Friday, 16 February 2018

Q&A with Sarah Pucill

Q&A with Sarah Pucill
on the occasion of 3x3: An exhibition of nine women photographers
New Art Projects, London
11 January - 4 March 2018

Anna McNay: What are the key concerns or themes running through your practice?

Sarah Pucill: Gender and sexuality are a part, although saying this sounds so limiting. Maybe vision would be better, what can be said without speaking or without words… So images in motion and images in stasis and then sometimes with the shock of words. Maybe an overriding concern has been to attempt to give voice to that which is mostly silent, which comes out of feminist examination of power relations of what takes up space and what doesn’t. 

AMc: How much a part of your work does self-portraiture form?

SP: Probably all of my work – films and photographs – but in an indirect way.

AMc: As a woman looking at a woman (herself – but perhaps also other women, if you also make portraits of others), how aware are you of the conventions and load of the male gaze? To what extent do you work with or subvert these?

SP: Really difficult questions because we are all part of a world where we unconsciously learn from our environment, whether through choice or not. The idea of a lesbian gaze has been given so little space in cultural discussion – it’s quite strange, I think. In the images of my late partner Sandra Lahire and myself, I wanted to show something of the specificity of a lesbian looking. The question is whether this is possible and the answer might be that it is clearer to do in a medium that isnt image-based but, at the same time, I am and always have been interested in this problem, and have wanted to work it through. Many of my images of Sandra and myself show a mirror being held. This speaks directly of a female gaze as it is close up and involves the camera. I made a film of my mother and myself where we hold mirrors for and to each other. With Sandra, for me, the images speak of a love, of a unity between two women. It feels as if there is an absence of discussion on issues like this, i.e. how a lesbian gaze might differ from a straight male gaze. The importance of this is a feminist issue, in other words, to free up what women can have and enjoy because the insistence on heterosexuality isn’t just homophobic, it is patriarchal.

AMc: How – if at all – does your sexuality influence or shape your work, especially your self-portraits?  

SP: Well, I can’t compare to anything, so I can’t know. I can consciously decide to speak about such matters, as I have done. Deviant choices of one’s sexuality certainly impact on one’s life. Without a doubt. 

AMc: As a woman who likes women, looking at women, do you feel your gaze is different from the gaze of a heterosexual woman artist? In what way? 

SP: Yes, I do think it is different and I think it’s a shame that difference hasn’t had a space to be articulated. For me, that difference is very important on feminist grounds because women relating with women is important for a feminist utopia or just for a feminist future. These ideas were explored in French feminist theory – that in patriarchy men have relations with men which makes up the homosocial world (Irigaray), men have relations with women, but women don’t have relations with women, instead they compete for power. To say something about the difference of a lesbian gaze: I think it’s something one really can’t put words to, except to say that the figure of difference is less and so there is a kind of closerness, the homoerotic of difference within sameness. Something that has its origins in one’s early relation with the mother that is different from a heterosexual encounter. But this is probably psychoanalytic talk that maybe doesn’t describe anything tangible.

AMc: Can you say something about the work you are submitting for this exhibition? How are you seeking to portray yourself? What are the key aspects you’re drawing forth? Physical, psychological, sociological…?

SP: The images of myself and Sandra were attempts to explore a lesbian gaze, in terms also of a labyrinth, from an idea of the lesbian uncanny, which is subject matter explored by the duo of artists Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadaki (lesbian Greek filmmakers), who explore this idea in their Super 8 film Double Labyrinth, as part of their series Cinema Of The Body.

AMc: Do you seek to portray yourself as object, subject, or both? How does this dynamic come through in your work?  

SP: In the still images, it’s a hovering between, definitely it’s about striving for a subjectivity, but acknowledging that objectness is part of that. The state of being over here and over there, being an object for another and a subject for oneself at the same time, are themes I have been exploring over a long time. The mirror has been an image long used in my work that speaks about a state of being split (where a figure doubles) but also about surveillance and, at the same time, it offers the potential for reflexivity. 

AMc: Do you work in media other than photography? If so, how does the gaze offered by the camera differ from the viewpoint obtained through other media? How does the experience as artist differ? Does it make the act of looking easier or more difficult? If you don’t work with other media, what is it about the gaze of the camera that attracts you to working with photography? 

SP: The gaze in a film offers more in terms of bringing subjectivity and is a great medium for playing between these roles. Swollen Stigma (21min, 1998) and Cast (20min, 2000) both attempt to explore the hovering between subjectivity and objectivity in lesbian relations. Also, in Stages Of Mourning (19min, 2004), these themes are present, but the theme of a lesbian gaze suddenly shifts into a gaze between the living and the dead. In my recent films Magic Mirror (75min, 2013) and Confessions To The Mirror (68min, 2016), a lesbian gaze is present in Claude Cahun looking at her lover Suzanne Malherbe but also possibly my gaze at Cahun, but this gaze works as much in the written voice of Cahun and the ways in which I have put voices and images together in both films. Although photography and film are distinct mediums, I have worked between these mediums. I have written about intermediality in Magic Mirror and Confessions To The Mirror where I bring photography into my films and in this way the photograph becomes a part of the film.

AMc: What one work of art, depicting a woman as object – or subject, have you been most influenced/impressed by and what is it about this work that captures you?  

SP: The image of Claude Cahun hiding in a cupboard, lying on a shelf dressed as a puppet doll.  Why this image evokes so much I can only guess at and I think this not knowing is to do with its power. Is it because she is asleep? What is it she is unconscious of and how does that resonate for the viewer? Is it because she is both exhibiting herself (as an object? As a subject?) and yet she is also hiding, or ‘as if’ hiding? Is it because it is the activity of a child? The child within the adult.  It is certainly a space of inbetweeness, child-adult, exposed-hidden, inanimate-alive, awake-asleep. It’s a beautiful image and I have re-enacted it in my film Confessions To The Mirror (68min, 2016) with a voice over of text by Cahun, which is equally very much a self-portrait through Cahun’s self-portrait. 


Sarah Pucill
Stages of Mourning IX

Also published here

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