The notion of celebrity is something that seems to pop up a lot in art. People love to see talented people doing what they do best, so portraits of musicians rocking out at concerts or super models simply looking pretty are always popular. Fans also like getting a peek backstage or seeing their idols acting just like any other person, grabbing a bite to eat or going shopping. In our celebrity-obsessed society, tabloid magazines and shows like TMZ are in demand. Yvonne Venegas’ photography is fascinating in that it shows neither typical “behind the scenes” moments nor full on performances. Instead, she eloquently captures the liminal space between takes where the actors simultaneously perform their characters and their true selves. Along with this, she documents the phenomenon of fans who cherish not just the actors or characters, but what those two together represent.
Borrando la Linea, or “Erasing the Line” features photographs of the cast and fans of Rebelde, a Mexican telenovela about a group of teens from a prestigious private school who form a band. The band transcended their on-screen existence and went on to release several albums and tour the US and Latin-America. Much of the music shown used in the series was recorded by the band itself. The line between TV fiction and reality is blurred as fans are able to see their characters in the flesh, and their musical performance is an authentic one, not just a result of TV magic. There is also no distinction between the fans that exist in our world, and the fans that exist on the show (as depicted in several of the photographs). The exhibit features photos taken on the set of the show and during their 2006 US tour.
People enjoy behind the scenes photos of celebrities because it takes them off the pedestal of stardom and makes them more relatable. They are like us after all. Venegas’ Cumpleaños shows us Mia from Rebelde sitting in a hospital visiting her bandmate Miguel for his birthday. The actress looks straight at the camera, and for a fleeting moment of 4th wall breakage we see not the fictional character Mia, but the very real actress Anahi. There is nothing within the frame that would tell us this is a set. We see no lights or cameras or film crew. But in the background the actors are all doing their own thing, waiting for instructions from the director, and as the lead actress looks right at the viewer, we know that this is not an image taken directly from the novela. It is between scenes, it is a space where Anahi sits in Mia’s natural environment, and the photographs presents us with both a fictional world and the real world at the same time.
The line is blurred even deeper in Pelota en el aire (Ball in the air). Here we have a group of teens in school uniforms playing soccer, with a cityscape in the distance behind them. It is difficult to say whether the soccer is part of a scene being filmed, or if this is the cast taking a break from a long day of acting. In fact, removed from the context of the exhibit, one could easily assume the photo is nothing more than a group of school kids playing a game. The celebrity factor is almost entirely removed. Who these people are is left ambiguous, and it is exactly this ambiguity that allows them to be both their true selves and their television selves all at once.
Venegas further complicates the issue of true vs performed identity when she inserts herself into the exhibit. While following the band on tour, she was often confused for her twin sister Julieta Venegas, who is a famous singer. The exhibit features photographs of fans and
professional photographers taking pictures of the artist. In these works, the artist has involuntarily become the celebrity. She inadvertently “performs” as her sister just by being herself, just as the members of Rebelde simultaneously embody two identities.
Borrando la Linea is on view at Shoshana Wayne Gallery until August 23.
Words by Noé Gaytán. *Images courtesy of Shoshana Wayne Gallery.