visual arts latino freezine
visual arts latino freezine

María María Acha-Kutscher

Tomás Ruiz-Rivas

Text originally published in the book Les Spectaculaires, Ediciones Asimetricas. Madrid 2011. Supported by the Grant for Artistic Creation of MUSAC, Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon, 2011.

tag: feminisms

As the living fabric of memory has progressively faded in more developed societies, the Archive, in its dual nature as abstract entity and concrete institution, has taken its place. Philosophers, first Foucault and then Derrida and Agamben, have moved the Archive to territories that are difficult to reach, where the differences between discourse and its text are established. Yet, it is not words, but images that make up the universal Archive dreamed of by Jorge Luis Borges from the shadows of blindness. We could say, to paraphrase Allan Sekula, that the transcendence of photography is due as much to capturing an image through the camera as to organizing those images in a filing cabinet. The Archive establishes power-based relationships among those images.

The photographic collage or montage was the first technique used by artists to alter these relationships and defy their power. It is not a coincidence that this approach emerged during the Dadá movement in the works of Kurt Schwitters, John Heartfield, Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch. It was also one of the techniques favored by Man Ray and the Surrealists, where Max Ernst’s graphic novel Une semaine de bonté was, without a doubt, a masterpiece of collage from Surrealism’s vanguard period. The German artist not only used photographs, but was also nurtured by images of popular culture from the 19th century, particularly engravings from a variety of publications.

Max Ernst

Max Ernst. Une semaine de bonté

This ability to use media photographs or more particularly photographs from publications intended for a wider audience was one of the attractive features collage offered artists of the time. Hannah Höch, who focused on the image of the new woman which arose in Germany following the end of World War I, was especially interested in this perspective. There are several other female artists who worked with the collage technique and are considered part of the complex filiations with the work of María María Acha-Kutscher, such as Dora Maar, whose exquisite sensibility was eclipsed by her relationship with Picasso, and Grete Stern, educated in the Bauhaus, who years later created 150 photomontages for the psychology column of an Argentinean women’s magazine. This series, entitled Dreams, is perhaps the most evocative of her legacy. They all worked on women, expressing conflicts and transformations that have sprung up along the process of their emancipation and recognition of women’s rights.

Grete Stern

Grete Stern. Collage de la serie Sueños

In our day, the proliferation of image-generating electronic technology and, especially, the Internet –Sekula’s file cabinet infinitely expanded– have placed the Archive in a prominent position and many artists’ work with it in a variety of ways: Boltanski, Gerhard Richter, Walid Ra’ad, Antoni Muntadas… Or, much closer to María María Acha-Kutscher, Jonathan Hernández and Fernando Bryce, who are also Latin Americans.

The manipulation of photographs, in turn, has broken free from the limitations of the enlarger and chemical developers, and from the cutting and pasting used previously in collages. Digital editing programs have long since transformed these procedures and, today, it is actually unimaginable that we should see photographs that have not been retouched in one way or another.

Womankind 1

Womankind serie I

María María Acha-Kutscher works with a computer on images from various sources. A significant portion comes from fashion and interior design magazines traditionally associated with feminine imaginary. Many backgrounds and certain elements that stand out due to their luxurious quality derive from these sources. She also uses her own photographs, very peculiar images such as a kiosk packed with popular cosmetics and manicure magazines in the Womankind I series, and an antique bookstore with volumes stacked up to the ceiling, in Womankind II. She utilizes the Internet to search for the main figures, as well as the works of art, porcelain statues and the most sui generis details. It is a painstaking process because María María’s collages have a quality that sets them apart from those of her predecessors: verisimilitude. When we single out a particular piece from the Womankind series, we feel a strangeness that we cannot identify. The images appear real, but something is out of place. It is the woman. The women who are the protagonists in her collages are not where they should be.

Womankind 2

Womankind serie II

On occasion, the image is apparently simple: the meeting of two antithetical elements over an unexpected background provokes that characteristic displacement. Such is the case in the collage from the first series where we see a woman in religious attire walking in a park. On her right, surrounded by a thick hedge, there is a statue representing an erotic dancer pole dancing.

Womankind 1

Womankind serie I

Others are infinitely prolific, such as the two that make up the Derruidas series. In these, over a background of a building in ruins, two women appear sitting in the midst of the desolation surrounded by innumerable porcelain figures and sculptures. In all of these cases, there is a redefining of the meaning of the images upon which the history of women has been built since the invention of photography, where traditionally they have been relegated to the background in paternalistic, hegemonic stories. It is not so much, as stated by Hal Foster in Archival Impulse, a will to totalize so much as a will to relate, to probe a misplaced past, to collate its different signs to ascertain what might remain for the present. In her collages, María María rescues a female historical memory, reflecting both their political struggle and the complexity of their private world.

Derruidas 1

Derruidas I
Derruidas II

Derruidas II

Les Spectaculaires series is unique within this artist´s line of work. The protagonists are women who were affected by some type of abnormality. Women with an exceptional physical condition that made them unique, such as lacking arms or legs, being extremely short or tall, faces covered with hair, or the conjoined bodies of Siamese twins. The original photographs, with which the artist has worked, are from the late 19th and early 20th century, when these women still worked in circuses and were exhibited as human oddities.

Spectaculaires 1

Les Spectaculaires, Alice E. Doherty "Alice The Wonder"

Paradoxically, many of them enjoyed more comfortable and independent lives than they might have expected had they been born normal. The collages created by María María Acha-Kutscher have a hypnotic visual intensity. Les Spectaculaires seem infused with great dignity, in sober images where the artist has made just few, precise, subtle alterations only as needed to defy conventions relating to the female body, a product of the male point of view, and establish a series of disquieting connections between the ideas of beauty, illness, violence and power.


Les Spectaculaires, Anita "The Living Doll"
Mademoiselle Gabrielle

Les Spectaculaires, Mademoiselle Gabrielle "The Half Woman"
Mary and Anna

Les Spectaculaires, Mary and Anna "Nature’s Most Perfect Freak"