Lujan Agusti, Un montón de ropa

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2016 (here). Softcover, 52 pages, with 19 color photographs. In an edition of 100 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Un montón de ropa was selected by Eneka Fernández & Mike Fernandez for the 10×10 Photobooks reading room, which recently presented 130 Contemporary Latin American Photobooks published between 2000 and 2016 (here).

Comments/Context: Un montón de ropa (meaning “a pile of clothes” in Spanish) is the first photobook by the Argentinian photographer Lujan Agusti. The central theme of the book is universal and timeless: the relationship between a mother and her daughter. This particular story is told through clothes, which became an essential element in the connection between the artist and her mother. Agusti says that the project began as a desire to escape her daily routine, but it eventually evolved into a kind of catharsis process.

Agusti’s mother was a woman with a strong sense of style, who expressed herself through her impressive wardrobe. Growing up, Agusti was fascinated with all the clothes her mother possessed. Secretly stealing pieces from her mother’s wardrobe and wearing them provided her moments of forbidden joy. So as not to make her mother angry, she tried to hide her dress up games, but obviously her mother always knew.

One day, Agusti accidentally burned a shirt she had borrowed. To avoid a confrontation, she hid it at the very back of her closet, hoping her mother would never find out. She never did. But that incident became symbolic of their relationship and their conflicting connection through clothes. When Agusti’s mother died, all her clothes remained untouched and unworn – the clothes she cared for so preciously about had survived her, suddenly the property of the daughter who had coveted them for so long from afar. In a sense, their meaning had shifted.

Un montón de ropa is a small book with a soft cover. It feels like a hybrid between an intimate family photo album and a fashion magazine, bringing together the two main aspects of the story. Through a small circular cut out on the cover, we see the face of a young woman as she looks straight back at us. She appears in full size when we open the book – she poses in a beautiful long dress at what looks like a fashion show in a public surroundings. This is Agusti’s mother: young, confident, and graceful.

The book creates the narrative by bringing together items from Agusti’s mother wardrobe, like a parade of resonant objects. Each piece of clothing is documented through three images. The individual clothes are printed on a transparent vellum paper, which then lay over photos of Agusti herself as if she “wears” them, almost like interchangeable clothes on a paper doll. These interactions are followed by archival photos of the mother wearing those same pieces: a dress with a floral pattern, an oversized sweater, a t-shirt, a blouse. The spreads show clothes on the left side, and then on the right, there is a silhouette of Agusti, and through it we can see her mother. Presented through these layers of images, along with handwritten notes by Agusti placed between them, the clothes gracefully connect the mother and daughter, both physically and emotionally.

Agusti also wanted her book to have certain physical resemblance to clothing – as an object, its texture and construction have a fragile handmade aspect. The elegantly delicate book uses several types of paper to reinforce the tactile experience; it is also stitched by hand, just like sewing clothes. As a final touch, Agusti slightly burnt the back cover of each book, a final gesture reprising the key moment in the narrative. This year marked 10th anniversary of her mother passing; it is also the year Agusti herself became a mother, so there is yet another personal echo that sounds through the pages.

This photobook is reminiscent of a number of projects published in last year, all by female artists, that use photography to deal with unsettling memories and delicate family stories. The Argentinian photographer Mariela Sancari reconstructed the memories of her father in her book Moisés; the book Ký úc//Memento by Simone Hoang focused on the memories from her early years and addressed childhood traumas; and a book by Ecuadorian photographer Fabiola Cedillo shared the nuanced story of her sister who has Lennox syndrome. All of these projects deal with very personal and sensitive issues, and turn to photography to restore a sense of lost balance. They creatively use the photobook format, each employing very different details, to bravely share their private, and often still unresolved, stories with a wider audience.

Collector’s POV: Lujan Agusti does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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