By Allen Frame
For Juan Betancurth, common ordinary objects are charged; he transforms and recontextualizes them, imbuing them with provocative associations of psychosexual content. Growing up in Colombia in a large family of 8 children, as number 7 of 8, he had a certain freedom in which to imagine and observe. His parents were characters worthy of García Márquez: the mother, “expert at devising punishments for her many children,” and the bisexual father, his wife a muse whose image he controlled, styling her hair and makeup before parties.
In 2012 Betancurth sent his close friend, the photographer Benjamin Fredrickson, on a mission: to go to Colombia to Juan’s parents’ village and photograph his mother interacting with a set of sculptures he had made for her. Juan himself had not visited there in 8 years. Fredrickson, speaking no Spanish, and Juan’s mother, speaking no English, established a rapport and worked together for a week. Fredrickson doesn’t approach photography the easy way: he photographed her with large format Polaroid film, and except for one picture in which Juan’s father is standing behind her, the father does not appear. This project is an homage to the mother, or, an investigation into her impact on the psyche of her artist child. The mother as father’s muse is stolen back as the son’s muse through a strategy involving the surrogate participation of a photographer friend.
Betancurth’s mother embraced the opportunity, relating to Fredrickson, who has a very warm and easygoing personality, as if he were her son come back. She handles and poses with the sculptures as if they were her own assortment of domestic tools, handy objects for her vanity or kitchen cabinet. Her performance with them is private, intimate, and brooding; the sculptures Juan has made for her feel erotic and menacing. They have the familiarity of household objects but the eroticism of fetish toys. And overseeing the encounter remotely from New York, the artist maintains a critical distance that allows him to go to the heart of a primal story.