Contemporary Bricolage / The illusion

The street is a semantic rhizome, a physical labyrinth, a mental path and it is, above all, the space where marginal existences intersect. Sometimes, these stocks are knotted together without a precise reason, linking with an invisible and strong nylon thread; they mark each other reciprocally, evaporating existing gender, class, and language differences. Because the street, like an infinite container, collects, concentrates and brings together the entire existential prism, evidencing it in an optical filter and rearticulating it in a new uncontrollable and unrepeatable order, like a Euclidean geometry that, however, leaves room for the charm of surprise and the wonder of stupor.

Karina’s Day (The Illusion)

Concept and direction: Matilde Marín
Edition: Daniela Muttis
Photography: Matilde Marín
Soundtrack: Nicolás Diab
Performance: Karina Miño
Format: MP4
Codec: H264
Dimensions: 1920×1080
FPS: 25
Sound: Stereo
Running time: 6 minutes
Buenos Aires, 2004

Concept of the video

The video depicts the performance of a real inhabitant of Buenos Aires, called Karina. She travels the city selling self-made dolls that are used to make soap bubbles. The ‘illusion bubbles’ fly over a city with all its contrasts. The video is conceived without an accurate idea of space and time.

Contemporary Bricolage
Authors: Adriana Lauría, Teresa Macri, Pastor Mellado, Buenos Aires, 2005

De Natura (altered zone)
Curated by Mercedes Casanegra, Cronopios Room, Recoleta Cultural Center, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2008

La Metáfora del Arte
Elena Oliveras, Planeta libros, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2021

For a new sensibility

Teresa Macri, a dialogue with Matilde Marín

Teresa Macri: What influence do new digital technologies -photography, video-installations- have on your latest search?

Matilde Marín: I think that new technologies work like a circle or labyrinth, if you don’t go through them you can’t tell if they work or not. For those of us who are trained with matter, the transition towards disassociation from direct work at the moment of creation supposes a conceptual change. The reflection begins conceptually and this is the change experienced in recent years and its challenge.

I accept the advent of new technologies and their close relationship with contemporary art in two directions: one is the formal facilitation of the artist’s work and the other -really its most important aspect- is the “possibility” of reflecting on the image from a different site. This is the contribution that most interests me and its likely influence on my work. The new technologies propose different forms of representation and if one is “alert” they become an introduction to another understanding of the meaning of art.

TM: Osvaldo Soriano wrote that “Memory makes everything grow”. What stratum is your subjective memory in?

MM: There are many memories, cultural, historical, political-cultural, even computers. My subjective memory, the one that interests me, the one that grows and appears as a theme in my work, is what I call “man’s internal memory”. It is an active memory. The series “From the wall”, “Fragment of the initial gesture” and “Playing hands” have started from that memory.

TM: How is the present related to memory and becomes a narration of reality?

MM: I am interested in the capacity of the memory that works and is transformed in the intersection of personal memory with historical-cultural records; the memory that is not just a memory, so that it can be transformed into a real gesture. With memory you cannot achieve an art action.

TM: Okwui Enwezor, director of the latest edition of Documenta, maintains that in the show “the actuality of what exists is developed as a representative necessity on a symbolic and sociological level.” Do you think this is an essential imaginary projection for contemporary art?

MM: It is a question that is part of the current debate. Contemporary art has become a necessary window to produce that projection that Enwezor talks about, I think this is in the process of development. If what exists has surpassed representation, art must recover the capacity to question and transmit. Today many artists reflect in their works the transformations of the social and cultural environment, reality passes to the symbolic plane to be transmitted in another way. It is the image of the witness artist. As an artist one can choose to produce works without context or works that reflect a commitment to the present. I prefer this second option.

TM: The process of globalization itself has an ambivalent development: it gives visibility to extra-Western cultures but, on the other hand, it standardizes them. What is your opinion about this risk?

MM: I have been traveling around Latin America for a long time and have been seeing the effects of globalization in many of its cities, in the supplanting of handcrafts and in the slow erasure of many of its cultural marks. Globalization has made us live in an unprecedented way in the history of humanity; the speedy stories of information, the depersonalization of cities through the effects of global advertising images. It is a phenomenon still unfathomable before which we are unprotected. It is an evilly seductive event, although it is impossible to know which values will end up transcending.

TM: What reflection exists in the artistic imagination about the conflictive political and economic situation in Argentina? What debates has this situation provoked in your work?

MM: The current political-economic conflict in my country has given rise to a marginal movement that could be referred to as “street art”, it is something that is taking shape, that is on its way. Elsewhere, what has generated me as an artist is the need to deepen reflection and leave some personal testimony of this unprecedented moment in the country. I remembered a phrase from Shakespeare -“Working on the peace of the present”- that had been the subject of an exhibition of mine several years ago and I gave it the form of a video. I used the gaze of multiple people that I picked up on the street as witnesses to this desire and this moment.

TM: The philosopher Giorgio Agamben sums up the present by pointing to it as the time of the “coming community”. It grants representativeness to the community: is this the displacement towards where the artist has to project his own search for it?

MM: When we started the century I thought that it should be the moment of solidarity, that it was the only thing that could provide us with a well-conceived life. Perhaps the community is a possible place from which to rebuild the texture of a new sensibility.

Teresa Macri
Roma, 2002

Karina, the place of imagination

The street is a semantic rhizome, a physical labyrinth, a mental path and it is, above all, the space where marginal existences intersect. Sometimes, these stocks are knotted together without a precise reason, binding with an invisible and strong nylon thread; they mark each other reciprocally, evaporating existing gender, class, and language differences. Because the street, like an infinite container, collects, concentrates and brings together the entire existential prism, evidencing itself in an optical filter and rearticulating it in a new uncontrollable and unrepeatable order, like a Euclidean geometry that, however, leaves room for the charm of surprise and the wonder of stupor.

Matilde Marín, probably, has extemporaneously experienced the charm of surprise and the wonder of stupor in the unruly space of the streets of Buenos Aires, in the frenzy of the indistinct crowd and in the routine of everyday life. In the destabilizing uncertainty of the economic recession and the savage devaluation, like a spell from a story from another time and with the conceit of contemporary chaos, the same paradoxical and creative Argentina has reinvented new forms of informal, transitory and clandestine economy -absolute, desperate and emergency-, sometimes individually and, most often, from enclaves of the disinherited. But, in this precipitous but announced national bankruptcy, the space of invention has not given in to the loss of hope and a feeling of necessary illusion has canceled the sense of despair.

In this street space, precisely, Marín has perceived a new symbol, as an eidetic and prophetic image, or rather, as the umpteenth paradox of his vituperate Argentina. An absurd and chimerical symbol like the dreamlike glaciers of Patagonia, but humid like the pampas. An unprecedented paradox that distances itself from and contrasts with the frenetic and perennial “tangueros” that burst and turn in the streets of Buenos Aires, indifferent to the sharp and stupid flashes of European tourists in search of stereotypes and sensations of ethnic marketing. A fetish of an economy sunk under the blows of an indigestible neoliberalism of “pizza with champagne” and reincarnated in the illusion of a deflated economic boom in the bitter consciousness of decadence.

In this disaster accumulated by different generations, Karina -the displaced person who circulates through the streets of Buenos Aires, offering dolls made by herself that serve to blow soap bubbles- is the paradigmatic image of that society of uncertainty that the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has glimpsed as a paradigm of postmodern fear.

“Instead of prompting a rapid adjustment of administrative policies, fear due to lack of certainty compels the individual to a frantic effort of self-formation and affirmation. The uncertainty must then be overcome by one’s own means; the insufficiency of explanations and external remedies must be compensated by what can be built autonomously. At this point, the failure or impossibility of carrying out the self-formation process generates what we can call fear of inadequacy, a new distressing fear destined to replace the preceding fear of deviation. A postmodern inadequacy, which leads to the inability to acquire the desired shape and image, whatever they may be, to the difficulty of always keeping in motion and stopping at the moment of decision and of being, at the same time, moldable clay and skilful sculptor.

In fact, Karina is a “moldable clay and skillful sculptor” of herself, a derailed specter of a condition of inexorable “uncertainization” that dominates and intimidates a defenseless humanity, one in which the individual is in permanent conflict with the citizen. To put it better, a humanity in which subjectivity is crushed by the lack of civil rights and violated by the desertification of the present and by the domain of emptiness, understood as a physical and mental concept. However, Karina is the very symbol of a kind of negotiation with this void and of a truce with the dissolution of certainties.

Karina is also the symbol of a community in devastating and unlimited growth, one that points to marginal and deformed layers of social exclusion, so cosmopolitan and overwhelmed by the global labor market, that it represents an area of conflagration. This kind of terminal landscape wanders like a wound or like a metastasis within global cities, which make up increasingly explosive continents, always more saturated with urgent need. In the interstices of this social congestion, characters like Karina create a non-place, a kind of visual and bodily escape from social control. It is a kind of imaginary resistance, illusory but also palpable, to urban entropy.

Marín understood this contemporary iconoclastic sign of creative utopia and spatial dislocation, reifying its urgent reality. The semiological value of Karina’s action is double since it appears as a dream or as a nightmare. It appears as an indelible form of social atomization, a metaphor for an urban conflict, exacerbated by the Argentine economic recession and by the endemic contradiction of the global system –by the metastasis of an ever more difficult economic control– before which, however, Karina does not give up to. And it is herself a small transitory and ephemeral life project that is dislocated in the urban imaginary as a moment of hope. Small and weak, like her little dolls that draw soap bubbles; extreme and perishable poem of “uncertainization”. Since Karina is, above all, a disarming fetish, loaded with symbolic meanings and alarming premonitions. Matilde Marín interweaves in her photographic series –almost a subjective film sequence, a docudrama– the story of Karina, as an individuality and absolutely symbolic creature and as an active stripping of collective fragmentation.

Without using furious and stigmatizing rhetoric, Marín unequivocally condemns the global drift in which humanity, apparently schematic but structurally chaotic, is inevitably rushing towards its social and intellectual deflagration. Matilde Marín prefers the personal and “solar” adventure of a Karina who is a kind of contemporary witch, who reconquers the urban territory with the weapons of imagination, reinvents the geography of herself and reinscribes her own space of happiness or unhappiness. More visionary and free than the crystallized “tangueros” of the street, Karina sells the illusions of a game, putting into practice a paradox that seems to be synthesized in the sarcastic phrase: “sometimes doing one thing ends in nothing”, as it is, precisely, blowing soap bubbles with a small doll that explode in the air, in the feverish space of an instant. Happiness and illusion have an ephemeral time that is followed by the time of consciousness; but this is what Karina prefers to postpone. Marín grants her this time, which we do not see because she is dissolved in the privacy of the character.

Marín seems to want to return us once again to this invisible space, to this spatio-temporal overflow, with the force of the imagination since this is precisely what often replaces the precarious, dystrophic reality. The imagination highlights Karina as a fairy or as a derelict, as a waste of society similar to an abandoned and useless cardboard in the streets of Buenos Aires. She also sees her, neither more nor less, as a sculptor who captures the volumetry of her very being, who outlines the impalpability of soap bubbles, who recovers the fissures of society and heals them like a wound. Because Karina is a still bleeding wound from a city attacked by fear of her paraphernalia; like so many cities in the world in this universe divided and scratched by global anomie.

The oblique gaze that Matilde offers is multiple and polymorphous, as if it were drawn from a kaleidoscopic prism whose colors and disparate shapes meet and separate from each other, to recompose once again, infinitely. She portrays Karina as an unexpected angel, descended from the ruffled clouds to bring us a smile; she portrays her as a kind of desire machine responding to an anonymous pedestrian’s demand for happiness, as a kind of demon under the skin of the imploding city. The artist sees her as a therapeutic shaman who can recover us from the abyss, from the loss of faith. At the same time, she perceives Karina as the sign of a congested marginality, which hides among the secret folds of the city, and even as an improvised juggler. Karina is all of this, but she also represents the atrophy of the system. Karina in the simplest definition of her represents utopia and, despite her, is the perfect metaphor for her.

Between charm and suffering, Marín circumscribes the space of photographic invention to the socio-anthropological perspective, that magical land that intertwines culture and consciousness, discovery and distancing. He does it, as always on the other hand, by intensifying the minimal and exiguous condition of the individual subject and of his identity in the world. The space of being, however minimal and mute it may seem in the infinity of multiplicity, is actually the interpretive and interrogative space through which the universe adds its infinitesimal particles to constitute its totality. The space of being leads once again to the complexity of the world, whose variations, differences, atonalities and fugues establish a harmony similar to a magnificent and destabilizing Glenn Gould concerto.

Teresa Macrì
Rome, August 1, 2005

1. Bauman Zygmunt, La società dell’incertezza, Milano, Il Mulino, 1999, pp.108-109. Traducción realizada para el texto de Teresa Macri.