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This article is the first in a mini-series, In Search of Yourself. We speak to three artists – Ana Vallejo, Bowei Young and Andre Ramos-Woodard – about vulnerability and trauma, and how they use the camera to gain a better knowledge of themselves.
In her latest task, the Colombian artist charts her pursuit to untangle the relationship between trauma plus intimacy
It is possible that we have most of given anxious thought to what would happen if we could release our pain and injury. If we could resist our instinct to hide, or disguise our shame and discomfort, and have people say, “I feel it too”. Historically, image-making has been employed as a strategy to make sense of ourselves. Look no further than Nan Goldin’s The Ballad o f Lovemaking Dependency – iconic function that radically altered our own understanding of photography and the opportunities the medium has to offer. As opposed to so much photography that maintains distance, Goldin’s images are up close, honest and searingly personal.
Now, a new generation of photographers are using the particular camera to take a crisper look at the human condition, grappling with the precarious positions associated with racism, homophobia and mental health. This willingness to deal with complex realities offers a counter-narrative to the toxic optimism that will proliferates in current popular culture. The work is not limited to dealing with private trauma, although it does with brutal force. It also occupies a sense of communal yearning.
In Neuromantic , Ana Vallejo grapples using the psychological landscape of “love addiction”. The Colombian designer charts her pursuit in order to untangle the relationship between injury and intimacy. As a self-confessed “love addict”, Vallejo uses the project to deal with herself while activating the mutual relationship with the viewer: a space for acceptance, healing and new beginnings.
“Love became a way to dissociate from reality. A fantasy that will, although it would often harm me, would soothe my anxiety and stress. When I began to look around, many friends and ex-partners also used love as a coping mechanism. ”
“I’ve constantly felt like an outsider, ” says Vallejo. The artist’s early life was taken by mental illness: her father was diagnosed with schizophrenia shortly after she was born, plus suicide and anxiety haunt her family. “I’ve completed many extreme things to gain someone’s attention, ” she explains. “Love became a method to dissociate from reality. A fantasy that, although it would often hurt me, might soothe my anxiety and stress. When I began to look around, many buddies and ex-partners also utilized love as a coping mechanism. Through this work, I want to engage in conversation and match people who have had similar abusive and traumatic experiences in order to mine. ”
Through multilayered, fresh portraiture, Vallejo creates a portal, getting at complex and challenging feelings that have long been buried or even denied. Working with friends, previous lovers and her own entire body, she visualises the damage of love addiction, taking the extremes of satisfaction and pain. Images are usually heightened by a bright colour scheme and visual disruptions – including burning and obnubilate – enabling her to transcend reality and create the visual language around her emotional journey. Vallejo insists on the possibility of healing simply by grounding the project within scientific research. She traces the connection between addiction, stress, abuse and how they express in our attachment styles. These types of findings become work in and of themselves. Integrated through collection and text, they shed light on decades of struggle.
Over time, Neuromantic offers transitioned from visual art to an interactive experience. Through cooperation with data scientist Andrew Hill, Vallejo has released anonymous surveys in which the public can share their experiences and become part of the work. Together the pair will use the data to trace collective behavior patterns as well as nuanced individual traits.
“Connecting with the audience is one of my priorities. I want the project in order to resonate with people going through challenging intimate situations and offer all of them tools and knowledge. I really hope it becomes a safe place to share and vent. In those interactions, knowledge and empathy are exchanged. ”