Reclaiming The Vulnerable Body.
Probing into the process of socialization, Mexican artist Camila GB Camila Gb examines structural narratives in an inquest for divergent definitions of femininity. Her philosophical sensibility gives everyday objects a newfound significance, as she delves deeper into the meaning we subjectively attribute to the things we see and the things we say, confronting the fluidity of words and questioning audience participation in a system of understanding. In between soft and rough, her compositions merge delicate materials and violent narratives in an exploration that is both conceptual and formal. Primarily working with units of language as a base for her drawings, paintings and sculptures, the artist recurs to irregular combinations and contrasts that emulate the shapelessness of natural formations. Inquiring into the politics of the female body, GB addresses the relationships between infantilization and objectification, scrutinizing the vulnerability embedded within these liminal spaces. Camila’s practice is marked by a receptiveness to the contradictions and tensions found in quotidian details of life; objects, concepts, constructs. Disgruntled by the entrenched elitism of Mexico’s art landscape, Camila embodies the anarchic energy that is driving the city’s creative scene forward.
You have spent a large majority of your life travelling and working in Mexico, your country of origin and where you are currently based. Could you signal any ways in which the national culture has informed your practice?
In Mexico, we are aware that studying serves as an apparatus of legitimation. Here in this country, art is treated as something for privileged people. The expected thing to do is to study abroad, if you can afford it, and then brag about it in a cultural circuit that is going to give you preference because you come from another country – as long as it isn’t part of the Global South. I decided to study here and get a degree in Philosophy rather than in Visual Arts, in order to develop a broader view on how aesthetics operate within society. Mexico City is, whether we like it or not, a hotspot for contemporary arts. It is also a city full of inequality, where conflict pushes residents to continually seek out alternative ways of relating to each other and to their surroundings. It is a monster city, “cosida a puñaladas”, meaning “sewed by stabs”, full of broken banners and construction material on the street- which I love.
What came first, painting, poetry or sculpture? How do these approaches contribute to a larger narrative?
Drawing, jewellery making and poetry came first. Jewellery was the first vehicle that directed me towards sculpture. The last thing that came was painting, as that is something that started with the quarantine just a year ago.
Employing bold, bright colours in a reclamation of childlike forms, your paintings in particular capture the untainted optimism of youth . How did this style develop, and in what direction has it continued to evolve?
By accident. Like many others, when I was younger I used to draw in a very figurative way because of the pressure of pleasing others with “my abilities”, but when I stopped caring, my hand became loose and I was able to experiment with color and shape, embracing a more abstract approach. At the moment, I’m looking to transform the canvas into more of a sculptural work, probing into the three-dimensionality of my irregular shapes.
With regards to the motifs of the rocks and the suns, can you tell us more about the role taken by natural formations in your work, and how this traverses different mediums, ranging from painting to sculpture?
I like how rocks are characterized as shapeless… In that sense, almost everything could be a rock. I look at them in a very metaphorical way. I wrote a book of poems called “Animales que comen piedras”, meaning “Stone eating animals”, three years ago. I found the Japanese concept of “Suiseki” interesting, whereby stone formations have the shape of a natural or “living” being, such as waterfalls or animals. I thought about an inverted suiseki where bodies could take the shape, or, rather, the shapelessness of a stone.
The philosophy of language plays a prominent role in your practice. Can you talk us through your connection with words and how you use language for visual purposes?
I primarily work with words, and believe that before they adopt a meaning, they actually do things, in a performative sense. The different narratives that traverse bodies make the words appear as a part of the body itself. Words generate tensions, being the material from where narratives emerge. Employing words as a visual element, I make contrasts. As an example, in the series “GroomED”, I used soft materials such as fabric extracted from plushies, which are soft toys, embroidering them with bold statements about structural violence and my experience with objectification… I also play around with the negative spaces found between the characters in a word, giving them even more concreteness.
Your “Dictionary” series approaches the undoing of words in the Spanish language, while your textile series addresses the tensions between soft and hard, recurring to searing phrases such as: “It must be hard to be intelligent when all people think about is your body,” embroidered into the body of a soft toy shaped as a swan. Could you talk to us about your exploration of
contradictions and extremes?
As we are the result of the tensions between narratives, contradictions are a natural part of our being. Our discrepancies and gaps are more defining of what we are than our affirmations and “facts”. I like to explore a mix of materials considered as “rough” and “soft”; as in between these, vulnerability can be found. One conceptual piece I developed was a net I created from delicate, discarded receipts that tracked my day across the city; when you make a thread out of these and knot them together, the result is something so thin as to emulate barbed wire… So fragile, yet at the same time flexible and strong. That one was more conceptual, but the physical aspect of it still amazes me.
How has the pandemic affected the art industry in Mexico City, and, more specifically, your practice?
With regards to my practice, I started painting at the start of the pandemic and, as the year passed, grew tired of it. I missed developing new projects for exhibitions so much; there were many opportunities that got canceled. I showed some drawings and sculptures online, but it was nothing like the rush of developing new work motivated by the chance to show them as part of a larger proposal. More generally in Mexico City, after a year or so, shows started to return as if nothing had happened… People have adopted a cynical approach.
In light of your residency with Nave Proyecto in Ecuador, can you tell us more about your inquiry into the politics of the female body and the concept of objectification?
Feminized bodies exist as a merging point of different cultural and political narratives and tensions that develop into expectations and restrictions imposed as part of the process of socialization. I like to explore the insights of growing up in this context, as well as the relationships that are built between infantilization and objectification. We are taught that our bodies belong to somebody else, such as the state, the family, the partner, the media, and hence since adolescence we enter a grey area in which we are taught to have sex while also being innocent and naïve. That process is plagued with contradictions, and if you dig a little into these, you can find vulnerability. I’m exploring the vulnerability that comes from all these conflicts.
How do you intend to communicate the depth of your work through digital mediums?
I have been experimenting with producing work for two different platforms, first Instagram and then OnlyFans. In this second platform I’m trying to get people interested in watching some sound poetry and video art besides the regular stuff. I find it very difficult because different aspects of my production feel disconnected from each other at the moment.
How will you continue to explore the intersection between painting, words and performance in the future?
With my fingernails and teeth!
What’s next for you in terms of exhibitions and residencies?
I had my first solo show last year and was featured in some collective exhibitions (in 4 different countries). Two pieces of mine were shown in Leipzig Germany at the end of last year. This was my first year actually producing, the past 4 years were more like a “thinking about doing” phase. I’m open to new stuff, ready for what comes next! I’m working with 4 female artists in two curatorial motifs right now.
Words by Darcie Imbert