by Fabián Lebenglik
Buenos Aires, 2008
Until the late 1990s, she worked almost exclusively in the print medium. Since then, she has also worked in photography and video. A selection of that more recent work is now on exhibit. City, nature, culture and the place of the artist.
In the framework of the Festival de la Luz, the Centro Cultural Recoleta presents an anthological exhibition of photographs and videos by Matilde Marín (Buenos Aires, 1948). The show is curated by Mercedes Casanegra and the installation design by Gustavo Vásquez Ocampo.
The exhibition Of Natura (upset zone) brings together series produced from 2002 to 2008, six of the almost ten years that the artist has been working in photography and video. Both practices, then, are relatively new for Marín, though she has engaged them intensely.
Until the late 1990s, Matilde Marín worked almost exclusively in the print medium. In 1999, she broadened her practice to include other techniques. An operation on her left hand and the later rehabilitation were what led her to the media of photography and video.
This move from craft to technology (or from the low technology of printmaking to the high technology of the digital processing of both analog and digital images) marked an important shift in her trajectory; in this passage, the world came into her work in another fashion and, similarly, the artist herself ventured into the world in another fashion. Photography and video are portable arts, arts of the traveler. And Marín’s life has always included travel, such that art and movement necessarily converged at a certain moment in her career.
As the artist became more experienced and more keenly aware of the world, she felt the need to broaden her technical horizons and her fields of action. All practices are associated with a logic, and printmaking was not necessarily bound to the pressing needs of the world as the artist began to experience it.
Thus, it is striking that one of the series of photographs is entitled “Need.” In speaking about this series, it is common to discuss what is seen: visual stories of urban marginality in different Latin American cities (Bogota, Medellin, Paramaribo, Santiago, Chile, Buenos Aires, San Pablo, Quito), as well as New York and Barcelona. All these works speak of the needs of others, which are beautifully rendered by the artist. But that state of need must be extended to the artist herself, who time and again questions her need to question the function of art and of artists as witnesses of a time. This is related to the artistic need to be closer to “reality,” to express certain pressing needs and emergencies in the world. In opposition to the normalization of poverty, the artist attempts to individualize marginality and put it on a human scale, rather than frame it in statistical terms. In any case, the “need” of which the work speaks is twofold. These are interdependent needs and each photograph attests not only to the objective reality of an increasingly marginalized urban population, but also to Marín’s subjective need to interrogate the place of the artist and how to express and give shape to her privileged place as witness. It is not by chance that Marín herself –her body, her hands, her shadow– appears in these photographs time and again.
The artist’s concerns range from the urban to nature, as her horizons broaden. Gradually, nature, specifically the complex relationship between nature and culture, has become her central theme.
In her work, nature comes on the scene as something greater whose harmony merits respect. It is balance and vastness. Nature is a model of life that encompasses everything else. Thus, the work deems human crises political, the product of certain systems and decisions, a way of assigning and assuming responsibilities. Regardless of the issues explicitly addressed in each series (where the effects of the Argentine crisis in 2001 are a point of departure), the photographs can be divided into two major groups that might be described very generally as, on the one hand, images born of the laboratory and, on the other, those understood as testimony. That is, there are studio photographs (photo-performances, intervened photographs), as well as photographs of exteriors (natural and human landscapes).
As the curator writes in the catalogue text: “On the basis of a certain melancholy, her images attempt to recover a balance that begins with introspection to address the reintegration of the human being with both him- or herself and, at the same time, with the environment, which here is not only a natural and social setting, but also a plot of which each person forms part, as the even greater ecology that these times require.”
When the artist renders social marginality aesthetic (an aesthetic rendering that she associates with respect, with the place of the other, with the human scale), she attempts to denaturalize poverty (in the sense of rupturing its familiarity and taking a stance). When she renders nature, she attempts to naturalize the world (to balance things and valorize coexistence).
In the digitally altered photographs, Marín seems to pay tribute to the Dadaist and Surrealist tradition of photomontage, an influential movement in Europe that also had lucid practitioners in these lands. Transpositions, apparitions, unlikely combinations in landscapes that, when thus altered, make reference to the “natural” landscape while also engaging in denouncement and foretelling metamorphosis.
The poetic quality of the images is the bridge that Marín constructs to avoid polarizing scenes and placing them at an extreme distance. There is a gentle quality to her photographic “treatment.” If on an objective level photography (a portable technique) appeared in Marín’s work as a result of her travels and of a pressing circumstance (a surgical intervention), it then became a pressing need on the subjective, technical and artistic levels. But the pressing nature of that circumstance is paradoxical: though based on something that it ultimately exceeded, this pressing need developed over time and with delicacy.
The risk is always high when an artist ventures into photography. After all, we are all photographers, and a photograph can readily become advertisement or journalism, two limits that both enrich and condition the photographic image and its function. (At the Centro Recoleta, Junín 1930, until September 14.)