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A/O (Céspedes Case), 2009-10

Video + Photographs

A/O (Céspedes Case) approaches from a contemporary perspective the life of Elena/o de Céspedes, who was born in Granada and spent his/her life between Andalusia and Castile during the XVIth Century. Assigned female at birth, born to a slave and African mother, Céspedes also inherited slave status. Throughout their life, Eleno managed to emancipate themselves and live as a man, marrying a woman in Church, and working as a surgeon, a job that was reserved for men at the time.

In the film presented here, Alex, our non-binary contemporary character, is traversing the gardens and some spaces of the CAAC Centre for Contemporary Art (located in a Carthusian monastery), trying to find the right locations for a film about Céspedes life. Alex somehow recalls Thomas, the photographer in the film Blow-Up, dressing a similar shirt and trousers and continuously walking around with apparently no clear objective or destination; but at the same time, their Mediterranean and sexually undefined complexion are reminiscent of Céspedes. Antonioni’s film is also an adaptation of Cortázar’s tale Las babas del diablo (The Devil's Drool, translated to English in 1967 as Blow-up), and both narratives confront the space of representation and the photographic device with the gaze, all of them elements that hang over this project.
In A/O (meaning the feminine and masculine endings in Spanish gendered words), Alex starts observing everything around, looking for the best places to fit a story that seems to have been imposed, like any other else. But along the film, our character’s gaze turns more and more introspective, especially when the similarities with Céspedes mestizo identity become increasingly evident for Alex. In this way, two narratives merge in the video, bringing an apparently distant history in time to our present realities. The project suggests different readings about transgender and queer questions in contemporary societies; it also opens a space for reflection about the role that slavery and race have played in the construction of the Spanish identity during its colonial period, pointing at their absence from the space of representation, and offering some clues to explore the modes of construction of our imaginaries. Initially A
/O (Céspedes Case) was designed to include a publication, which finally could not see the light of day, and that would serve as a tool to be used in an educational context (secondary school and university). Three essays to accompany the project were produced for this purpose: a text by Aurelia Martín Casares analyses the situation of slaves in Andalusia during the time when Céspedes lived, another text by M. José Belbel about the bibliography on Céspedes, and finally a survey on the presence of slaves and sexual dissidences in the Spanish pictorial representation by art historian Sergio Rubira.

In 2019, MUAC  (Contemporary Art University Museum) in Mexico City produced a monograph on this project. The publication includes transcriptions of the Proceedings of the Trial of Eleno de Céspedes at the Tribunal of the Inquisition of Toledo by theorist and researcher Israel Burshantin. The book can be downloaded here.

A/O (Céspedes Case)

A/O (Céspedes Case), 2009-10
HD Video, colour, sound, 14’40’’
Video stills


A/O (Céspedes Case), 2009-10
On location shooting set photograph


A/O (Céspedes Case), 2009-10
Inquisition trial records. Spanish National Historic Archive, process photographs


A/O Blow Up #1, 2010
Fotografía color, 150 x 100 cm.

A/O (Céspedes Case), 2009-10
Inquisition trial records. Spanish National Historic Archive, process photographs

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