by Grace Quintanilla
I think that the most legitimate resource a human being has, that which determines who he is, is the ability to take decisions. I also think that what saves somebody, or keeps him stable, or drives him to perdition, is his own personal story. Hence the importance of reflecting upon one's self as a means to recognize both what is unique and what is universal about our human experience.
I have always sensed that the intimate life of each human being is a concentrated expression of Life. I do what they call “independent work” because it comes naturally to me. It has never been easy for me to artistically address subjects unrelated to my personal experience. When I've attempted it, the results have often been superficial and not to my satisfaction. On my video work, rather than focusing on anecdotes, I use anecdote as a starting point for deeper, more personal, reflections on the symbolic world.
For example, in Mambo Queen, I wanted to do a self-portrait that would speak of specific moments of my personal history combining them with more universal aspects. For this I dressed up in my mother's old work clothes. My mother used to be a chorus girl in the 1960s. Dressed in her clothes, I danced mambo at several venues in Dundee, Scotland, where I was doing my master's at the time. Also, at that time, I belonged to a group of female artists and felt very strongly that I should speak about feminism from the point of view of "the feminine" rather than treating the "female condition" with a sense that implied otherness, because this threatened the acceptance of my undeniable condition of being a woman.
Yet again, I wanted to deal with the issue of femininity in another one of my pieces, but this time, dancing to another beat, that of melancholy. Tango to Sleep was born out of a dream I had in which I was walking in high heels on the cobblestone floor in my house. I remember that feeling I had in my dream, both frustrating and pleasurable at once, of not being able to walk forward with the “feminine grace" that high heels commanded, but rather, feeling that unhealthy pressure of the aggressive, dramatic, rubbing that breaks high heels, designed for a different type of floor not the one in my environment at that time. In Tango for Sleep I also wanted to speak of a bittersweet childhood, so I asked my mother and aunt to sing that lullaby which I found so profoundly sad as a child. The tango is the musical background which I try to dance to in a sort of fit over the refusal to resign myself to the conditions imposed by life.
Then comes Milky Way, a piece about resignation, an act of contemplation without judgment, without the pleasantly destructive resistance of Tango to Sleep. I made this video as I assumed my role as a mother, as a cycle in my life imprinted on me by the condition of being a woman.
If I look for the guiding thread of my video-art work, I think it would be femininity projected and exercised from a sphere of power which, like any form of power, can be used both for good or for ill. I think that the best thing I can do is to speak about "femininity" from my own experience and hope that this touches others in some way: the childish act of wearing one's mother's clothes and shoes, role-playing at being a pop-star, appropriating the clichés of femininity, dancing, being a queen, playing with your dollhouse...
At a deeper level, I think that the gender approach in my work stops being important and that the experiences I reflect upon apply to all human beings: the shaping of an identity through self-reflective exercises that give us another clue about ourselves.