Paloma is a visual artist that works across photography and sculpture, exploring the physical and psychological relationships that spring from inherited DNA.
Hear Paloma speak about her work in our event Decoding the Personal that took place in August 2020.
Can you say a bit about your history and context as an artist? Where did you train and in what form and how has that developed?
I grew up in a fairly artistic family. I remember my mother going to pottery classes and often painting ceramics at home. On my mum’s side of the family, my grandfather was a painter and we used to visit all the museums in Madrid. On my dad’s side, my other grandfather used to make frames and carving wooden maquettes, and my dad has always loved photography. When I was about 10 years old I told my parents I wanted to go to art school and they helped and encouraged me to be the artist I am today.
I studied BA Fine Arts at Complutense University for five years in Madrid, where I trained in classic techniques including painting, carving, drawing, anatomy, history of art, and then specialised in sculpture, new technologies and photography. After graduating, I moved to London to do my MA Photography at London College of Communication where I really started combining my passion for sculpture with my love for photography.
Your work is heavily focused on genetic inheritance, from a personal perspective, and looking at the impact that our genetic DNA has on the way that we view and interpret ourselves: our past, present and future. Can you speak about a few examples of projects of how this subject has unfolded in your practice?
Inside Out is the first multidisciplinary project where I incorporated photography, sculpture and the influence of microscopic views. The project was born of an attempt to be connected to my family through the idea of sharing the same genes. An important part is that we are made from others and in myself I can see my parents and at the same time my grandparents. We take and receive qualities from each other – and in the same way we inherit the colour of the eyes, we inherit genetic disorders and habits that influence us throughout our lives.
Flawed Beauty is another project where I mixed mediums, placing myself as a sculpture on a plinth, enveloped by imaginary cysts. The idea was to redefine beauty. Some of the greatest classical sculptures in the world are broken and missing limbs, however they are highly precious and appreciated by society without questioning the body’s flaws or illness. This series represents how the body has a natural life of its own and that we suffer from periods of change, pain and metamorphosis without our control, in contrast to these historic works of art.
Your practice is deeply personal – it speaks to your own lived experience of genetic inheritance. What has your journey been like in deciding when and where (if at all) to disclose personal details about the motives behind you work?
It has been a natural progress in my career until there was a point it disclosed itself. During my BA Fine Arts, I never spoke about personal details when discussing my projects, it was after travelling to the UK and during my MA when my visual language changed and my tutors suggested that my artwork wasn’t just about the body but about genetics and illness. At first I refused to make it obvious but after some time and many conversations with my mentor, I realised that my drive to make art was in the struggle between biological determinism and self-will, leading me to explore the subject of the body and its inherited DNA.
What do you hope viewers of your work will take away from engaging in your work?
I believe one of the roles of the artist is to give voice to contemporary topics and reflect the world we live in today. Genetic inheritance, health and illness are uncomfortable subjects for many people. I hope people can see my artwork and think, explore and deconstruct their own social boundaries – a visual experience can make an individual think beyond their experience with their own family lines and their relationship with their own body.
On Mutability 2020
[Mutations are changes that occurs in our DNA sequence, either due to mistakes when the DNA is copied or throughout a person’s lifetime]
“On Mutability” is a new body of work that has brought me to experiment with medium format film photography. In this series I focus in genetic mutations and fertility questioning the impact of genetic inheritance, balancing internal and external factors through Papier-mâché eggs, made of empty egg cartons.
Aside from your personal knowledge of having an inherited condition, how have you (if at all) worked with people from other disciplines (ie academics, clinicians etc) to broaden your understanding and practice related to your projects?
In 2017, I had my first Artist’s Residency with Free Space Project at Kentish Town Health Centre. Through my doctors at Kings College I got in contact with the Director of PKD Charity UK, who put me in contact with a biology specialist of PKD Cells. At the time I didn’t know how to approach the subject initially and the only thing I knew is that I wanted to get the imagery to create a project. However as I developed the collaboration it was really interesting to understand my own condition more deeply and it helped shape my later research. I believe collaborating at this sort of level is key to helping articulate a greater concept in relation to the emotional response of art, and now I am looking to partner up more with those in sciences and research.
What has been most difficult about creating work that’s so fixed as your own genetics?
Even though my artwork comes from a personal experience, I don’t attempt to make all my projects about my genetics. I am interested in exploring and understanding how the human body works. I guess it is easier to go from the individual to the general – the most difficult part is exposing my inner self in order to explain to the viewer what my drive is.
How have your close family responded to your curiosity and works that explore complex subjects around familial inheritance? Especially as it often involves nudity.
Luckily enough my family has been always interested in art, I’ve taken them to see exhibitions of some of my favourite artists, which they enjoyed… So I could say they are in tune with my influences, however the most important thing is that they are supportive. I am surprised that nudity hasn’t been a problem, maybe because they know I often work with myself as a vessel or model and see past the direct physical interpretations of my art.
What are you working on now — what are your research subjects and which artists are you finding interesting?
Just before the lockdown I was working on a project about genetic mutations and the effect on fertility. My idea was to continue with that subject, however after spending 2 months at home I am suffering with the challenging effects of isolation. The impact of this time has brought me to explore the comfort and discomfort we experience as we relate to the outside world through and with our body, and the associated pain and transformation. Making sculptures is a really organic process for me, and lately I am researching soft sculptures and biomorphic shapes in art, with this direction.