in conversation with: Paola Estrella

Working across many disciplines, including performance, art, paintings and photography, the Mexican mixed-media artist Paola Estrella questions a lot of things including gender, the human body and fantasy/reality. Currently training at the RCA, she does her own stunts. In her recent exhibition at the online White Cube, ‘Tomorrow: London’, her work A Timeless Apparel embodies her practice as a whole.

You lived in Mexico, Italy and the United Kingdom. How have these experiences influenced your artistic perspective?

Wherever we grow up the culture we live in becomes our micro-world. I find that getting out of that bubble to explore other micro-worlds has influenced my perspective and inspired me to expand my creative possibilities. I have become more aware of what my origins mean to me and to others in different contexts; what it means to be Mexican, a woman, an artist, etc.

In 2010, when I lived in London, I visited Susan Hiller’s exhibition at the TATE. I didn't quite understand any of it, but it blew my mind. I remember thinking ‘is this person actually exhibiting pictures of people's auras? This is just sick!’ It's just an example, but in general, I’ve always found London’s art scene breath-taking: from galleries and museums to independent art spaces. On the other hand, when I lived in Florence, I learned about traditional techniques and art history. I think both experiences have somehow shaped my practice.

where's_the_frame?_young_artist_Paola_Estrella
"A Timeless Parallel"


Your work ranges from paintings to performance. Which media do you gravitate towards more?

Recently, I have found video an excellent resource to combine multiple mediums. It allows me to integrate performance, painting, screen-printing and sound to share stories. I am also curious about video in relation to space; this has led to me to think about installations in which the moving image is the main element of an art piece.


Can you tell us more about your use of references to the female body and femininity? Is it a way for you to critique the mostly patriarchal societies that we live in?

I see the body as a strong tool to express my ideas. I believe the more freedom you have to use, present and expose your body, the more power you have upon yourself. I am aware of the social connotations attached to nudity, but I am not against sexual objectification as long as there is respect. My idea is not to critique patriarchal society directly, but to be curious about gender; what it is, what it means, and what it represents.


Your performance work has a lot to do with the public sphere. Can you tell us more about your ways of adapting in the current situation?

My interest about the public and the private is mainly related to intimacy, what the self and otherness mean and the roles we play while belonging to a society. My attention has shifted towards flatscreen public spaces such as live streaming, social media and video calling platforms. It is of great interest to me to see how some desires can be fulfilled through the virtual and the digital, while others need physical interaction and the presence of the body. In my case some of the desires that can’t be satisfied virtually are to dance collectively to the same music, sex, and looking at a painting. This of course varies from person to person.

where's_the_frame?_young_artist_Paola_Estrella
"A Timeless Parallel"


Do you have any rituals or routines before you start working? A cup of tea? Cigarettes? Or maybe listening to the Carpenters?

The first thing I do in the morning is to check the weekly objectives I write in my calendar, which I follow quite strictly. After, I take Fibonacci, my dog, for a walk while I fantasize about very abstract ideas. When I come back to the studio, I start working after a short meditation.


How has RCA pushed your work to develop further? Are you working on your graduate show? 

During my time at the RCA, I managed to bring together and ground different pathways that I had been exploring for years with the help of amazing tutors. In terms of my practice, having access to high-quality equipment, studios and workshops allowed me to try new things while collaborating with talented people that I’ve learned a lot from.

"Polvos Mágicos"

     

Can you tell us about what we can expect from your work for the White Cube’s ‘Tomorrow: London’ show?

It is a combination of artists that I am excited to be part of. I am showing a video called A Timeless Parallel [that] I worked on during the past year. I’m interested in the fact that reality is also what we don´t know about yet and the artwork I am showing explores that.


Which artist of the past would you most like to meet?

I would have loved to meet Leonora Carrington, and even more, I would have liked to visit her at her home in Mexico City.


During these quarantine months, did you discover a new hobby? Or come up with something creative to solve something?

I am a voyeur, always staring into my neighbours’ windows. During the lockdown, the plot has become more interesting, because everyone’s been in all the time. Fantasy and fiction have been key to me when it comes to navigating the pandemic and maintaining a stable and creative state of mind.


Have you ever encountered anything weird in the streets of London?

Once I found a fox in my backyard and we stared into each other's eyes for a while. It felt as if it was for minutes, but I am sure it was only for a second or two. I was extremely moved, [as] I had never seen a fox before. Later, I found out that it is quite common to find foxes on the streets of London, but still, every time I see one, I find it weird and fascinating. My instinct tells me I should take them home and protect them from the dangers of the city, but I realize they are meant to be unrestrained. To me, that is an interesting metaphor about the price of freedom.

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"Oversharing"

All photos courtesy of the artist.