Through still photography, moving image and installation, photographic artist Natasha Caruana delves into narratives of love, betrayal and fantasy, taking an autobiographical approach which plays out in a performative and playful nature.
In 2012, for example, she spent eighteen months going on 80 dates with married men, never really being able to take more than a couple of images at a time on a disposable camera to ensure her dinner date did not get suspicious – this culminated in the Married Man series. In her later work Fairytale for Sale, Caruana explored the strange ritual of newlyweds blocking out their faces in online adverts: a visual tool for questioning how today’s technology impacts relationships. While turning the camera onto her own relationships, in 2015 she created the series At First Sight in an attempt to visually express her love for her husband and muse Simon, capturing emotions widely seen as internal and indescribable.
Caruana now lives and works in Margate with Simon and, Suki, their one-year-old. As well as juggling her artistic career and parenting, she is the founder of Work Show Grow and a Senior Lecturer of Photography at the University of the Arts London.
This Saturday, Caruana will be participating in the symposium: (Re)Production: Parenthood and the art world. Supported by Arts Council and organised by artist Andrea Allan, invited speakers will give a talk each week over the month of May, discussing how artists who are also parents/carers can balance and sustain their professional and personal creativity and the demands of a family. The symposium seeks to open a dialogue that broadens the definition of ‘artist-led’ and explores cross-pollination between the ‘artist-led’ organisations and arts institutions in the context of practitioners who are also parents. Caruana will be speaking with writer and art critic, Hettie Judah, founder of the online platform, Artist Parents, and author of How Not to Exclude Artist Mothers (and other parents).
In light of her discussion this Saturday, we spoke with Caruana to learn more about her creative practice, how she navigates the parenting/work balance, her upcoming talk at Photo London with curator Fiona Rogers, and her participation in the Atlanta Science exhibition HOOKED.
Lara Monro: You’re taking part in the (Re)Production: Parenthood and the art world symposium talk series this Saturday discussing how artist parents balance and sustain their professional and personal creativity and the demand of the family, can you talk us through how you personally navigate the two?
Natasha Caruana: It’s definitely a completely different sort of juggle. The demands are constant and it’s still a new adventure I’m trying to figure out. During my daughter’s first year I’ve focused on having a good mindset, reminding myself daily that it’s a period of time I won’t get back and the sleepless nights won’t be forever. It’s made me slow down and lean into more of a period of reflection. Some days I’ve had times mourning the long studio periods I used to immerse myself in, but then I have a cuddle or watch a first step and it’s all OK.
I’m excited to be part of the (Re)Production: Parenthood and the art world, as the series hopes to open a dialogue into how the art world can do more to support mothers and caregivers. I’ve also been a long supporter of the work of Hettie Judah so it will be a real treat to discuss my new motherhood with such a pioneer in the field.
LM: With the last question in mind, how did you find exhibiting two solo shows this year, and can you please give me some context around their themes?
NC: Both the exhibitions focus on the messiness of love, a subject that I’ve been fascinated by throughout my career. It’s led me to investigate science, married men, muses, love at first sight and the symbol of the wedding ring. The work is all born from personal experience and I very much take the audience on a journey which can sometimes be uncomfortable. Alongside having a new baby it’s been one of the busiest periods of my career as due to covid shows were rescheduled. I returned to France to work with the curator François Cheval and Yasmin Chemali, who is the director of the new Mougins Centre of Photography. My exhibition, A Lover’s Discourse, was a first survey show and brought together eight series from the very start of my career to date. It was quite emotional putting this together – [laughs] or maybe it was the sleep deprivation! – but it really felt like having all your old friends together in one place from The Other Women I made in the final year of my degree up until my recent work Muse on Muse.
The second show is still running at Les Arts au Mur Artothèque de Pessac, Bordeaux and includes a newly-commissioned work Together at Last, which explores all the ups and down along the journey to get to the place I am now.
Natasha Caruana, Fairytale for Sale (2012)
LM: You will also be in conversation with Fiona Rogers as part of this year’s Photo London, can you provide some insight into what you will be discussing?
NC: I’m so excited about this upcoming conversation, it feels a very important conversation to be having with Fiona in her new role as the Parasol Foundation Curator of Women in Photography at the V&A. I’m hoping her appointment marks a moment of change within the photography world, bringing more visibility, support and money to women – there is still too much gender inequality within the arts across collections, solo shows and auction prices. We will also discuss the importance of support and collaboration drawing from the experience of both founding important communities / grass-root platforms: myself Work, Show, Grow and Fiona Firecracker.
LM: Are there any galleries/photographers you are particularly excited to see at this year’s fair?
NC: It’s always an electric mix at the fair and every year I enjoy seeing my favourites under one roof but also discover new galleries and new collections. This year I can’t wait to see the display of James Hyman gallery who will be presenting a major solo show of over fifty rare portraits of the Countess of Castiglione from the 1850s to the 1890s; she was a pioneer of performative self-portraiture and fashion photography. To get up close to this collection previously hidden within family archives for years will be very exciting. And to think that they are for sale is extraordinary.
I’m also looking forward to seeing Hi-Noon, which is an artist-led platform for curated photographic works founded by Sophy Rickett, Rut Blees Luxemburg and Brenna Horrox. I’m keen to see the new collaborative work of Yushi Li and Steph Wilson.
An international favourite is Galerie Les filles du calvaire. The works are always sensual and impeccably presented. Much like closer to home London-based Roman Road, I remember going to their very first exhibition and it just felt so different. They have kept up the same energy and the work is always very contemporary and experimental. I’m also looking forward to seeing the latest work by Alix Marie.
Lizzie, from the series The Other Woman (2005)
LM: Can you name any other international fairs that you love for their impressive roster of photographer’s and galleries?
NC: Paris Photo is a great one, it takes place every November in the iconic Grand Palais. Last year was brilliant weather, yes, it was cold, but the sky was blue and the sun shone all week and it meant all the fringe events around the fair were really buzzing, Throughout the whole city there are so many outdoor exhibitions taking over railings, shops and smaller galleries. A personal favourite pop-up event is Polycopies, a small boat on the river Seine which crams in a global collection of independent publishers selling photo-books and zines.
Around the same time is Miami Beach – Art Basel – if you’ve ever offered the opportunity to attend, it’s a must! It’s an amazing spectacle not just for the art but also to watch the people, fashion and hand bag dogs taking over the wide Miami boulevards. On top of that, it’s set against the backdrop of warm sandy beaches. What’s not to love. In both these examples it’s not just about the roster of blue-chip galleries inside the commercial fairs but all the eccentric mix of artist-led and fringe events that pop up around it. I find the most impressive part of fairs is that you never know what you’re going to see or what late night party you’ll find yourself at.
LM: And your work will also be shown in Atlanta this year…
NC: Yes, my work Divorce Index will be part of the upcoming group show HOOKED curated by Hannah Redler and Floyd J. Hall. The exhibition explores the processes of addiction and recovery through many lens, and my work explores an addiction to finding the perfect ‘love’. An unrealistic ideal we are primed with from early years watching Disney cartoons and reading fairytales. The work also discusses how destructive addiction can be on couples, partners or other family members who can be removed to the sidelines as they watch a loved one take a darker and darker turn.