A Fable Without a Moral

"It is not easy to deal with a subject like prostitution without falling into morbid fascination or sentimentalism. Alejandra Corral pulls it off, by means of a plastic language combining collage, the coldness of spaces, and her scientific approach to the bodies portrayed. Thus the naked essence of any labour relationship is manifested: exchanging life for money." José María Parreño

Walking on two fours

Walking on two fours (fated to become feet) meant that human offspring were born so feeble and underdeveloped that they needed intense care, the likes of which only a mother unconcerned about her own survival could offer. She needed to be maintained by a hunter, and secured this sustenance by exchanging sexual availability for protein. This would lead to the fidelity of couples and, over time, Petrarch's sonnets dedicated to Laura, Rodin's The Kiss ... and The Bridges of Madison County.

As we see, the advent of a sexual economy preceded sexual morality. Even in the 20th century, an economic perspective remains valuable: the extraordinary study by the economist Richard Posner, Sex and Reason (1992), analyses, for example, the differences between a wife and a prostitute in purely economic terms, reaching scandalous conclusions for both moralists and economists alike.

May these lines serve as an introduction to the work of Alejandra Corral. The subject in question is the life of prostitutes, but her point of view shuns cliches, much like Posner, and the ancient primates, did. It is not about objectivity, but rather a mixture of anguish and tenderness that we might call a sense of reality. It is a theme conveyed in successive representation of acts and feelings, without slipping into morbid fascination or sentimentality. The settings are anonymous rooms with cheap furniture that lay bare the essence of any employment relationship: exchanging life for money. The use of collage is striking, combining elements as incongruous as is the decoration in these types of places. But its key hallmark is, undoubtedly, its combination of flat backgrounds and the volumetric technique of its figures, bodies whose reliefs are evidenced by "level curves", as if Alejandra depicted her characters scientifically, stressing their dimension as organisms rather than sentient beings.

And yet, they are, for we are conscious beings for whom all of this –whatever side we are on– is sometimes simply unbearable. But, ultimately, "Every life is lived", as the poet Rilke wrote.
José María Parreño

Mesalinas

Alejandra Corral, alias Kuska, tackles the theme of femininity in its most radical aspect. For the series of prostitutes that can be seen today in the gallery, the bodies of women, always white, are structured by a network of black lines that turn them into puzzles or strange articulated dolls. Installed in a setting composed of cities or modern interiors, with something of a comic and a naïve touch, they wander in a mysterious solitude. It is a nightly city, with a building with straight lines, or a bathroom and its tiled walls or a sleeping room. The representation and the colors used seem of great ingenuity and play with a very illustrative iconography. Collages made from cut-outs of photographs or printed elements, provide a volume, a second layer, which transform the work into a theater stage. These sets and lines that structure them, turn the papers into boxes in which the characters are trapped. We do not see their faces, rather their thick hair. The capture and interpretation of reality are very personal, feminine and particular. A tension is created between the naivete of formal representation and the hardness of the subject. But as we progress through the work, we discover a particularly pleasant sense of humor.

Angels Don’t Fall in Love

The pleasures are an impediment to rational deliberation, and the more so the more pleasurable they are, such as the pleasures of sex – it is impossible to think about anything while absorbed in them. Aristotle
Nicomachean Ethics (quoted in Posner’s Sex and Reason)

It is unusual to find an economist introducing a contemporary painting exhibition. We are usually considered grey and boring people, dedicated to making dubious accounting notes, marketing studies, and selecting stock portfolios, at best. When things take a turn for the worse, our lack of imagination to solve real economic problems is alarming. With so many imaginative limitations, how can an economist be the inspiration for any kind of artistic manifestation? And yet, such is the case, without any doubt, with regards to the work of Alejandra Corral.

Her work, dedicated to the underworld of female prostitution, is mainly inspired by Richard Posner's Sex and Reason, published in 1992. Curiously, the author’s background is not even in Economics, which Posner did not study. Rather, he was a circuit judge of the US Court of Appeals in Chicago, an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago School of Law, and one of the leading figures in the movement relating economic analysis to law. His body of work is immense. Surely the most cited jurist of all time, when one attends one of his lectures, he has the impression of being in the presence of an adult version of that classmate who sat in the front row and answered, without hesitation, all the professor's questions.

As in any work so sweeping in its scope, the criticism of it was fierce; from the philosophical point of view, on the basis of unsatisfactory normative prescriptions (moral neutrality), as normative economics can never replace, it was said, a "complete and just" moral theory. From the economic point of view, criticism focused on Posner's attempt to establish causal relationships between economic variables, using non-experimental data that are also obsolete. Although I can agree with the latter, this has little bearing on Alejandra Corral’s work. Her artistic inspiration is not to be found in moral judgments, whether complete or fair, and much less in the coherence of certain causal economic relations. Since when has art been beholden to reality? In the work she presents today there is no emotional or personal component. Just like a relationship between a bank customer and an ATM, the transaction in question is purely commercial. Hence, her heroines (like the ATM) have no face, or skin, or different pictorial tones. They are mere outlines of unidentifiable naked bodies. However, in all her paintings, the costs and benefits of her protagonists' rational decisions are clearly reflected. The biggest advantage of working alone is not having to share your earnings with anyone else. The associated costs, however, are also high: loneliness, alienation, and social discrimination, possible arrests and mistreatment. And, for many, the impossibility of finding a stable partner allowing them to create a family or, at least, have some alternative professional option when their physical attractiveness wanes. Alejandra's women are always alone in an unshared bed; when they get up, or as they drink a coffee, and also in front of the mirror, struggling to reconstruct, with powders and lipstick, their invisible, faded faces. They are fated to languish in anonymous spaces, reduced to the shadow of a lamp that barely shines. A far cry from the glamour of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, or the joviality of Shirley Maclain, the unforgettable Irma the Sweet, Alejandra's heroines are more akin to the anonymous call girls in the famous A House Is Not a Home, where it is difficult to recognise a very young Raquel Welch. Interestingly, the only face recognisable in the posters for that film was that of Shelly Winters, the madam unable to keep her love when she reveals her profession. If you look carefully at the paintings, you will see that the madam is the only figure whose face Alejandra reveals.

The characters that Alejandra portrays remind me of the sad protagonists of so many popular songs, from Spain's copla to rock, from Concha Piquer, with her wonderful Ojos Verdes (Green Eyes), to Elton John, with his fantastic Sweet Painted Lady.

But, if I had to take just one of them to a desert island, it would be my beloved Serrat and his Carmeta, whose last lines tell [how] ... “she has been withering, day by day, like the old melody that nobody sings any longer, because times change. When you see the old woman and her dog on El Paralelo, talk to her about back then, when, to feel her body, you might have covered her with gold.”
Antonio García-Ferrer Professor of Economic Analysis,
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid