Q+Art: Artist Liza Ambrossio Awakens Her Inner Witch with ‘Blood Orange’
“Am I haunted?” muses Liza Ambrossio in her artist statement for Blood Orange. “Or am I the witch?” Assembled after years of nomadic wandering, the images in Blood Orange chronicle the multidisciplinary artist’s search for personal demons hiding in the rocky landscape of her own mind.
A Mexico City-native, Ambrossio became obsessed with the power of image and identity after instinct sent her hunting for family secrets in old photo albums. As an expression of Ambrossio’s emotional clash and eventual break with her family, the idea for Blood Orange was seeded at that moment. “It all starts with a mental image: an orange that bleeds,” Ambrossio’s statement begins, revealing the work as “tainted with the aesthetics of the Japanese counterculture and the Aztec rituals of human sacrifice.”
Blending performance, video, installation, and photography, Ambrossio stalks across both icy and arid landscapes to capture the images for Blood Orange. The result is a heady brew of ritualistic sights, improvisationally strung together in a loose, unsettling narrative. Using what she refers to as “free-association,” Ambrossio assembles her images without regard for linear structure or aesthetic harmony. A goldfish in a blender swims side by side with a naked man easing himself into a bathtub, witchy claws cast sinister shadows inside empty rooms, and the threat of drowning lingers throughout.
The scenes in Blood Orange take place on the edge of a knife, on the precipice of ritual, witchcraft, accident, and magic. As a former member of the roja nota, or police press, Ambrossio is no stranger to death, and her work reflects a compulsion toward tragedy brought about by accident, manipulation, or evil. Individually, the images in Blood Orange feel disjointed, but as a whole they speak to a broader narrative about Ambrossio’s struggle with family, patriarchy, and a mental illness she identifies as “paranoid sleep psychosis.” Here, Ambrossio explores the concept of genetic trauma, where behaviors and sickness are passed through “blood weight” from one generation to the next.
Blood Orange is an exorcism of sorts, a lonely, purposeful work that insists on independence, whatever the personal cost. In her self-imposed exile, Ambrossio relies on gut instinct to guide her exorcisms, uncertain if she’s the accused or the accuser in her own story.
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Liza Ambrossio discusses the art of accumulating pleasures, finding freedom outside of social structures, and her disdain for institutionalized art-world academia.
Which books, art-related or otherwise, belong on every artist’s shelf?
Liza Ambrossio: Thinking of the pressing need for mutation, love, intimacy, ritual, passion, freedom, life, and death that we human beings contain, right now two titles come to mind: In Praise of Shadows of Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, and the Mourning Diary of Roland Barthes.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
LA: In short, Francis Bacon, the love of my life.
What are you trying to express with your art?
LA: Politics, freedom, intelligence, and a fierce defense of the right to be oneself, without any respect for the idea of gender, age, culture, religion, or any social structure. I am an ethical being, not a moral one.
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
LA: When I was a political student or a beginner in art, I did it many times, but not now. Maybe I would do a professional exchange if I know that it is a project with a social impact, with a low budget, but honestly I think about these things more and more, because I believe in respecting my own work and that of others. My work and my time is very expensive, and not everyone can afford it.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
LA: I do not believe in guilty pleasures, guilt is an invention of book religions. But if I answered you in the way you expect: I would tell you that I do not avoid pleasures, I accumulate them.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
LA: My last work in progress: The witch stage, a project of overflowing violence, with a strong break with photography. Nothing like the self-immolation of what has made you famous to make present the strong security you have in a concept of self-extermination, in a hypocritical, male chauvinism world full of violence against women.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
LA: Work as if no one is supporting you, even if it happens.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
LA: I believe that academicism is the greatest poison of what I consider true art. However, although I do not support formal education in art, I support over-transversal education in the philosophical, political and scientific fields, which is what art nurtures. For example, I am a graduate of political science.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
LA: I would give more importance and better payments for their work to good artists and less to critics, curators, or fair directors.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
LA: Both at the same time; the best example is Damien Hirst or Gabriel Orozco in their respective sectors, of which I am a great admirer.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice?
LA: Absolutely nothing, I am antisocial and a renegade. For me, this has been one of the most exciting, satisfying, fun, and fascinating years of my professional life.This year I acquired the ability to keep active and at full speed three work studios in three different countries: Madrid, Spain, French Brittany, and Mexico City while I dedicate myself to planning new series, exhibiting in museums, festivals, and institutions. I think that the collective fear of an invisible virus perhaps motorized my practice.
What are you working on that you’re excited about right now?
LA: I am currently working on five or six projects: Closing my project The witch stage to present it soon in a single show in a national museum in France. Then I think of a project about the history of torture, another about the history of the muses and their silent slavery, one more about the love between women, and one more about the power of self-destruction. While I wish to make my first film related to my style of creative production in the tone of a comic and ovarian ego thesis.
Purchase: Blood Orange (in print)
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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