|BODY by Paloma Tendero|
14th January 2015 - The market in Brixton is a mass of colour and shape - shiny bulbous avocado pears waiting for your teeth to sink into its ripe flesh, thick orange rods of carrot, melons like rugby balls that, no matter how hard you try, will drip their sweet sticky juice over your chin as you try to suck and bite and swallow all at the same time, rows of fresh silver-green trout which even the fish monger has to pick up one at a time because of its protective cover of slime, crusty loaves of bread longing for a knob of butter to sink into the hot pillow of dough inside and, tucked away in between these delicacies, just to calm you down is a shop full of religious artefacts such as creamy birth candles, statues of the Virgin Mary, multicoloured rosary beads and bejewelled crucifixes. I find that I cannot rush through this throbbing palette of sensuality without wanting to buy something, anything, to take home and cut or peel, lick or swallow, hold or stroke. Somehow, I avoid sating this desire but it helps that I am late for a shoot at PhotoFusion and that I have forgotten to bring directions with me. I try to remember the last time I was here when I gave a talk on my project and the lovely Peter Dazeley, Jillian Edelstein, Emma Critchley, Laura Pannack, Jocelyn Allen and Clare Hewitt also spoke. Eventually, I find the building and the right door to the studio after asking the receptionist in the gallery for directions. I notice, out of the corner of my eye, that there is an exhibition which looks interesting. The shoot is with Amit Lennon which will be the subject of another post once I receive his photographs but Amit recommends that I take time to look at the photographs on show in the gallery and I do and there, amongst some excellent work, is a wonderful self portrait by Paloma Tendero. I am drawn to it immediately. It reminds me of my own self portraiture which it is not anywhere near as good as this but it is the shape of Paloma's body which is so arresting. It is not a picture of sexuality but of architectural form and, the more I look, the less of a body it becomes. It is a landscape of curves and shadows formed by flesh and bone and muscle, painted with natural light. I note down Paloma's name, thank the receptionist a second time and hurry back to the Tube station via the market which somehow doesn't feel so alluring.
The next day, I look at Paloma's work on the internet and it is all self portraiture. I question whether she will be interested after all but I write to her in hope and she replies a few days later, speaking enthusiastically about my project and, although she mentions that she does not normally work with other people, she suggests that we meet to discuss a possible collaboration. By this time, I am not well and this and other things get in the way of arranging a meeting. By this time, I am seriously thinking of bringing the project to an end and, finally, something tips it over the edge and I tell Paloma that we shall have to do it soon. Very kindly, she brings her suggested dates forward and she comes all the way down to Brighton to say hello and talk about her work. A week later, she meets me off the train at West Norwood and we go to her flat which she is sharing with a lovely man, Eduardo, who hugs me hello and goodbye after chatting briefly about acting and performing. As Paloma makes a coffee, she tells me that she has made a spanish omelette for our lunch and I tell her that I LOVE spanish omelettes. She then shows me the installation she has created in the sitting room made of wool and thread based on the image of brain cells she had found and, as she talks, she finishes off knitting a shawl of different shades of green. I take off my clothes and this is the tricky bit. I am not Paloma. Normally, she would nip into the installation, take the photograph with a remote control and nip back to the camera and move things about, change her shape, alter the settings but she now has another person to consider. Me.
I begin to feel a tension as we both struggle with our new roles but, in a way, this adds to the excitement. I sit on the stool and bury my head on my chest and put my hands on the wall with fingers outstretched. Paloma asks me to clench my fists and Paloma murmurs her approval. I suggest that I step into the criss cross of threads and adopt different poses but it doesn't seem to work. Paloma is used to herself making little comments but not a second person. It must be like her working away on her own and someone suddenly striding into her studio and saying "Oh, why don't you do this?" just as a train of thought is beginning to form in her head. I don't know whether I consciously decide to stop suggesting but slowly we both relax and it is then that she asks me to return to the stool and my pose with head buried and fists clenched. This was the pose and we stuck to that as she re-arranges the crocheted scarf over my back and tucks it under my bottom. Suddenly, my body isn't my body - it is just a body being manoeuvred to produce the required shape. I'm not asked to think, I am asked to lift my arm, bend my back or hold some thread and it begins to work as an extended self portrait.
Paloma sent me two images. They both worked but I asked her to choose the one for the project and she did. She said afterwards that she enjoyed the challenge and that it was interesting to experience this with another person. I really like the image. It is a nude of shape. My arms could be deformed legs. I could be balancing on my neck. The more you look the more strange it becomes. And yet, this image contains an emotion and a spirit that is completely absent in the portrayals of nudity in fashion, advertisements and the glamour industries. Our body-house, as Paloma has described it, is all we have, with its faults and blemishes and diseases and we have to do the best we can with it as indeed Paloma did with mine to produce a great photograph of beauty and light, colour and shape, passion and strength.