How Allegra Pacheco’s Art Questions People’s Relationship with Work
Allegra Pacheco, 37, is a Costa Rican multimedia artist. She obtained her BFA in Photography at the School of Visual Arts in New York and her MFA at the Wimbledon College of Arts. Ever since she can remember, Pacheco has always felt a strong connection to art.
“I never chose it. It was what interested me the most when I was a child. It was how I viewed and processed the world. It was how I related to people,” Pacheco said.
That strong artistic passion led Pacheco to discover later in life that, for her, art is an excuse to interact with people that she wouldn’t usually talk to. That is one of the main characteristics of her award-winning documentary film “Salaryman,” which explores the issues of overworking among Japanese salarymen.
“How different can a Costa Rican woman and a Japanese salaryman be? Superficially, we don’t have many things in common. On a human and spiritual level, we’re very marked by our differences,” Pacheco said. “Our general dynamic seeks an excuse to bring us together, and I feel art is that bridge to temporarily suspend those differences.”
Through “Salaryman,” she bridges those differences. She embarked on the adventure of directing and producing the documentary film seven years ago when she constantly questioned why she was working and what price she was paying with a job in fashion post-production and retouching in New York.
She remembers a time in New York when she was overworking to the point of unhappiness. Her job consisted of sitting in front of a computer for ten hours a day six days a week in an office with no light.
That led Pacheco to question whether the idea of pursuing a career as an international artist was correct—whether she had to define her life based on her career as an artist in New York. But then, she encountered a huge challenge: her work visa was denied.
“As it happens many times in life, [the visa denial] was a blessing in disguise. At the moment, I obviously almost died. All my life, my apartment, my boyfriend, my visa. Everything disappeared with the visa, and I was left wondering what I was going to do with my life,” Pacheco remembered. “It was in that space that my interest for “Salaryman” was born.”
After her visa was denied, she jumped on a plane with her savings to Tokyo, Japan. That was the time when she began noticing working men stranded and asleep on the streets of Tokyo. For her, it was not normal to constantly see those scenes, and it awoke her curiosity to explore the issue in a multidisciplinary manner: combining art and documentary film.
The Eternal Student
As a multimedia artist that usually experiments with photography, sculpture, performance, painting, and ceramics, with the documentary, she applied her same methodology of being constant and having concrete ideas while maintaining a role of a student that’s constantly learning.
“I always work with people who have more time and expertise [in their fields] than me,” Pacheco said. “Since I’m someone who works with a lot of mediums and manages different visual or verbal languages, I don’t go as deep as someone who’s a master in just one discipline.”
If you watch “Salaryman,” you’ll understand why she’s a student on an ongoing basis. You’ll see her as a narrator and as one of the main characters who share her story to create a direct connection with the audience. That, for starters, is a form of an artistic performance.
Then, you’ll see her walking around the Japanese men asleep on the streets. She uses a sort of pancake mix to draw white lines around the men to make a statement and convey a shocking message for the metaphor of “corporate murder.”
“When I saw these men asleep on the streets, they looked like dead people, and what killed them was this work system. I wanted to see what was behind that system and how those ideas are forged,” Pacheco said. “I wanted to communicate that without words in a very wide manner without only taking photos.”
The white, powdery pancake mix silhouettes around the salarymen are another example of performance and street art, simultaneously documented as video. Then, as the documentary continues, you’ll notice she has a disposable camera which serves as the photography used for several scenes and photographic documentation.
Another multimedia aspect of her work is when she dives deep into the characters' interviews She uses the characters’ narrative arcs as a tool for them to tell their stories and personal experiences as salarymen or as the relatives of these working men.
Through these stories, she explores the very strong themes of mental health, sexism, and suicide which are all a result of the salarymen’s overworking and burning out. She conveys her characters’ humanity through the exploration of these complex topics.
The Music and Animations
To “alleviate” the painful subjects, Pacheco merged other multimedia elements into the documentary, such as music and animations. The music was composed by U.S. musician James Iha, who’s the guitarist and co-founder of the Smashing Pumpkins.
“Everything I explained to him, he understood perfectly. He’s a very receptive person and translates many concepts, ideas, and feelings into music in an incredible manner,” Pacheco said.
For the animations, Pacheco worked with Slovak artist Ján Ivan. The animations served as a tool to portray the places that the team was not able to access in Tokyo due to legal issues with the companies that the salarymen worked at. Through these animations, a certain feeling of lightness and fun was added to the documentary’s imagery, as well as portraying Japan’s visual richness.
The film premiered in 2021, and it still has a life of its own. Throughout May and June, Pacheco traveled to Japan to showcase the documentary and her solo exhibit, “Dear Salaryman,” which she describes as a “letter” from her to the salaryman. In that exhibition, Pacheco used the objects from her investigation for “Salaryman” and portrayed them in a multimedia manner through sculpture, performance, painting, conceptual art, ceramics, and photography.
“It was time for the film to come to Japan and for me in a personal manner to explore the subject on a more artistic level and in a less cinematographic way,” Pacheco said.
She saw the opportunity to explore those different mediums and ended up having a solo exhibit at the Momo Gallery in Ryogoku, Tokyo, and showcased “Salaryman” at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum and Yu-un Guesthouse, a private museum of the renowned art collector Takeo Obayashi.
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