographs she represents herself without representing herself (with her double who is not her double) à la Sherezade, emphasising that endlessly fictionalised narrative; if true stories are never ours, the fictitious ones can be so. The storm discovers other landscapes and the desire to be able to carry on looking becomes a permanent dream, like that sleepwalker of Nietzsche’s who has to keep on dreaming in order not to fall to the ground. I think that when he who looks and writes is a man everything is fear and doubts.

[1]Pizarnik, Alejandra. Obras Completas. Poesía & Prosa. Buenos Aires: Corregidor, 1990

[2]Nerval, Gérard. Aurélia. Col. Reino imaginario. Ed. Coyoacán, México, 1998

[3]Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon. Lógica de la Sensación, Arena Libros, Madrid, 2002

[4]Olmo, Santiago B. “Laura Torrado. Interior escénico”. Madrid al descubierto. Una propuesta multidisciplinar del arte madrileño de los noventa, Comunidad de Madrid, 2003

[5]Murría, Alicia. Las ficciones que nos habitan, La Fábrica Editorial, Madrid, 2004

[6]Idem, Olmo.

[7]Olivares, Rosa. 100 fotógrafos españoles. Exit Publicaciones – Olivares y Asociados, Madrid, 2005

[8]Vozmediano, Elena. El Cultural, ¿?

[9]Bataille, Georges. El erotismo, Ed. Tusquets, Barcelona, 1985

[10]Agamben, Giorgio: “El rostro”, Medios sin fin. Notas sobre la política, Pre-Textos, Valencia, 2001