I have known Alessandra Torres for over ten years now, ever since we were undergraduates at Maryland Institute College of Art. Her piece from our 2002 commencement exhibition– a performance for which she lay naked and blindfolded inside a glass and steel adult size incubator, left a lasting impression on me. Yet even though we have remained very friendly acquaintances over the years, it was not until fairly recently that I gained a real understanding and appreciation of her work.
Alessandra’s work still explores the human body in relation to space and as mark maker. She frequently incorporates her own bare body, and the work could easily become merely exhibitionist or aggressively confrontational. However, in the years since our commencement exhibition, both Alessandra and her work have become less self-conscious and more playful and now her childlike curiosity is a driving impetus to her practice. This permeates all her work with an alluring quality rather than an antagonistic one.
I visited Alessandra at her live-in studio at The Creative Alliance as she prepared for a December exhibition at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. She was invited to exhibit after leading a body workshop with the high school students there last January. She was working on a series of interactive drawings that referenced the topics she had covered in the workshop: the body as a mark-making tool, physicality in making, and body memory. The drawings were made up of cutout outlines of her arms and legs, painted on the back with magnetic paint and placed on a magnetic surface. In this way the audience will be allowed to manipulate the drawings and choreograph the bodies through out the exhibition. For this show she also exhibited large-scale photographs that documented a series of performances about hiding, and assembled a maze of armoires and cabinets that viewers were invited to climb into.
In 2009, as a resident at The Vermont Studio Center, Alessandra was struck by the mountains that surrounded the center. In an effort to incorporate herself into this landscape, she created a gorgeous series of digital photographs that depict an image of her prone and draped with a blanket, superimposed into the stark wintery Vermont landscape; the sharp point of her knees and gentle humps of her hips and shoulders mirror and become part of the hilly background. Always after a freedom of movement in her work, she also created a version of these images where her body is a magnetized cut out that can be moved around on the photographed landscape. Creating work in this way allows the pieces to vary each time she exhibits them and to be reinterpreted overtime.
As a new resident at The Creative Alliance (CA) in Baltimore’s Patterson Park neighborhood, Alessandra has a large personal studio and exhibition space, with a lofted living space as well. Having this expansive workspace is allowing her to create and exhibit pieces at a human scale that actually move, where as much of her recent work has been photographic documentation of site specific performance, or live gallery performances where she was passive rather than actively responding to the audience.
Just after she moved into CA last summer, I saw Alessandra’s performance of Personal Space, Experiment #1 as part of the Exposed exhibition. For this piece she had fabricated a 30 inch clear plastic sphere to house her folded naked body as she rolled around the floor of the gallery, up to and around individual audience members, leaving a trail of dripped condensation behind her. She gently rocked toward and away from visitors as they entered the gallery, forcing them to confront her body and their own. When she rolled towards me, I found myself suddenly and acutely aware of my own physicality and comfort zone, and in awe of her obvious comfort in her own skin.
I asked Alessandra where her lack of inhibition came from and she explained that growing up in Puerto Rico, she and her sister were allowed to run around unclothed. There was a freedom to the culture. Dance and exaggerated body language were essential to self-expression. However she was also a “gringa” and strangers would often approach her to pet her long blond hair. Because she looked different, she was always seeking a more meaningful connection to her surroundings. These impulses are clearly evident in her work to this day.
For the upcoming show of CA residents’ work, Subterfuge (February 25 – March 10, 2012), Alessandra is thinking about a live dance performance that records movement as she travels through the space– but she was still in the planning stages when we met. I look forward to seeing this piece and how her work will continue to develop during her next three years as a resident at CA.
To watch a video of Personal Space, Experiment #1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPmgXy4DdIM
For more information about the studio residencies and upcoming exhibitions at The Creative Alliance: http://www.creativealliance.org