Monica Alcazar Duarte: Your Photographs Could Be Used by Drug Dealers

Cork Photo Gallery, Cork

Cork Photo Gallery is a new art gallery located in Fitzgerald’s Park, Cork City. As the name suggests it is dedicated exclusively to photography. It opened last June during the Cork Photo festival, and is run by Louise Maher and Naomi Smith, the festival directors. There are currently two complementary exhibitions by Monica Alcazar Duarte on view, a photographic installation titled Your photographs could be used by drug dealers (2014), and Second Edition, a photobook exhibition.

Monica Alcazar-Duarte: Your Photographs Could Be Used by Drug-Dealers. Installation shot. Cork Photo Gallery, 2016. Photographic prints, DVD cases, LED lights, metal bars, clips, chalked wall text.
Monica Alcazar-Duarte: Your Photographs Could Be Used by Drug-Dealers. Installation shot. Cork Photo Gallery, 2016. Photographic prints, DVD cases, LED lights, metal bars, clips, chalked wall text.

Alcazar Duarte’s installation is composed of three kinetic sculptural pieces reminiscent of the work of Alexander Calder. Each piece is made up of horizontal metal bars from which hang DVD cases with LED lights inside – the darkened exhibition room is illuminated mainly by these lights – and translucent images have been inserted into both sides of the cases. In this way the DVD cases work as a kind of light-box. The pictures hang and float in the space: 3D clouds of images you navigate through, moving as you walk, playing with the combinations in the space. The presentation is playful while at the same time impeccable, content and presentation uniquely complementing each other.

On the wall, in big letters written by the artist in a child-like chalk script, can be read:

Tonight Los Tigres del Norte in town families celebrate the flavours of our cousine while listening to mariachis a song of our times the Narco corrido plays in the hills caught on fire this morning for 15 pesos take a photo with a large iguana who has been charming crocodiles since 12 Tamacú well known by everyone is that no one bathes on that beach it is full with fisherman and their boats don’t tell anyone every thursday with Pozole your photos could be used by drug dealers will sing until the sunset after the canicula we don’t grow avocado anymore with 30% chance of high winds.

The text, making a dialogue with the pictures, lays out the main themes explored in the photographic series in a poetic way, making us sink into an imaginary world composed by bits and pieces of ‘reality’, like a collage of items picked straight from sites of popular culture. We find ourselves immersed in the cultural obsessions, paranoia, passivity and obsession of a particular place – Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, two towns in the state of Guerrero, México – its collective subconscious and political situation. The photographic act always has something of the character of a taking of notes – note after note as what is in front of the lens changes, some notes no more than a punctuation mark – and Alcazar Duarte has arranged a poetic mélange of such notes, like a graphic novel, perhaps, one with just about enough text to transform the meaning in the images, completing them.

A young girl dressed as a princess, at what is probably a wedding; little girls on a beach, next to an image of a multitude of crocodiles hanging out by the water; a horse struggling to stand up, or falling; the beach again, and again; images of policemen, soldiers, checkpoints and carnival; youth, water, pools, the societal separation of women and men, colors and greyness; baptism, dreams, commerce, idleness – metaphors, perhaps. There’s an ‘ambiguity and tension that floats in the air’, as Alcazar Duarte writes. It’s what is not in the pictures that takes shape, what lies between the images, the spaces between the floating clouds: an invisible movement, an invisible threat, and the fragmented narrative, both in the text and the pictures. There are glimpses of military action and crime scenes or the remains of them, coexisting with an appearance of holiday and festivity, a focus on recreational activities that could be seen as a humorous celebration of life. There’s also a feeling of displacement in the series, a struggle with belonging and identity, reflecting Alcazar Duarte’s feelings as a British-Mexican – something parallel to the cinematographic themes explored again and again by Jim Jarmusch since his Permanent Vacation (1980).

The photobook exhibition, Second Edition, is complementary to the installation: seven books selected by the artist, all of them connected in different ways to her work, exploring similar subjects (different territories in Central and South America, childhood and nostalgia, etc.). Every book shows a different approach to its exploration of the subject, from poetical or conceptual (e.g. London-based Venezuelan Betty Laura Zapata’s X-Ray [2014]), to the straightforward photojournalistic work of Misha Vallejo’s Al Otro Lado (2016) – shots of everyday life in an Ecuadorian village on the border with Colombia, founded by refugees from the conflict of the FARC guerillas with government forces.

Also displayed in Second Edition is the book that Alcazar Duarte produced with the same title as the installation: the series transferred into book form. The book is divided into four independent sections that can be interleaved, creating multiple possibilities for combining and rearranging the pictures, following a similar idea to that governing the installation. At one level this opening of random possibilities and granting of power of organisation to the viewer points again toward childhood and game-playing. But it also makes me wonder if there is a further suggestion, one of an essential randomness or irrelevance to existence, especially when defined by acts of violence. This many-leveled show, of course, leaves the question open.

Monica Alcazar Duarte: Your Photographs Could Be Used by Drug Dealers was on view 16 September – 15 November 2016.