Adriana Lestido once again depicts vast natural extensions absent of human beings, and uses words to reflect the inner state of an artist in her prime. Black Antarctic, the diaries and the exhibition that goes with it, reveal an internal landscape quite opposite to those photographs of adolescents that Lestido skilfully captured in the 90s. Accursed Spring is the other exhibition, held simultaneously, that gathers those teenagers, out on their own in situations of confinement or vulnerability. A game of chance, stories and images that splinter the heart of an artist who continuously takes risks.
by Cristina Civale
Adriana Lestido (Buenos Aires, 1955), possibly the most awarded Argentine photographer, with more prizes than any other photographer, male or female, born here. She re-emerges bountiful after keeping her followers and collectors waiting following a self-imposed pause. Right now in this uncertain and unfortunate October, she captures the attention with two generous exhibitions plus the publication of two books that tear away from her body of work. One is the artist’s private diary; Black Antarctic, the diaries (Tusquets Editores, collection Rara Avis, with Juan Forn’s, (writer and editor) sharp prologue. In the pages of that book she feverishly poured out her fears, thoughts, uncertainties, while she carried out the project. It became another book published at the same time. As a great novelty in her sensitive work: Black Antarctic, a book but also an exhibition, both emerge simultaneously as if Lestido wanted to unburden herself of those images in duplicate. Landscapes of dirty ice to which she arrived as if by farce. The black ice that surprised her in the white continent. If you read the diaries and look at the photographs you might think she duplicated these images to tear them from her archive, her head, her vision, and now she delivers.
All that was said above, doesn’t at all relate to her other exhibition Cursed Spring, organized by Rolf Art, her gallery in Buenos Aires and curated by Gabriel Diaz and Patricia Rizzo. Photographs from three separate series produced between the end of the 80s and 90s are placed together intertwined and confronting one another in deliberate conversation with Juan Travnik’s photographs. In those days both artists had their way of depicting frozen moments in the lives of teenagers as witnesses of that bewilderment. The loss of childhood and step into adolescence, the daunting measure of time.
Lestido documents bodies in transit within the walls of adverse spaces; (a juvenile maternal home, precarious rooms), or a body that clings to another body that completes it ( a mother barely a few years older, another girl, like a twin), a friend who she lies next to, each trying to define their identity.
Travnik places his teenagers in neutral spaces, removing any possible oppression or conditioning from an identifiable location, a flirtation with wistfulness.
Rolf Art, who specializes in photography and video has its gallery a few blocks from Retiro railway station, just two kilometres from the other exhibition in the striking new building of the Fort bat Foundation in Puerto Madero. In this monument of strict minimalism constructed by and for one of the wealthiest women in Argentine history, owner of the country’s cement factory. The same material she sold to herself to put up those walls where the artist’s photos hang. Lestido however started her career as a proletariat taking portraits of children and families in a suburban park, a place she never photographed. Now on the millionaire’s walls hang Lestido’s latest work, images kidnapped by an unexpected landscape, devoid of any human presence? A setting where Lestido abandoned her ability to transmit the gestures of women and girls standing in the world. Now she portrayed the surface but there are no bodies or shadows. In her monochrome works Lestido manages a rare black with its nuances. Black on black without the bodies.
In the diaries, the counter face of that tortuous throb, when she rests and reflects, the discomfort of that chosen destination can be perceived. That rugged continent, unexpectedly black to which her own work ethic is tied, a grant, the consideration of other artists. May be Lestido just wanted to shut her eyes.
How did a girl like me make it?
In 2013, Adriana celebrated her path as an artist who will leave a mark in Argentine photographic history, publishing a book and organizing an exhibition that gathers 30 years of her career. It all happened at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires, an imaginary place for the crowning. That’s where the book was presented and the exhibition took place. Beyond the presence of the usual public servants, it had the spontaneous, warm presence of many colleagues from all disciplines of the arts. Both, under the same name, Lo que se ve (What is seen). That was already seen and now the artist urgently needs to see something different.
So after this exhibition and the book which is a landmark, Lestido felt she needed to move in another direction, perhaps delving deeper in her recurring themes. She wanted to head out to a desert, a place inhabited by death as a form of transformation, a place where there’s no life or a new life about to be born in the cycle.
So she went to the Antarctic. There was no choice. A series of events took her there: a biologist arrived for her workshop and suggested a long sea crossing, it happens the ship was heading to the Antarctic, and Lestido knew, that was the place, the place for transformation. She suspected it would be painful.
During the year that followed that decision, came an unexpected coincidence, an opening for artists in residence in the Antarctic. She applied and won. A twist of fate worthy of a low budget TV movie.
Following the drift of fate, in February 2011 she arrived in Rio Gallegos destined for Base Esperanza, the highest-ranking spot in the white continent. The stunning colour, the mass of absence of all colours that she hoped would blind her in order to allow a pause in her life, her career, her aesthetic, the excuse to stop in the white desert and observer her own body, instead of the ones she photographed and made her famous. To head out towards the vast disturbing uncertainty that goes beyond maturity. Reasons of logistics forced her to end up at Base Decepción (Deception) which in comparison to Base Esperanza, could be described as a boarding house full of flees. No joke. From the five star Marambio Base, Lestido had no choice but to end up at the foot of the volcano in a pink 2 room shack, with a heater that had to be switched off at night for security reasons. She shared the room with other artists, and when it was her turn, she cleaned Base Decepción. The person who chose the name of the base may not have seen the irony or metaphor. In 2013, she told Las12 that the base had not deceived her at all. Even though it is the only black space in the Antarctic. The idea of the white was shattered so she had to improvise as she went. What Lestido referred to as an extreme experience, like being imprisoned in absolute liberty, is an experience she needed to go through and the photographs were the excuse that took her there. The photographs were like a shield, to allow her to expose herself to a cold, expansive… close up.
In the diaries Lestido makes reference to other artists she admires. She finds the way to start to reveal her in words, like when she tells of the unexpected death of the Chilean documentary filmmaker Sergio Larrain, who had just turned 81. An admired artist who until the age of 70 had been a star for the Magnum Agency, but without hesitating withdrew to the small Chilean town of Ovalle to meditate. In one instant he left it all to relax the body, breathe, block all thoughts and hush the bead. She can’t, she’s not even 60. She doesn’t allow herself or perhaps shutting her eyes to stop seeing and imagine is just an absurd fantasy. Mind a blank, mind a black.
As she takes more photographs than usual, a temptation she attributes to the digital camera, the discomfort, the tension in the space, her desire to come back can all be read in her narration. At times the trip seems a nightmare, invaded by useless memories from the past, old loves that won’t return but perhaps she still yearns for, her mother, or the idea of her. Now Lestido has no other bodies to look at or cuddle her, even if it’s one through the lens. All she has is ice stained with soil, an even mass that she moulds with light, from her angle of vision, to transmit…what?
The black blocks feel removed from all humanity, as if any contact with them only predispose to run away. The absence of men or women, of any living being, isn’t an obvious metaphor, it’s like a visual manifesto, in which the photographer imposes an invisible wall, noisily silent, the alert to definitely push away anything that breathes; earth, wall, sky and trap.
Herzog and his darkness, Von Trier and his melancholy, Marker and his Jetée, Lispector and her loneliness, are the chorus of artists who accompany her and make her live in the urgency of generating an escape that still awaits.