Efecto Secundario | Paloma Castillo: Curator | Leonardo Casas

30 September - 29 October 2022

We know that our whole social language is an intricate system of rhetorical devices designed to escape the direct expression of desires that are, in the fullest sense of the term, unnameable–not because they are ethically shameful (for this would make the problem a simple one), but because unmediated expression is a philosophical impossibility.

Paul de Man

About Efecto Secundario


Efecto Secundario [Secondary Effect] is the title of artist Paloma Castillo's new exhibition of embroideries. Portraiture is the starting point of a visual exploration that captures different paradigmatic figures from the human space and the spiritual realm. Efecto Secundario is constructed on the basis of an argumentative tension between the presence of images inspired, on the one hand, by social actors and, on the other, by archetypal figures. While the former speaks to us from the notion of now, the latter manifests from an evocative will.
The language of embroidery in Paloma Castillo's production unfolds through registers that range from the conceptual to the visual, linking the work to operations of re-signification that can be attributed to pop and surrealism. Constructing this series, the artist drew on imagery from different sources of information and cultural circulation.
The collection of portraits comprising Efecto Secundario has allowed Paloma to construct a visual lexicon articulating the latent narratives present in each of these characters. On one end, a female body set in a natural environment concentrates the history and attributions of many versions of herself throughout an extensive cultural process (Espíritu del Agua, 2022). In another space, a figure holding an everyday utensil between her teeth apparently dialogues with an energy - represented by a hand - demanding her attention (Acción de Dominar, 2022). A trait of Castillo's conceptual operation consists in modulating different rhetorical figures and intermingling linguistic re-signification games with assertive doses of humour.
Efecto Secundario is conceived – through a specific iconographic body – as a conceptual image of a vibrant world in which the wisdom of the past and the utopia of the future intersect, and the current state of affairs is projected towards universality.
In Espíritu del Agua, the central figure is a four-armed female figure seated in a meditative position on a lotus flower. The four limbs recall a Hindu divinity (Krishna? Lakshmi? Shiva?), but, in contrast, her nudity and the Corinthian helmet she wears are reminiscent of Mediterranean antiquity. Two frogs appear from the still water, meticulously and obsessively embroidered. The orange colour of these batrachians tells us they are poisonous. In some pieces from Efecto Secundario, the artist unfolds syncretic universes, where temporalities and contexts can intermingle with suggestive ease. Complementing the stillness of the water that surrounds the mother goddess, Espíritu Tutelar (2022) portrays a sea composed of a dense weft of threads on which, lying on a green plane, we see a figure. The angle at which the figure is presented allows us to imagine that our point of view is aerial; however, it is the crabbed arms that crown him and the difference between face and skin which will make us realise that the figure is wearing a mask. Samurais decorated their helmets with elements from the animal world (deer, birds, crabs) for identification, ornamental and tutelary purposes. These works display a particularity that seems to transcend our earthly plane as if the clichés of popular culture – from which such images are processed and consumed today – have been submerged in the currents of the artist's unconscious, re-emerging steeped in private meanings and associations, which Castillo shrewdly complements through the formal aspects of embroidery. Dozens of sequins are attached to the skin of this floating figure, perhaps in an allusion to the reflection that light on the sea has on flesh.
The wide spectrum of colours that threads offer to the artist's palette allows her to transpose the characters through hues that give them a mysterious physical presence. In some areas within the embroideries, Paloma restricts the colour to only two or three chromatic units to experiment with slight tint changes from one segment to another, achieving a captivatingly dissonant effect. 
The pieces Salgan 1 and Salgan 2 (both 2022) depict faces that emerge toward the viewer. An octopus and a hare are placed ornamentally on the head of each figure. The faces have been moulded and made up in different shades of pink, purple, Naples yellow and grey; the backgrounds are embroidered in shades of blue (Salgan 1) and green (Salgan 2), and the animals in ochre and orange tones. These drastic contrasts lead the pieces to be analysed on three levels. The sobriety of the background and the subtle traces of nature surrounding the characters are emphasised by their mysterious theatricality, radiating a seductive psychological tension. The ominous presence of the creatures suggests a secretive and fascinating connection with the symbolism that certain legends and children's stories attribute to each one: the octopus is presented as a mimetic and ambivalent figure, which foreshadows chaos as it emerges from the depths but, at the same time, guarantees order; the hare – who can live under the thresholds of day and night, and whose senses give it control of space – is related by alchemists to the dynamism and communicative power of Mercury or, as Lewis Carroll did, to the elusive and duplicitous traits of a villain. Whichever the case, the fusion between that playful formality of the possible and the enigmatic expressiveness of the unknown keeps the narrative of these artworks in constant activity.
While the image of animality unfolds out of the mysterious rhetoric of a fantastic narrative, or even from the alchemical iconography, humanity manifests itself through an emotional and introspective dimension. Prejuicio (2022) presents us with a character wearing a blue T-shirt, an aquamarine baseball cap and a necklace of actual beads attached to the fabric with a medallion. Two traits contribute to a disturbing yet fascinating visual organicity. On one level, the character's almost solemn mannerism contrasts with the untidy movement of the pendant around his neck, leading to the sensation of a circular movement. On another level, the skin tone tends to mimic the weave of the base fabric, whose raw material becomes the colour of the face, giving it a ghostly aura.
Efecto Secundario reaffirms the stylistic consistency of Paloma Castillo's art; her field of action is broad and eclectic. The Chilean flag is a recurring device within the artist's immense visual universe. Selfi (2022) is the sole "non-figurative" piece included in the exhibition. Mirrored from its original position, it presents a logo that refers to a well-known social network. Slightly displaced from the centre where one might expect it, the figure is positioned to fill the blue space of the effigy, noticed in the absence of the star. The flag marks the context in which the artist and the artwork are in, but the process of individual and collective identity to which this kind of symbolic construction appeals is universal. Perhaps this link to social media and its corporate logos also constructs an extended relationship with a "non-place". In previous works, Paloma Castillo has intertwined the symbolism and language of social media with images from her own archive. In this sense, Selfi can also be read as a reflection of that contemporary mandate to register significant instances in terms of the perspective of the other or to perceive a chance to deploy our own games of seduction through this participation. Visitors to the exhibition can take a selfie in front of the piece and solve the riddle hidden within the artwork on the screen of their mobiles.
Castillo's symbolist fascination with the decontextualisation and re-signification of unusual images is supreme. Within the images group that serve as references for the piece Brisa Nuclear (2022), the artist based herself on a group of German illustrations of masks for the correction of strabismus that appeared in the late 16th century in an ophthalmological manual. The main figure stands frontally, covering most of the composition's surface. The T-shirt he wears is grey, to which the artist has applied sequins that sparkle and surround a triangle with the nuclear danger symbol, evoking the characters that star in futuristic science fiction stories or even the war scenario that is currently in the headlines.
In Criticism and Crisis, Paul de Man states: "We know that our whole social language is an intricate system of rhetorical devices designed to escape the direct expression of desires that are, in the fullest sense of the term, unnameable–not because they are ethically shameful (for this would make the problem a simple one), but because unmediated expression is a philosophical impossibility".[1] As a whole, the characters that make up the corpus of Efecto Secundario dialogue with the spectator from a possibility of relationships. Paloma Castillo proposes a dynamic process of contemplation composed of accurate figures and precise messages.


Leonardo Casas, artist and academic.
September 2022.

[1] De Man, P. (1972). Blindness and Insight. Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. New York: Oxford University Press.