The artistic tradition of the Basque Country is characterised by the production of sculpture in minimalist registers and forceful work with materials and forms. Ana Laura Aláez belongs to a generation of Basque artists who have also used sculpture as a means of expression. These artists have been strongly influenced by the Basque tradition, but have also gone beyond it and sometimes turned away from it, choosing new forms more in tune with the contemporary world. This is the case with Mujeres sobre zapatos de plataforma, a work which to a great extent sums up Aláez’s artistic concerns. The piece consists of six women’s hats suspended in space, in the same vertical plane as six pairs of platform shoes placed on the floor. These are recycled objects, items of clothing that the artist has repaired or even made from scratch. They are do-it-yourself objects, the kind made by a dressmaker, or as people used to say, ‘needlework’. The piece is made up of ‘women’s needlework’, products that occupy the place of sculpture but stand out for their fragility as non-durable objects. Aláez challenges the status historically attributed to the work of art by exhibiting objects of little value, items connected with activities that are disparaged by Art with a capital A (and also associated with women), because they are objects that belong to fashion, to what is futile and ephemeral, not to what is unchanging and enduring. However, what is really striking about this work is that, apart from in the title, there are no women to be seen anywhere. Only their traces remain: the hats and the shoes. Or perhaps we are mistaken, and although the body is not there, women are. For Aláez the body is merely a support for artifice, and that artifice is what she shows us. Through clothes we represent ourselves; they are the medium through which we shape our identity. In a way, showing only the clothes and not the bodies is a way of showing the identity we manufacture in its naked state. Aláez has stated that clothing is the medium with which we ‘strengthen our squalid presence’. And that is exactly what happens in this piece, in which presence is so squalid that it is not there at all, and only the strengthening elements remain. Mujeres sobre zapatos de plataforma could be interpreted as a kind of contemporary vanitas, though in a positive sense. The way the items are presented suggests a celebration of life rather than a pessimistic message. The hats and shoes appear as items that give meaning to life. They are the only objects we can safely cling to, and they invite us to celebrate what is positive in the banal.
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