Paz Errázuriz, Untitled, 2002, digital print, 32 1/4 x 24 3/8". From the series “Cuerpos” (Bodies), 2002.

Paz Errázuriz, Untitled, 2002, digital print, 32 1/4 x 24 3/8". From the series “Cuerpos” (Bodies), 2002.

Paz Errázuriz

Paz Errázuriz, Untitled, 2002, digital print, 32 1/4 x 24 3/8". From the series “Cuerpos” (Bodies), 2002.

The exhibition “Cuerpos” (Bodies) brought together two series of Paz Errázuriz’s photographs—“Tango,” 1986, and “Cuerpos,” 2002—with a nine-minute video piece, El sacrificio, 1989–2001, the only work she has produced in that medium thus far. The Chilean artist early in the 1980s and ’90s focused on portraits of people on the margins of society (the insane, the homeless, transvestite prostitutes, boxers, circus people, and so on), and these origins have continued to influence her even as her practice has evolved to encompass subjects more fully integrated into society. “Tango,” for instance, shows the faces and stances of couples performing this well-known dance, elegantly dressed figures who are aware of taking part in a ritual at once social and sensual. The closeness of the paired bodies and the undeniable harmony between partners give the images an erotic quality. The couples in the series have not posed for these portraits, but are unknowingly captured in improvised snapshots.

Cuerpos” is a series of studio portraits of elderly men and women posing naked, individually or in pairs. These figures display their bodies openly, with a sense of satisfaction and even pride. Their bodies are not chiseled, but rather show the results of corporeal change over time; some of them have surgical scars. Whether distracted or clearly pleased—like one woman wearing just a pearl necklace and a benevolent smile—none of the subjects seem at all concerned about the fact that, though they are all long past the age when they could embody conventional beauty, they are posing nude. Some of the couples seem to share a sense of mutual understanding, like the man and woman who look at each other serenely or the two older women laughing in each others’ arms. Here we witness the joy at being alive and taking pleasure in a body that, though aged, still provides sensual pleasure. In this way, both series evince the same basic intention: vindication of life and the desire to live it fully.

El sacrificio should be understood as complementary to these photographs. Filmed in 1989 but not edited until twelve years later, the piece shows a sheep being slaughtered, then skinned and gutted. In black-and-white, like most of Errázuriz’s work, the video inevitably brings to mind Georges Franju’s documentary Le sang des bêtes (The Blood of the Beasts, 1949), filmed in a slaughterhouse in Paris. On the surface, “Tango” and “Cuerpos” celebrate life while El sacrificio viscerally depicts death, but the video also celebrates life, albeit indirectly. Its last frames show the animal’s body as an inert mass, but if death reduces the body to its most material aspect—just lifeless flesh—life seems to do just the opposite by giving us a sentient body that experiences pleasure in its own vitality.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.