Recently, I met with photographer, Felipe Vasquez. He gave me a peek at his newest project, Soliloquy, and we discussed love, vulnerability and possession. A photograph from each chapter of Soliloquy is included throughout the interview, the other images can be found at his website.To see more of his work, check out his instragram account @amphibian06.
Phillip M. Miner (PM): It's called Soliloquy. A soliloquy is a conversation, what conversation were you having?
Felipe Vasquez (FV): Traditionally, a "soliloquy" is sort of like a monologue, only that it functions more as an inner conversation, rather than a speech to an audience. I titled it this because the project works to me almost as a play. It is staged into chapters; each as a buildup to a new scenario. I worked on every segment in a stream-of-consciousness manner and later grouped them into a more cohesive storyline.
The narrative explores the mental, physical and emotional effects of spirit possessions by creating a comparison to the act of falling in love; drawing upon a series of self-portraits that illustrate the notion of succumbing to the presence of another being, human or otherwise, to the point of absolute self-abandonment.
Soliloquy reflects my relationship experiences with men and how they've affected my life. But also, the more universal idea of commitment and how we can give in so selflessly and lose control over ourselves at such extremes.
PM: I think possession is an appropriate way to think about love.
FV: It's a nihilistic way of thinking about it. I was talking to a friend and he said, "It's interesting that you see love in that way because to me, it's not about giving in entirely and becoming taken. It's more about giving and receiving."
Love, obviously, as any other aspect of the human experience, has many sides to it. We all navigate through life differently and bring in and take away things from one another, but I also think that love, in particular, is a tumultuous experience that is universally encountered in extremes. It is something we can all relate to.
PM: Looking at it, the narrative focuses on the darker side of love.
FV: It definitely derived from a dark backbone. When I began working on the series, I was in quite a harrowing mindset. I was full of anger and anxiety and the focus became figuring out a way to transfer all that negativity into a substantial body of work. The references that were coming to me came from media that explored the brutality and the agony but also the tenacity of humanity. As I was going through the process, however, I determined I didn't want the series to be so one-sided and I needed to give it a broader range.
Eventually, the pace became more organic and I included segments that would work as breathing time from all the tension. "Purification," for instance, represents the idea of water cleansing a moment of sudden inhibition. While "Ascent" carries on that sense of relief by expanding on the cool tonality of its imagery. These two chapters are placed in the beginning of the series, as I wanted to provide the narrative with a sense of irregularity -- a path that doesn't run linearly, but rather erratically, to then pick up on a very chaotic speed to its climax. The way human relationships often function.
Prior to Soliloquy, I was coming out of some poisonous relationships that felt like a cycle where one bad situation could only be fixed by a worse one. This is undoubtedly the most autobiographical project I have ever created.
PM: You mentioned references. Who inspired you while you were creating this.
FV: Music is vital to me. It has always helped me solidify concepts and establish accurate emotive outputs within my creative process. With Soliloquy, I was inspired by the ferocious voice and compositions of Diamanda Galás and Margeret Chardiet's gorgeous noise project, Pharmakon. But even more so, by the work of Austrian artist, Soap&Skin, whose emotionally charged music has served as a catharsis during some of the darkest periods I've endured.
I'm also very much influenced by film. I consider Lars Von Trier to be the greatest filmmaker of our time -- a true storyteller unafraid to expose the vast spectrum of the human experience, and in this particular case, his film Antichrist was a big influence as was Andrzej Żuławski's Possession.
I admire Matthew Barney and Marina Abramović because of their ability to use the corporeal to emote a large range of subjects. Barney's take on sexuality, mythology, metamorphosis and the definition of gender, played a crucial role on the development of this series. While Abramović' courageous and relentless use of her body as a form of expression, has consistently motivated me to challenge my own endurance and to eloquently channel that energy into art.
The most important aspect about the process of making Soliloquy was to pursue the idea of emotional transcendence through physical stimuli. Each time I entered the "stage," I made it my ultimate objective to engage in situations where my body would be pushed to its limits. To access a place of exhaustion where the performance would deliver a moment of true emotional consumption.
PM: Do you think being gay in a society that only recently accepted our relationships impacts our ability to have functional relationships?
I have experienced that in New York City things are enhanced and multiplied and more intense than they are in many places -- I'm going to dare to say that. But I think in terms of relationships, you bring into this territory that is tricky as it is, every insecurity and fear that you have gathered in life. Most homosexuals grow up in an environment where it isn't okay to be who you are. So you grow up with guilt and a burden that you now also have to balance with your partner's. That, in addition to the baggage that society puts on us by telling us who to love and how to love them, becomes a very difficult dynamic.
This series is not exactly about identifying self-loathing or analysing my orientation, but my sexual-identity is as much a part of who I am as everything else. And though in my case this signifies being a homosexual, it is more so about general sexuality -- the concept of carnal desire; the roles of dominance and submission; the heighten stages of euphoric romance, but also the voluminous depravities and the extents we can reach when we are overpowered by our feelings.
PM: It feels to me that there's a lot of vulnerability with this series.
FV: I knew from the beginning that I was going to bare it all with this project. I've done a lot of self-portraiture in the past that involves costumes and elaborate settings made to disguise my identity. With Soliloquy, I wanted a black backdrop that would set everything in a limbo, undefined and deserted, and therefore, place the spotlight solely on the character. The nudity was important to represent vulnerability and to emphasize on the primitive aspects of the human body.
There is a piece called "Seed," where I'm covered in black, coarse hair. It is a point in which I wanted to highlight this concept of the body acting against you and literally bringing you to your knees under the presence of a higher power. At the end of this sequence, the character is licking the ground -- embodying a sort of "master and servant" ideology where the struggle is both something tortuous and enjoyable; love being a difficult endeavor, sometimes devastating, but one that we also long for even at its darkest. The most vulnerable place a human being can be in.