The work of Spanish artist Pilar Albarracín is a body of live and video performances, photographic series, and interactive sculptural installations that focus on the cultural construction of Spanish identity, especially that of the Spanish woman. Immersing herself in the anthropology of the everyday, Albarracín takes the most stereotypical aspects of her Andalusian heritage and turns them inside out. In this way, Albarracín employs similar strategies as Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, whose images of veiled women have come to challenge traditional gender roles in Muslim society. Operating within a world in which globalization has seemingly erased borders and differences, Albarracín’s work represents the growing tendency among contemporary artists to preserve cultural specificity while simultaneously communicating universal concerns.
Iconography derived from Spanish Catholicism, food rituals, folklore, and popular traditions like flamenco dancing and bullfighting take center stage in Albarracín’s work. In tightly choreographed performances, Albarracín’s choices of settings, colors, and costumes strongly connect with the Spanish artistic tradition, which is often characterized by images of a more passionate and visceral nature than an intellectualized perspective. “Her taste for excess and contrast,” Spanish curator Rosa Martínez noted, “borders on the baroque, and her passion for what is kitsch, connects with Pop. She is thus part of a creative movement that questions the Puritanism of the Anglo-Saxon mainstream and is in favor . . . of erotic ‘coming out’ as Bataille once said.”
Albarracín investigates the myths surrounding flamenco in several works. In Singing Prohibited (2000) the artist—sitting next to a guitarist in a flamenco dress—shouts out screams of pain or pleasure. In a sudden act of passion, she cuts open her dress, tears out her heart, and throws it on the floor. In Musical Dancing Spanish Dolls (2001) she dances surrounded by typical Spanish souvenir dolls, while in Dots (2004), she pierces herself with a needle, staining her white flamenco dress with red dots of blood. In The Goat (2001) Albarracín appears in a white dress with pink polka dots, performing a dance with a wineskin. With each step, she spills red wine over her dress, losing all composure in the end as she slips and falls in a series of orgasmic movements.
In I Will Dance on Your Grave (2004) the artist and a professional dancer perform a dance that symbolizes the age-old battle of the sexes, only here, battle lines are not clearly drawn, as the black high-heeled boots of the male dancer and the robust red dancing shoes of the artist alternate roles in an eroticized game of domination and submission, rendering the lines between the sexes more fluid. The violent stamping of their feet might just cause the dance floor to give way to a new relationship between the sexes, as dance can bring out in shapeless movements the liberation of the repressed. The façade projection at the Johnson Museum is Pilar Albarracín’s first solo museum show in the United States.
This exhibition was funded in part by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art