16 December 2006
Joe McConnell talks to Juan delGado about his cutting edge work using photography and video installation.
Juan delGado's work refers to social and cultural representations of sexuality, gender, and disability in Western society. Born in Spain, in 1965, delGado studied art in Valencia (Spain) and a MA in Contemporary Media at the University of Westminster. In his work delGado uses photography to explore how our (Western) culture has historically established a binary system of categorisation of gender, male and female. In Transformers (1995), he photographed people who transgress norms of appearance and behaviour in order to challenge our perceptions of gender representation.
In 1997, delGado began to experiment with film. Artists such as Isaac Julien, Shirin Neshat, and Jean Genet are of great influence in his work. He directed the experimental film The Passion of Teresa in which he develops his own style in a clear homage to the surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel focusing the tradition of representation of religious images in Spain. The film was selected at the 3rd Disability Film Festival, London, and Portobello Film Festival 2001. He also worked on The Wounded Image, a photographic project in which he explores the tension between representation of reality and fictional narrative in contemporary photographic practice. By addressing what he thinks has become a myth of our era, the fascination with violence, he attempts to raise questions of how we relate to issues such as trauma, homophobia, misogyny, and child abuse. This work was selected at the John Kobal Photographic Portraiture Awards in 1997 and has been exhibited at the Galeria Luis Adelantado, Spain, and Stills Gallery, Edinburgh.
In 2001, Juan directed an experimental film/video installation entitled Don't Look Under the Bed, exploring the subject of forbidden sexuality and social control. The film was screened on Channel 4 and at the Lux Cinema, London in September 2001.
In 2003, he created Flêches sans corps (Arrows without bodies), an interdisciplinary installation exploring the deeply traumatic experiences that many so-called illegal immigrants go through after leaving their homeland.
Current projects and exhibitions
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Tell us something about how your work has been developing over the past few years?
After Flêches sans corps I have been involved in a new project entitled No Way Back Home, which is currently under research and that will become an interactive film which draws upon ideas of anxiety and displacement. I am also producing a very intimate photographic work entitled Interlude - using digital photography and painting, I recreate some of the artworks which have greatly influenced my own work. Part of this project will premiere at the Space Arts in London under the title Suspended Reverie.
Tell us about your work for the Paranoia exhibition.
The world is witnessing dramatic and shocking events, which create an atmosphere of uncertainty and unease. The destruction of entire neighbourhoods in many parts of the planet and the recent bombs attacks towards civilians have sparked the chain reaction of events that are shaping future prospects of the world through horror and terror. For the group exhibition Paranoia, currently on show at Leeds City Arts Gallery, I have produced a series of photographs, which represent fictional apocalyptic stories that are worryingly similar to everyday reality, causing increasing fear and creating a climate of anxiety.
Both Don't Look Under the Bed and Flêches sans corps have a strong political dimension. Politically engaged artists seem few and far between these days - what are your feelings about this?
I feel that increasingly a number of artists are challenging the very notion of art as a commodity and focusing more on experiential art even in more radical ways that confront the very idea of permanence by creating art that seems embedded with some sort of ephemeral - but by no means less powerful - existence. However I still feel that many disabled artists, who are socially and politically driven, are denied from wider exposure and restricted to a very limited audience under specifically planned disability arts events.
Is your work informed by disability to any extent?
Indeed, my work is informed by my own experience as an individual living in a geopolitical and historical context. In 1997 I was making a documentary entitled Breaking Mirrors, which looked at the experience of a female to male transsexual - at one point he asked me why I was so interested in this subject if I was not a transsexual person myself. I told him that this was precisely the reason for producing this project, that although I could not live that experience I could learn from it - this is at the core of my practice and although I value art which is made for pleasure, I need my art to give something more than beauty. Increasingly, I am more aware that most of my work is informed by the way I look and experience the world - sometimes it is difficult to describe things that are very intimate and I personally feel that art allows me to address these issues.
At present I am starting an art commission for a project entitled Birth Rites and curated by Helen Knowles in Manchester. This is a very exciting project as it will lead me to explore issues such a the psychological impact of giving birth, working alongside a senior midwife based in Stockport, I will be researching the experience of becoming pregnant in collaboration with a group of women and debating issues around different birth methods.
I am also involved in a new project entitled Road to Ruin, which draws upon the experience of many women in Chennai, the huge south Indian port-city, who are becoming infected with HIV by their truck driver husbands. I am currently looking for financial support for this project. Anybody interested in this project can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The exhibition will include new photography and video works commissioned by the Arts Council England and Cremer Projects.
Space Studios, 129-131 Mare Street, Hackney, London E8 3RH, phone: 0208 525 4330
The exhibition runs from 2nd to 30th September and is open Wednesday to Saturday from 1.00 to 6.00pm.
Paranoia (the work of international artists who set out to explore the essence of paranoia as the deluded interpretation of events) is currently at Leeds City Art Gallery until 27th August.
This show will tour to Focal Point Gallery, Southend and Freud Museum, London in 2007.
See some of Juan's video art at PerpetualArtMachine.com