Argentina Notebook: Interview with Ananké Asseff

A. (POTENCIAL) ((POTENTIAL)) from the series "Potential" 2007
Straight photography 127x200 cm © Ananké Asseff

Jaime PermuthEleonora Ronconi and I are collaborating to explore contemporary photography in Argentina. We're looking at trends and how they relate to traditions; events, institutions and venues; as well as pursuing conversations with curators, academics, gallerists and photographers on what's happening currently. This collaborative project will feature a variety of posts including interviews, book reviews, published letters, portfolios of images and more.

Jaime Permuth is a Guatemalan photographer living and working in New York City and a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts. Eleonora Ronconi is an Argentinian photographer living and working in the Bay Area, California whose work explores themes of memory, identity and uprooting.

Posts in this series on Argentina include Jaime Permuth's interviews with Fabián Goncalves BorregaJorge Piccini and Sofía López Mañán and his review "From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires:
Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola at the Museum of Modern Art"; an interview with Guillermo Srodek-Hart by myself; as well as Q&A's with Karina AzaretzkySebastián SzydGaby Messina and Marcela Magno.

Today we continue the series with a collaboration with the writer and historian Jessica Hubbard Marr, a specialist in photographic imagery with a focus on Latin America whose full biography follows the interview. We present her interview with Ananké Asseff.

Ananké Asseff is a visual artist, born in Buenos Aires in 1971.

Her works can be found in the collections of Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art in Havana and ARTER in Istanbul; in Argentina in the Museum of Modern Art of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s National Fund for the Arts, the Museum Castagnino+MACRO in Rosario, the Palais de Glace in Buenos Aires, the Museum E. Caraffa in Córdoba and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires. She has been awarded distinctions such as a scholarship from the Academy of Media Arts KHM in Germany and a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada (2004 - 2005), both awarded jointly with the Antorchas Foundation; the 2002 Leonardo Photography Prize (awarded by the Argentinean Association of Art Critics); and an Advanced Study Award in Audiovisual Media from the National Fund for the Arts (2001). She also received the first prize in the Premio Rioplatense de Artes Visuales 2004, given by Fundación OSDE, second prize in the Salón Banco Ciudad in 2002, second prize in the 2009 Federico J. Klemm Prize to Visual Arts and second prize in the 2011 Mamba-Fundación Telefónica Prize to Arts and New Technologies, among others. In 2007 she received a subsidy from the Metropolitan Fund for the Arts in Buenos Aires and a National Grant for Projects from the National Fund for the Arts, and in 2012 and 2014, the Konex prize in Photography, awarded by Fundación Konex. She has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Cuba, Germany, Holland, Mexico, Paris, Spain, Switzerland, United States and China. Her work has been featured in diverse specialized publications such as TIME Magazine, Magazine Photoworld China, 2014; Auto Focus. The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography by Susan Bright THAMES & HUDSON, 2010; Photography in Argentina 1840-2010 by Valeria González, Buenos Aires 2011; POETICAS CONTEMPORANEAS_Artes visuales en Argentina 1990-2010, Fondo Nacional de las Artes, Argentina 2010; Image- France. 2008; Visura MAGAZINE New York 2009 and EXIT. Spain, 2007, among others.

She lives and works in Buenos Aires.

N. y A. (POTENCIAL) (N. and A. (POTENTIAL)) from the series "Potential" 2007 
Straight photography 127x200 cm © Ananké Asseff

Interview by Jessica Hubbard Marr. The interview is presented first in a translation to English, and is followed by the Spanish original.

Jessica Hubbard Marr: Where do you live and what do you do? 

Ananké Asseff: I'm a visual artist and I live in Buenos Aires. 

JHM: How did you start in photography? Why did you become interested in it? 

AA: When I was about 20, my first camera arrived into my hands, and I felt an unknown familiarity. I immediately "understood" that I would be a photographer. Self-taught, I started working for the press while I was doing theater, and when I was 27, I made the decision to fully commit to photography. That's when I started learning about personal essays. Photography became a necessity, my way to communicate with the world.  It was like my support, the tool I use to express myself, to reflect, and at times, to denounce.

Retazos del paraíso II  (Remains of paradise II) from the series "Remains of Paradise" 2005
Straight photography 135x100 cm © Ananké Asseff

JHM: How would you define your photography? How would you describe it? 

AA: In general, it is conceptual. My vision starts, intuitively, with my subjectivity, my deepest concerns. In my artistic process, that content slowly reveals itself (to me) and conceptualizes. The technical and formal tools I use come from that process, I could even say they are at its disposal. In that aesthetic construction, the spectator is always involved. 

JHM: What subjects are you especially interested in? Why? 

AA: Towards the end of 2012, I published a book with all my work (ANANKÉ ASSEFF OBRAS 1999-2012). This publication allowed me to see, among other things, my work as a whole and identify certain lines my projects explore.

Even as my work talks about fear and violence, it is also about reflection and questioning the subjective construction of our intimacy and how we live in the world. I think that each person sees and feels according to how they are wired, which has to do with their history and their ancestors', among others who influence them. I am interested in questioning and generating reflexion about how the audiovisual industry influences our lives and our feelings (from Hollywood to mass media).   

No quiero hablar de eso  (I don’t want to talk about it)  from the series "Remains of Paradise" 2008
Straight photography 160x127 cm © Ananké Asseff

JHM: What does photography offer you for investigating yourself and the social landscape in Argentina? 

AA: I think photography is a medium with endless possibilities. It is precisely its indexical character that allows us to reflect and to complicate the reading of reality. This includes the personal environment as well as the social context we are immersed in. My discursive construction starts with my own intimate space and then it starts taking shape in relation to the local and global context. Of course, it will later influence the cultural and social spaces from where it is viewed. 

To talk about one of my projects, in "Potential" I worked on the reaction of contemporary society when facing fear, and I got involved with Argentinian society more directly when I photographed the middle and upper classes with weapons in their houses. In this country, this is not something socially accepted, on the contrary. The embedded image of people carrying weapons is something associated with low-income earners and criminals. I put into question the prototype of the "suspect" that is generated by each society, but this issue, like all the other aspects that make up this project, goes beyond Argentinian society. It is something that involves us on a global level. At the time I made this work, people talked exhaustively about the lack of safety in Argentina and terrorism around the world. At the time I lived in Germany for a while (I got a scholarship from KHM) and the sense of insecurity was evident there as well, the weariness before someone unknown approaching or the presence of a stranger (a feeling that was much stronger if the other person looked like they were from the Middle East). Everything was exacerbated and worsened by the obsession of the mass media which propagated fear and terror in society. How awake we had to be (and still have to be) to avoid succumbing to these manipulations!  

As Leonor Arfuch says, "certain registers of contemporary communication, certain topics and media obsessions allow the defining, and building, of tendentious trends and consensus, shared beliefs and feelings that invade our intimate and family structures, thus spreading easily into our personal history."

Fear is a feeling that's experienced individually but built within a society. 

Sin Título (Corrimientos) (Untitled (Shifts)) from the series "Shifts" 2010
Straight photography 127x155 cm © Ananké Asseff

JHM: There is a history of strong women photographers in Argentina. How do you see your photography in that sense? 

AA: There are certain assessments that are should not be made by the artist about themselves. I think that my work has been identified with engagement, with conceptual cohesiveness, with giving your all and having the courage to speak, denounce and also to change. 

JHM: In what way do you think that being Argentinian, and the history of this country, affect your work or the projects that you choose?

AA: I think that our formation in a more or less conscious way is always marked by our personal-family history and the social environment in which we exist. I feel very Argentinian, which I consider both good and open to criticism as well.

JHM: Do you think there's a "Latin American photography '? If there is, how would you describe it?

AA: I would say that the concept of "Latin American photography" is a construction necessary for an identification and "differentiation" between periphery and center.

El secreto tenía de develarse (The secret had to be unveiled) From the series "Shifts" 2011
Straight photography 199x127 cm

JHM: Can we talk about cultural differences, for example between South America and Europe or North America?

AA: Generally speaking, if there are cultural differences, they are expressed in art. I believe that this conceptualization is a realm of theory, and in the context of this interview, the risk is to diminish a subject that has many aspects. Nevertheless and in broad strokes, there is an image of "Latin American photography" which is set in the imagination, which we could quickly associate with social and documentary aesthetics, with scenes of rather dilapidated cities and also certainly colorful, and we can also add in an aboriginal presence. It is interesting to pay attention to how discourses are constructed. From my perspective, it is clear that this is a very limited vision and is far from representative of the region. These are rather functional conceptualizations, that have their hold according to the aspect that they take and the context in which they are presented, and they exist to be questioned and discussed.

JHM: Do you see any connection between the themes, forms or any other aspect between Argentinian photography and photography from the rest of Latin America?

AA: In the world there have been aesthetic manifestations throughout history that have occurred simultaneously, but some countries-contexts had the means and/or the insight to make them visible and appropriate them. Even today, through technology, there is much to discover and recognize.

In large degree it has achieved a demystification of the supposed objectivity of photography as well; it seems important to consider that photography, film, art in general is within the system and it is very difficult for it in one way or another to not be functional. If we think about photojournalism and about how Americans began filming the first war movies (especially about why and for whom), perhaps we can take larger stock of that functionality, and, in many cases, this exceeds the artist's intent.

We as artists are a kind of (sensitive) translator of the circumstances, the culture, the history of each society. The aesthetic constructions that appear gain visibility to the degree that they are in tune with the prevailing trends locally and/or internationally.

"Attention, attention!" shouts the talking bird of "The Island" by Aldous Huxley.

Art is sublime. I deeply believe in art and its honest and genuine expression. It's a great way to generate reflection. It is spiritually healing.

No está hecho para sufrir (Not made to suffer) From the series "Shifts" 2009
Straight photography 120x120 cm © Ananké Asseff

Jessica Hubbard Marr: Donde vivís y a que te dedicas?

Ananké Asseff: Soy artista visual y vivo en Buenos Aires.

JHM: Como iniciaste con la fotografía? Por que te intereso? 

AA: Cuando tenía aproximadamente 20 años, llegó a mis manos la primer cámara de fotos y sentí una familiaridad desconocida. De inmediato "comprendí" que iba ser fotógrafa.  Con formación autodidacta, comencé a trabajar para medios de prensa mientras me desarrollaba en el ámbito de las artes escénicas y a los 27 años tomé la decisión  de dedicarme por completo a la fotografía. Fue entonces cuando inicié mi proceso de aprendizaje sobre la fotografía de autor. La fotografía se convirtió en una necesidad, en mi medio para comunicarme con el mundo. Fue como un sostén para mi, una herramienta de expresión, reflexión y por momentos de denuncia. 

Creo que esencialmente me posibilitó develar lo que no se mostraba, pero yo sentía.

28 de enero del 2009, Córdoba  January 28th, 2009, Córdoba from the series "Fields of Reality I" 2009-2014
Photograph framed with 18% gray paint on glass (inside) 120x120cm © Ananké Asseff

JHM: Como calificarías tu fotografía? Como la describirías?

AA: En general se refiere a mi obra como conceptual. Mi abordaje parte, de manera intuitiva, desde mi subjetividad, de mis preocupaciones más profundas. En el proceso, ese contenido se va develando (para mí) y conceptualizando. Las herramientas formales y técnicas devienen de ese proceso, podría decir que están a su servicio. En esa construcción estética, siempre está implicado el espectador. 

JHM: Que temas te interesan especialmente? Por que?

AA: A finales del 2012, publiqué un libro con todo mi cuerpo de obra (ANANKÉ ASSEFF OBRAS 1999-2012). Esta publicación permitió, entre otras cosas, una mirada del conjunto e identificar ciertos lineamientos que van atravesando mis proyectos.

Si bien se habla de miedo y violencia, se trata de un cuestionamiento y reflexión sobre la construcción subjetiva de nuestra intimidad, y cómo vivenciamos el mundo. Creo que cada persona ve y siente a partir de su configuración, que está conformada por su historia y la de sus ancestros, entre otros actores. Me interesa poner en cuestión y generar reflexión acerca de la influencia que ejerce en nuestras vidas y en nuestros sentimientos la industria audiovisual (incluyo desde Hollywood hasta los medios masivos de comunicación). 

JHM: Que te ofrece la fotografía para investigar a ti mismo y el paisaje societal en Argentina?

AA: Creo que la fotografía es un medio con infinitas posibilidades. Justamente su característica  indicial permite reflexionar y problematizar la lectura de la realidad. Esto incluye tanto el ámbito personal como el contexto social en el que estamos inmersos. Mi construcción discursiva parte de mi propia intimidad y va cobrando sentido en relación con el contexto local y global. Claro que luego influirá el marco cultural y social desde donde se lea.  

Para citar uno de mis proyectos, en "Potencial" trabajé alrededor de la reacción ante el miedo en la sociedad contemporánea, y me relacioné de manera más directa con la sociedad argentina, al retratar a la clase media y alta con armas de fuego en sus casas. En este país no es algo aceptado socialmente, al contrario. La imagen naturalizada de portadores de armas está asociada a la gente de bajos recursos y a los delincuentes. Pongo en cuestión el prototipo de "sospechoso" que se genera en cada sociedad, pero este asunto, como los demás aspectos que conforman este trabajo, excede por completo a la sociedad Argentina. Es algo que nos involucra de manera global. En ese entonces  se insistía sobre la inseguridad en la Argentina y el terrorismo a nivel mundial. En aquella época viví un tiempo en Alemania (recibí una beca de la KHM), y allí también se palpitaba la inseguridad, la desconfianza ante el acercamiento o la presencia de un otro desconocido (sensación que era mucho más fuerte si ese otro tenía el aspecto de una persona del Medio Oriente). Todo esto se incrementaba y se sostenía en la insistencia de los medios masivos de comunicación que instalaban el miedo y el terror en la sociedad. ¡Qué despiertos que teníamos (tenemos) que estar para no sucumbir íntimamente a esas manipulaciones!

Como dice Leonor Arfuch, "ciertos registros de la comunicación contemporánea, ciertas tematizaciones e insistencias mediáticas permiten definir –y construir– tendencialmente consensos, creencias y sentimientos compartidos, que invaden las texturas íntimas y familiares, pudiendo entrometerse fácilmente en nuestra historia personal".

El miedo es una emoción que se experimenta en forma individual pero se construye socialmente.

Untitled I from the series "Fields of Reality III" 2015
Folded photographic paper, held by the Plexiglas of the framing 41x71 cm

JHM: Hay una historia de fotógrafas muy fuerte en Argentina. Como ves tu fotografía en este sentido?

AA: Hay valoraciones que no las hace el propio artista. Creo que mi trabajo se ha ido identificando con compromiso, con coherencia conceptual, con poner el cuerpo, con animarse a decir, a denunciar y también a cambiar. 

JHM: De que manera pensás que el ser Argentino, y la historia de este país, influye en tu trabajo o los proyectos que elegís?

AA: Creo que siempre, de manera más o menos consciente, nuestra conformación está signada por nuestra historia personal-familiar y el medio social en el que estamos inmersos. Me siento muy argentina, con lo que considero bueno y criticable también.

JHM: Piensas que hay una 'fotografía latinoamericana'? Si la existe, como la describirías?

AA: Diría que el concepto de "fotografía latinoamericana" es una construcción necesaria para una identificación y "diferenciación" entre periferia y centro. 

JHM: ¿Podríamos hablar de diferencias culturales, por ejemplo entre América del Sur y Europa, o América del Norte?

AA: En términos generales, si hay diferencias culturales, eso se expresa en el arte. Considero que esta conceptualización es un ámbito de la teoría, y en el contexto de la presente entrevista, el riesgo es reducir un tema que tiene muchos aspectos. De todas maneras y a grandes rasgos, existe una imagen de "fotografía latinoamericana" que se ha configurado en el imaginario, que podríamos asociarla rápidamente a una estética documental, social, con escenarios de ciudades más bien derruidas y también ciertamente coloridas, y también podemos agregar cierta presencia aborigen. Es interesante prestar atención a cómo se construyen los discursos. Desde mi perspectiva, es claro que es una mirada muy reducida y que esta lejos de ser representativa de la región. Estas son conceptualizaciones mas bien funcionales, que tienen su asidero de acuerdo al aspecto que se tome y el contexto en que se los presente, y también existen para ser cuestionadas y discutidas.

JHM: Encontrás una relación de temas, forma o cualquier otro aspecto entre la fotografía Argentina y la del resto América Latina?

AA: En el mundo ha habido manifestaciones estéticas a través de la historia que se han ido dando de manera simultánea, pero ciertos países-contextos tuvieron los medios y/o la perspicacia de hacerlos visibles y apropiarse de ellos. Aun hoy, con tecnología mediante, hay mucho que descubrir y reconocer. 

Así como en gran medida se ha logrado desmitificar la supuesta objetividad de la fotografía, me parece importante considerar que la fotografía, el cine, el arte en general, esta dentro del sistema y es muy difícil que de una u otra manera no sea funcional. Si pensamos en el fotoperiodismo y en cómo los americanos comenzaron a filmar las primeras películas de guerra (sobre todo porqué y para quien) quizás podemos tomar mayor dimensión de esa funcionalidad, y en muchísimos casos, esto excede a la intención del artista.

Los artistas somos una especie de traductores (sensibles) de las circunstancias, la cultura, la historia de cada sociedad. Las construcciones estéticas que aparecen van tomando visibilidad, en tanto sintoniza con la tendencia imperante a nivel local y/o internacional.

"Atención, Atención!" grita el pájaro parlante de "La Isla" de Aldous Huxley.

El arte es sublime. Yo creo profundamente en el arte y su manifestación honesta y genuina. Es un gran medio para generar reflexión. Es espiritualmente sanador.

Untitled IV from the series "Fields of Reality III" 2015
Folded photographic paper, held by the Plexiglas of the framing 16.5x20 cm

Jessica Hubbard Marr is a specialist in photographic imagery with a focus on Latin America, an interest that developed thanks to many nights in the Manuel Alvarez Bravo/IAGO library in Oaxaca over the years. As a result, she subsequently received her M.A. in The History and Theory of Photography at Sotheby's Institute of Art/University of Manchester in London in 2011; Marr previously earned her B.A. in English from Kenyon College in 2005. Prior to working in the photography field, Marr worked with the non-profit, 'Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art' from 2008-2010, as both a photographer and cultural liaison. 

Since 2010, she has worked for TransGlobe Publishing in London, researching and writing about contemporary art and photography in locations ranging from Brazil to the Middle East. In 2012, Marr was appointed to the Global Nominations Panel for the Prix Pictect Photography Prize as a specialist in Latin American Photography. Her original essay, "A Glimpse into Enduring Moments" was featured in the catalogue of photographer Nadja Massun's solo exhibition, Alice in the Land of Zapata, at the Hungarian House of Photography in Budapest in 2012.

Marr resides in the US after spending the past six years studying and working abroad in Oaxaca, Quito, London and Mexico City. She credits these experiences to both expanding and deepening her appreciation for and knowledge about the photographic medium across cultures. 

She works as an independent photography consultant, researcher, writer, editor, and art advisor for both art/photography professionals and practitioners between Mexico, New York and London. 

Marr's photographic work has been published internationally in a variety of art and literary journals. Her first published photograph was taken in Oaxaca in 2008.