The discovery, in an archive in Chile, of a photographer’s work that dates from the 1970s sets the original enigma that fascinates Anelys Wolf and inspires a series of paintings entitled Rural Glamour from a very Southern América. The photos are all portraits of men taken in the countryside. “There was something different about them,” says Wolf. Having worked with photographic archives, she grasps the importance of perspective and how the photographer's lens is much more than just a lens: it is an extension of the photographer's eye, with each exposure capturing social, political, spiritual and personal elements. The meaning or signification of a photograph can be elusive. Like intention, it is far more difficult to ascertain. Wolf chooses to reveal regions of desire and to celebrate the existence of queer sensibilities.
Through her paintings, she removes the barrier between the queer and the straight realms and reveals a hidden eroticism. For Wolf, the object of desire stays the same but the point of view is liberated by a substitution of gender identity. The authenticity of the photographic source is visible in her cropped interpretations. This process of cropping reinforces a phenomenon of perceptual expansion. With loose and precise strokes, she fluidly recreates fragments of the photos and indulges in the revelation. It is an important one that, when viewed at a concrete geographical distance from its original context, away from the small windswept towns and villages of the Chiloé Archipelago, frees the artist and the viewers from scruples linked to affective ties that would otherwise paralyze a sexual interpretation. Wolf explains that, “Everybody knows each other there; everyone is identified through their family,” moreover, “…the people in the photos may still be around.” These photos were taken at the southern most tip of Chile where Wolf comes from. It is a remote place, bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountains, fairly close to the South Pole. Isolation and conservative attitudes make it difficult for LGBTQIA individuals to express their realities and construct and maintain new identities. It is through perceived expressions; discrete, controlled, repressed, and bold extroverted ones, that Wolf proposes to explore these challenges and related issues.
Chile’s recent history informs the artist in her desire to bring change. The Pinochet regime marked her as she was growing up, and overcoming repression became an underlying concern. “We had to hide what we thought, it was very dangerous to reveal oneself,” Wolf recounts. Her vision is one of perlustration as she goes over details that hide a deeper significance, thus freeing a true form of expression. In her work, the formal qualities combine with the interpretational nuances. As viewers of Rural Glamour, we are not only presented with a lavish sensuality and sombre romanticism, but a variety of complex feelings that can be discerned by the fragments presented by Wolf. Chile has changed rapidly in the last ten years through reformed social policies and the promotion of human rights. This exhibition expresses that resilient transformation.
The sketch-like quality and movement in Wolf’s work makes it come alive. The warm greys and soft browns attract the eye and add to the pleasure of contemplating the woollen-clad crotches. One of Wolf’s favourite authors, Oscar Wilde claims that, “A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want.”[i] Wolf's work is a unique expression of her own identifications and politics, however; the self-reflexive process of experiencing her work asks us to consider how desire operates when encountering representations of queerness. Both Anelys Wolf and Oscar Wilde have had to face severe repression in their lives, and both impart insight towards self-affirmation and emancipation.
Lamontagne & Megan Mericle
[i] Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” in The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde, ed. Richard Ellman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968 ) 270.