In her collection “Constructal”, the embroideries of the Chilean artist Juana Gómez reproduce an invisible system which is essential to life and that every human being has in common: the anatomic system.
Her detailed work helps us to revise the composition of the human body and to remind us that our organs are precious and that we should take care of them and respect them.
Gomez uses bright threads to embroider nerves, veins, muscles and other parts of the human body on pictures printed on black and white textiles. In the piece above, the circulatory and lymphatic systems stand out as if the embroideries and the canvas were two overlaid layers which, with an transparent effect, were unveiling our body.
These pieces are carrying a message: they remind all human beings that their body is not a machine (yet).
What is your creative process?
I had the feeling that a certain correlation between our environment and our body existed. I studied thousands of anatomical illustrations and I realised that the anatomical model was either stuck in the 1940s (or earlier), or was represented by a 3D digital model and I wanted to give another representation of the anatomical model, the model of a regular body type women with tattoos. This is how I started to photograph my body following the model, then I did some tests on Photoshop and I realised that something had changed. I did some searches before finding the impression system on natural canvas.
Once the photograph is printed on the canvas, I draw the different systems and finally, I embroider them to give them life, volume and colour.
What is your background?
Even though I studied Art at Santiago, I didn’t follow the regular path, I didn’t feel the necessity of explaining things. I imagine this was due to a mix of insecurity, fear of the other and of losing control.
I have always thought things shouldn’t be half done, that is why it took me some time before finding another way, which is difficult because you are aware that you are getting away from the others and sink into thoughts that you cannot share when the answer can come at any moment.
I have always lived with my mom and my grandma and I have embroidered all my life. When I started this collection, I realised that I was only repeating things I had learned almost by osmosis. I embroidered at high school and during my art studies and I am now embroidering it with the intention of giving tangible form to our inner world.
What has our nervous system in common with the veins of a leaf, the river’s course or the Internet connections?
The structure of its flow. This is what I study and try to clarify with the “Constructal” collection, which I named after Adrian Bejan’s theory. He is physicist at Duke University and explains that the way that living systems (animated by flows) maximize their resources and generate the characteristic form of a tree on different levels of the organic and inorganic world. We can find this arborescence in the city traffic, our lungs (the respiratory tree), galaxy clusters or even in the electron flux which supplies our brain. As human beings, we are completely immersed and supported by this model and unconsciously externalise this arborescence.
Werner Heisenber pronounced this sentence which, I think, sums up what I am trying to explain: “The same organizing forces that have shaped nature in all her forms are also responsible for the structure of our minds”.
What is your relation with your body? Do you listen to your body attentively? Are you a keen on alternative medicines?
Not really, I use them when necessary. Last time I had to see a doctor, it was for an acupuncture session to treat back pain. I spend a lot of time in the same position when I embroider and since I was studying the meridians, I thought it was an opportunity to see needles from another point of view.
As far as I am concerned, I see yoga as a very important key and mind-body connection. I think it is a truth and a language revealed to people. I also think it is important to live with a certain detachment not to be prisoner of the natural or salutary. We should overcome our neurosis and thirst for control for what is “salutary”.
What do you answer to people who see tattoo as an alteration of nature?
Human people live degrading nature, which deteriorates with any objection. For a Sikh person, cutting his/her hair can be interpreted as an alteration of nature. Everything depends on the cultural filter you grow up and live with.
Tattoo, decoration and body painting are very old practices which go back to the story of mankind. Those rituals are steps. I understand that some people see them as an alteration of nature, but I can also see the fact of wearing spike heels (which provoke foot and spinal column pains) as a real torture. Our judgment depends on the filter we use.
Your work is a mix between nature, biology and art. Are you a biomimetics enthusiast?
I didn’t know this term, but yes, I love to observe nature: not only flowers, clouds, rain or rainbows but also insects, droughts, earthquakes… Animals feed on tearing each other apart so I think we need to see both sides of the coin to understand our own nature. One of the big truths I observed is that nature feeds on what is dead just like plants indifferently grow back from what is dead. There is no separation between good and bad and this is a key idea.
I have the chance to have some good friends who are biologists and help me in my searches. One of them is Tomás Egaña and has just created a HULK skin (HULK is a German acronym for “Hyperoxie Unter Licht Konditionierung”). Just like plants, it is a photosynthetic skin, which generates oxygen while it is in the light. I went crazy when I heard about this invent, it is an evolutionary leap, almost science fiction.
I have seen a lot of insect pictures on your Instagram. Do you plan to use them in your next embroideries?
I spend a lot of time in the mountains. Chile is surrounded by the Andes Mountains and there is still a big variety of insects. Insects are a terrifying part of nature that we have to learn to love. They have this extraordinary beauty and symbolize darkness and subconscious. We should learn to embrace them because they are meaningful and they are real guides to our own lives. They may appear in my work again.
Do you have a favourite moment to embroider? What do you do when you are not embroidering?
I prefer not to embroider during very long period because my body and my head are tired. I only do long sessions when the delivery date approaches. But my body is exhausted, especially my elbows and knees; so I try to organise my work into several smaller sessions.
While working, I only have my ears left, so suddenly I raise my head, I listen to music and I can also have a conversation. Sometimes I listen what is happening around me and when I can, I try to meditate while embroidering.
I read you love literature. Who are your favourite authors?
Literature is fundamental; it is an ocean of ideas and answers. My favourites are: Tao Te King translated by Gastón Soublette, but I also love Pascal Quignard, Benjamín Labatut, William Blake, Violeta Parra, Baudelaire, Lewis Carroll, Allan Poe, Antonin Artaud… I have just read The Savage God by Al Álvarez, that is a wonder in which we understand the idea I was trying to explain with the tattoo, what we consider wild or “sin” are judgments, which depend on our socio-cultural condition. Mourir de penser by Quignard is also a jewel of literature.
Do you have any exhibitions planned this year?
I am participating in two collective exhibitions in Chile. The first one takes place in the MAVI museum in Santiago, the other is in Talca university. It is a joint exhibition with about seventy Chilean artists. The opening ceremony of my individual exhibition “Constructal” is planned for April at the Isabel Croxatto gallery, in Santiago.