Rodrigo Rodríguez

these mexico city artists swapped lives for a whole month

Carla Escareño and Andrea Villalón have taken the saying "Mi casa es tu casa" quite literally — trading everything from furniture and food to pets and Spotify playlists.

15 September 2018, 12:16am

Rodrigo Rodríguez

Last month, two Mexico City artists took the saying mi casa es su casa literally. From July 31 through September 3, tattoo artist and designer Carla Escareño swapped houses with Andrea Villalón, photographer, painter, and curator of Concha Eléctrica (Electric Pussy), a digital platform for female-identifying Mexican artists. Their month-long experiment, titled Quiero Ver Como Tú Ves ( I Want To See How You See) was an exploration of what happens when you exchange lives — or at the very least, all the material trappings of a life.

The idea emerged when they discovered that they both owned the same red “popcorn tops” — those bubbly, crinkly, super-stretchy Lizzy McGuire-era shirts. “How much is our identity influenced by the things that surround us?” they wondered. “If we exchanged all of our possessions, would we have an identity crisis?” To find out, they decided to switch apartments and everything inside, from clothes and shoes (coincidentally they’re the same size) to dietary habits and Spotify playlists, and even pets (they’re both cat ladies). “It was all about the simple curiosity of living through the other’s objects,” says Carla.

Photography Beatriz Sokol

There were rules: they could only bring underwear, toothbrushes, and medications along with them. (They kept their own smartphones — because exchanging devices might be more intimate than exchanging underwear, but also because Carla uses hers to coordinate with tattoo clients.) All contact was cut off, and they blocked each other on social media like a couple breaking up, to avoid being reminded of their ‘old lives.’ “The temptation to talk was huge,” says Carla. “This project makes you leave your comfort zone, and communication would have been a safe space for us. It was important to surrender ourselves to the experience.”

Before handing over their keys, Carla and Andrea papered their homes with Post-its explaining the personal history of seemingly mundane objects, and let their landlords know that they would be replaced by a familiarly-dressed stranger for the next month.

“Every morning for the first few days, I’d open my eyes and think, ‘Where am I?’” says Andrea. It’s a phenomenon we’ve all experienced waking up in an Airbnb, but Andrea emphasises that this project wasn’t house-sitting — where you’re the same person just using someone else’s stuff — but rather an attempt to radically alter their patterns.

Photography Beatriz Sokol

“A lot of people asked me what the point was. They said it was like going to a hotel — and at first I thought it would be like that,” explains Andrea. “But hotels are impersonal; Carla’s house wasn’t like that at all. It’s where she grew up, it’s full of her. It’s a space completely saturated with the life of another person, and I immersed myself in it completely.”

“We live in an age when we fetishise objects,” she says. As an exploration of identity construction in a time where we display and disseminate ours through sharing photos of our breakfasts, cats, and shoes, Quiero Ver Como Tú Ves feels like a project tailor-made for social media, and the two kept a joint diary of the entire month on their Instagram account, where friends and strangers watched the month unfold from honeymoon phase to culture shock to acceptance. “After an afternoon nap, I didn’t feel so happy to be here. I cried a bit, had a tantrum by myself, thought about the possibility of talking to Andrea and calling everything off. I thought about my bed, my cats, my smells…” Carla posts early on in the project. “I’m constipated as if I had traveled to another country,” Andrea echoes.

Both dove into the month as kind of artist’s residency, creating work inspired by the move. Andrea’s own apartment doesn’t face the street, so she took advantage of Carla’s big living room windows to stage what she calls an ‘intervention’: “I made huge signs with paper cut into letters stuck to the window so that people below could see them.” One read, “I love the internet but it’s consuming me.” “Being in a new physical space makes the internet feel like my most immediate and familiar home,” she explains on their Instagram.

Photography Carla Escareño

Andrea also constructed dioramas inside Carla’s freezer from found tchotchkes, reflecting on how an object’s significance is transformed by the owner’s personal history. “I spent the month in complete solitude. Normally I don’t have a lot of people coming over, but in my own home with my own things I don’t feel alone; since everything contains a memory, I feel as if I’m surrounded by life, even if they’re just objects. In Carla’s house, without a single thing to remind me that ‘I am me,’ I felt even more alone — but I enjoyed that.” Through Quiero Ver Como Tú Ves, we see homesickness emerge not just as a nostalgia for place, but for our own place within it.

The change in setting inspired Carla to think about shifting perspectives. One day she made herself do everything with her left hand (she’s right-handed) “as a way of empathising with my dad, who lost his mobility due to his schizophrenia medication.” It took four times as long as usual, but she produced a portrait of a man and put out a call to others to recreate the image with their non-dominant hand, which she plans to compile to “see the differences in the perception and intention of each individual.”

She also noticed that every time she took a photo of herself it brought up a flood of childhood memories. “Being in Andrea’s house, my memories are more present, and I automatically try to fill spaces with them, as if that would make the place more mine,” she writes on Instagram. She started reconstructing those memories in photo shoots, including one in which she lies in Andrea’s bathing suit cradling a plastic aquarium lamp. “When I was three, every day for a month I would lay a towel on the floor with my swimsuit and sunglasses on and pretend I was swimming, because I had hepatitis and couldn’t go to the pool with my grandma,” her caption reads.

Photography Carla Escareño

It turns out that the red popcorn top might’ve been the only thing that Carla and Andrea’s closets had in common. Personal style is the frontline of our self-expression with the world, and though the idea of waking up to a whole new wardrobe sounds exciting, the lack of control over their looks was initially rankling for both. “I hardly ever wear jeans or t-shirts and Andrea’s closet pretty much consists of that and baggy dresses that don’t show your shape,” says Carla, whose style is completely opposite; she used to design diaphanous dresses and bralets which display the tattooed canvas of her limbs. “At first I felt like a boy or a depressed old lady, but dressing up in costumes is something that I enjoy a lot at home, and I did the same thing with Andrea’s stuff. My favorite character was a cowboy.” Andrea drinks while she paints. “Yesterday I only drank three of the six beers that I’m supposed to consume daily while I’m here,” the caption reads. “I hope that being a cowboy helps me get drunk while looking at the sky.”

Photography Rodrigo Rodríguez

For Andrea, the swap was less about escape and more about risk-taking. “In Mexico, women can’t dress the way we like because of harassment,” she says. “But Carla shows a lot of skin. Usually my look is really simple, like Steve Jobs dressing the same every day to save time, because I don’t want what I wear to define me, but it took forever getting dressed in Carla’s clothes because she has so many — I didn’t have to wear the same outfit twice the whole month. It was infuriating thinking so much about how I was dressed, and I missed just putting on jeans and a t-shirt, but wearing Carla’s skirts and dresses, I had to show some skin — and after this month, I’m not afraid anymore; I’ve realised that nothing’s going to happen-- OK, someone did whistle at me for the first time in my life...”

The entire experience, says Andrea, was like “spying on someone who knows they’re being spied on and at the same time is spying on you — and you know it, and you let it happen.” But the identity crises they hypothesised at the start never fully manifested. “It was more like a realisation of who we are, as if your whole body pulsates ‘`this is me’ independently of your clothing, house, or routine,” says Carla. “I realised that ‘Carla’ is not going to get lost. I was able to experience the present in the most complete way that I ever have.”

“We construct our identities and materialise them with objects,” adds Andrea. “I used Carla’s shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, socks, makeup, forks and spoons, and I’m definitely not the same person that I was at the start of this exchange. I changed a lot, but all of these changes reaffirmed myself. They made me realise that I’m not any less myself because I don’t have my things or I’m not dressed how I like. Identity is inside; everything else is decoration.”

This article originally appeared on i-D US.