Playing With Dolls: Martín Gutierrez’s Mannequin Girl Crew

Marti?n Gutierrez Girl Friends (Rosella & Palma 4), 2014 9 x 13 1/2 inches Courtesy of RYAN LEE, New York
Martín Gutierrez, Girl Friends (Rosella & Palma 4), 2014. 9 x 13 1/2 inches Courtesy of RYAN LEE, New York

Playing with dolls is not a new fascination, but in the photographs of Martin Gutierrez, the artist’s own presence in the photograph adds a haunting melancholy to the works. The artist, who identifies variously with female and male pronouns, Martin(e) Gutierrez produces, styles and snaps her own work, as well as low-fi pop songs she describes as “Lana del Ray goes to the Caribbean and is still sad”. In “Can She Hear You”, a new show at Ryan Lee gallery, the artist brings several different bodies of work together to create a portrait of a persona.

Tell us about the new show “Can She Hear You”

It’s always interesting having a few bodies of work and having to put them into the same space. For me, I don’t really even like titling my work. To have a show title feels like another chore – another structure put upon me! For “Can She Hear You”, there are three music videos and the photographs, which for me, can be interpreted really quickly as cliques: girls, in elitist groups. There’s the idea of intrigue but also the banter of secrets and I guess feeling like an outsider, as the viewer looking at these groups.

What’s new in the show?

My new song is called Head 2 Toe and I guess now it’s become a commentary on what’s “cool”: dookie braids, spit curls, lipliner. But it also takes on the same persona of the “call girl” persona who’s been in the last two videos. I think in “If”, it’s her Pretty-Woman moment, after she’s made it. And this is like, when she’s still on the corner. 

Why did you choose to portray the intimacy of female subjects?

I was trying to assimilate within the group and kind of disappear, but also steer the group in terms of an identity, because none of them have expression. None of them are supposed to be “memorable”, specifically.

It was about how was I going to suggest an interpretation of these women to an audience and part of that was through me or my performance, by making it seem more lifelike, or disappearing and becoming less lifelike. But it also brought to life a lot of my chidhood: I was accepted into girl world, really early on, because of my own gender expression. It’s always been Martin and the girls, and I never separated it in terms of gender – I was just like “whatever, it doesn’t matter.”

How does your work intersect with drag performance?

Drag is so interesting! When I was in college, I was dancing in this bar, and I would always end up overlapping with the drag nights, as if they were saying: “Is that what you are?”. I’ve never gelled with the drag world for some reason – in terms of nightlife.

I can appreciate an amazing drag queen but my own demeanour is not catty or dramatic enough. People say: “Oh, you’re just like a real woman”. I think drag for a lot of people – not that my own work is not a persona, but it’s a persona that is larger than life and it’s something that’s taking the characteristics of a woman and turning up the dial to ten.

Marti?n Gutierrez Girl Friends (Anita & Marie 3), 2014 9 x 13 1/2 inches Courtesy of RYAN LEE, New York
Martín Gutierrez, Girl Friends (Anita & Marie 3), 2014. 9 x 13 1/2 inches Courtesy of RYAN LEE, New York

Your mannequins play a large role in your photographs – tell us about your relationship with them.

I have my own weird intimate relationship with them because I’m used to having them around, and they all have names, like Mani, Lara (because she looks like Lara Stone), Patrice and Contessa. Milan I use all the time because we look the most similar. And then Max is one of the new girls, but she’s amazing because she has no boobs, so our body types are really similar and she’s also one of the tallest. But they’re all extremely different to me.

It matters a lot to me, the presence they have by themselves – their hands and their posture – so most of them are from the 70s, or the 60s and they’re models that aren’t made any more, which makes them even more special, and I wanted to allude to the era that they are from in the photos. I guess I didn’t even realise that I was creating these relationships from my own fear of intimacy with other people. I can show that dynamics that I’ve been aware of with other relationships and play into that with these things that are inanimate. I don’t know if I want them to be alive, or if I’m just interested in other people perceiving them as living.

With the dolls, there’s often a moment of “drawing back the curtain”, exposing the artifice around performance. 

I think what all the photos and videos draw on is that my own interest in skewing perception of someone looking and it’s in part because it’s always been really confusing for people looking at me to separate my own gender growing up. I think one of my earliest memories is being asked if I was a girl or a boy: on the train, in the grocery store, in the club. It’s a question.

Martine – IF from Martín Gutierrez on Vimeo.

How does this fit into your own performance of gender?

It’s weird that I’m fully aware that it’s confusing, but at the same time it seems completely normal. I guess my one thing that I guess I’d want to say is that art gives me an audience. Finding what I have to say important–that there isn’t a real binary when it comes to how you express yourself–this is a way that we’re taught to behave. The fluidity to find your own place within that spectrum is, for me, the only way of feeling happy and feeling like I’m actually expressing who I am as a person.

How do you find working between the worlds of art and music, since you make music videos and also exhibit in galleries?

People in the music world want me to do music, and art people want me to do “high art”, something meant strictly for a gallery. And I just feel like that’s unfair! It’s all connected, guys! The reality is that we have so many platforms now, that there’s no reason to sick to one path. If anything, a music video, or something with the structure of a pop song, is going to touch more people than an image on a white wall in a gallery because the way we can approach a music video just includes a broader audience. 

Interview by Josie Thaddeus-Johns

Martín Gutierrez, Can She Hear You is on at Ryan Lee Gallery New York from 9 April until 9 May 2015

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