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Bondage of Passions, 2020
Jacquard textiles, costumes, props, holographic vynil, sound piece

Bondage of Passions offers a speculative vision of Catalina de Erauso, the so-called Lieutenant Nun. In the early 1600s, Erauso escaped convent life in the Basque Country and travelled to the New World, where s/he lived under several male identities and became a ruthless conquistador at the service of the Spanish Empire, obtaining the Pope’s blessing to pursue life as a man.

Larger than life and always on the move, Erauso adopted no less than five names and claimed many more lives before compiling their adventures into a memoir that is the stuff of legend. These voyages feature in the biggest tapestry. Woven on a Jacquard loom, this large-scale textile work has the hallucinatory quality of dreams, offering viewers a rare glimpse into the fears and desires of a contested figure that resists categorisation.

Next to it, a smaller tapestry conjures a feverish vision of colonial encounters. Its title, Abya Yala (in Guna language, “land in full bloom”), refers to a proposed alternative name for the Americas outside of European heritage, used among indigenous peoples. Both tapestries result from collaging archival imagery sourced from historical maps, etchings and colonial art. These feature valuable exports like indigo alongside syncretic motifs typical of Cusco School paintings, such as harquebusier angels armed with Spanish muskets.

These textiles are displayed in custom-built furniture inspired by the history of biombos, a luxury item that developed as an adaptation of Japanese screens in colonial Mexico. Contemporary to the time of Erauso, folding screens demarcate a space of semi-privacy within domestic interiors, creating a more fluid interplay between public and private, dressing and undressing, hiding and being seen.

Sculptures dotted around the space playfully dissect New Spain’s colonial fashion to reflect on the construction of gender and masculinity. Working closely with a cutting-edge laboratory for textile development, metallic yarns have been woven into knitted chainmail, which is then used to sculpt a soft and malleable armour. Exquisitely anachronistic, the costumes and garments combine Baroque style with glitter-drenched queer nightlife.

Assembled from leftover fabrics, an entire series of these sculptures is based on the codpiece, a fashion item that attaches to the crotch of men’s trousers and emphasises male genitalia as a visible sign of social status. Satirically titled On the Dignity of Codpieces —like the imaginary treatise quoted in Rabelais’s 1532 book Gargantua and Pantagruel—, it consists of a grotesque collection of bulging organs, ambiguously reminiscent of vaginal and phallic shapes, which extend into bondage restraints, straps and belts.

The installation is punctuated by vinyl scattered around the works. Acting as annotations within the show, these cut-up fragments reference the official reports (relaciones, in old Spanish) published by conquistadors. Reproduced in holographic vinyl, they acquire a phantasmagorical quality, providing an oblique commentary on the elusive nature of historical knowledge.

Bondage of Passions is commissioned and produced by Gasworks, London. 19 May – 4 July 2021. For more information about the exhibition please visit: https://www.gasworks.org.uk/exhibitions/mercedes-azpilicueta/

Public Programme
Erauso: The Inner Experience
Video essay
A letter to the artist by archivist and curator Verónica Rossi, presented in dialogue with a roaming gaze across the tapestries featured in the exhibition.

Link to The Inner Experience: https://www.gasworks.org.uk/events/erauso-the-inner-experience-2021-06-02/

Weaving Past and Future: Panel Discussion
Podcast
A panel discussion about Catalina de Erauso and the construction of history, with literary historian Amaia Alvarez-Uria, archaeologist Sergio Escribano-Ruiz, and art historian Haizea Barcenilla. 

Link to Weaving Past and Future: https://www.gasworks.org.uk/events/weaving-past-and-future-panel-discussion-2021-06-16/

Bondage of Passions: Ode
Friday 25 to Sunday 27 June, 12-6pm
A site-specific sound installation by writer and composer Ella Finer that re-imagines Azpilicueta’s tapestries as portals made of speaker cloth.

Link to Ode: https://www.gasworks.org.uk/events/bondage-of-passions-ode-2021-06-25/

List of Works

1. The Lieutenant-Nun Is Passing: An Autobiography of Katalina, Antonio, Alonso and More, 2021. Jacquard tapestry (Merino wool, cotton, metallic yarn), 160 x 400 cm. 

2. Abya Yala (Tierra Madura), 2021. Jacquard tapestry (Merino wool, cotton, metallic yarn), 160 x 200cm.

3. The Delinquent Breeches, 2021. Textile sculpture (Merino wool, cotton, wool felt, wood), [X] cm.

4. The Trans-forming Armour, 2021. Textile sculpture (wool felt, viscose, metallic yarn, mannequin torso, holographic paper, wood), [X] cm.

5. On the Dignity of Codpieces, 2021. Series of sculptures made from leftover fabrics (wool felt, Merino wool, cotton, viscose, metallic yarn, holographic vinyl, cord), various dimensions.

6. Relaciones peligrosas, 2021. Holographic vinyl, variable dimensions.

Acknowledgements

Studio coordinator: Angeliki Tzortzakaki.
Archival research: Verónica Rossi.
Textile production: TextielLab, Tilburg.
Costume assistance: Darwin Winklaar, Laura Fernández Antolín.
Vinyl design: Vanina Scolavino.
Special thanks: Iratxe Jaio, Claudia Pagès Rabal, Ohad Ben Shimon.

Mercedes Azpilicueta’s exhibition is commissioned and produced by Gasworks.

Gasworks commissions are supported by Catherine Petitgas and Gasworks Exhibitions Supporters.

Commissioning partners and exhibition supporters: