Nun, Womanizer, Conquistador: Mercedes Azpilicueta at Gasworks
Catalina de Erauso was a seventeenth-century Basque nun who escaped her convent, traveled to South America, and have become a murderous, womanizing conquistador, beneath numerous male guises. The so-called Lieutenant Nun has been the topic of performs, novels, and movies, however her transgressions are relayed in a extra unconventional, fragmented mode by artist Mercedes Azpilicueta in her beguiling exhibition “Bondage of Passions” now at Gasworks in London. Drawing on in depth analysis with archival supplies together with maps, colonial artwork, and Erauso’s picaresque memoirs (whose authorship and veracity is disputed), Azpilicueta presents this contradictory determine not as a resolved entity (even the historic accounts battle, all the way down to her beginning date) however as a determine in a state of continuous changing into.
All of the works in Azpilicueta’s present counsel fluid transitions—between female and male, private and non-private, reality and fantasy. A thirteen-foot phantasmagorical jacquard tapestry titled The Lieutenant-Nun Is Passing: An Autobiography of Katalina, Antonio, Alonso and Extra (all works 2021) portrays disparate episodes from Erauso’s life as a girl and as a person. Floating throughout a rolling panorama dominated by pinks andviolets are nuns having intercourse with one another, disembodied heads and limbs of conquistadors, Indigenous girls, and indigo and cacao vegetation. A second, smaller tapestry, Abya Yala (Tierra Madura), depicts historic particulars reminiscent of Spanish galleons and warring armies along with photographs of armed angels sourced from work of Erauso’s time. Every tapestry is hooked up to a curving picket body harking back to a boudoir partition designating an intimate area for dressing and undressing.
A number of sculptures impressed by colonial fashions riff on the implications of dressing up and performing identities. On the Dignity of Codpieces, titled after an imagined treatise talked about in Rabelais’s 1532 novel Gargantua and Pantagruel, contains an assortment of playful clothes assembled from material remnants. In Azpilicueta’s palms, codpieces, whose unique objective could have ranged from safety to projection of energy, have metamorphosed to look distinctly vaginal and considerably like BDSM bondage gear. The Delinquent Breeches performs up the ribald tone, presenting an anthropomorphic arched picket body with splayed legs in knickerbockers bearing a genital masking cheekily adorned with a rosy face. One other sculpture, The Trans-forming Armour, contains a model with a jacket thatevokes chain mail, however right here the laborious steel texture has undergone a queer makeover into sparkly knitwear. In these flamboyant, gender-ambiguous sculptures, suggestive of theater costumes and props, the artist attracts out the inherent campiness of conquistador fashions with out trivializing or exactly naming the challenges and selections Erauso could have confronted in navigating that period’s beliefs about gender and sexuality—the place “feminine” was thought-about a type of intercourse lesser to “male.” By way of its carnivalesque tone, the work additionally underlines the thought of historical past itself as a spectacle, a assemble seen by a heteronormative lens that should be uncovered and redeveloped.
Azpilicueta, who was born in Argentina and is predicated in Amsterdam, has taken liberties with historic narratives round advanced feminine figures earlier than. In her 2019 present at the Van Abbemuseum within the Netherlands, “The Captive: Right here’s a Coronary heart for Each Destiny,” she employed tapestries and costumes to retell the parable, recorded by a nineteenth-century Argentine lady author, of a European lady captured by Indigenous folks in sixteenth-century Argentina. Azpilicueta’s Gasworks exhibition builds on that present, traversing previous and current to suggest that Erauso’s story provides dimension to present conversations on id and gives a wider view of ongoing cultural phenomena reminiscent of patriarchal subjugation. We see the precariousness of Erauso’s place as a girl dwelling in disguise to pursue a selected id. Nonetheless, the artist neither critiques nor glosses over the unappealing elements of Erauso’s life—the conformity to a violent masculine trope and slaughter of Indigenous persons are on view within the textiles. What she celebrates is that this highly effective gender-fluid individual transcended the social limitations of her born intercourse (even securing a navy pension from King Philip IV and permission from Pope City VIII to proceed dressing as a person). In drawing consideration to a problematic determine like Erauso and the contradictory accounts of her life, Azpilicueta reveals the slipperiness of historical past to be a precious high quality—not solely as a immediate to revisit beforehand misunderstood figures, but additionally as a gap for extra inclusive readings which may alter the parameters of the longer term.