by Manuel Neves
Montevideo, March, 2005
What might we be drawing with our ways of living?
Matilde Marín’s work deals with memory, its preservation and symbolic forms of representation. Cultural, social, affective and emotional memory is recovered and erected on the basis of traces that the artist selects, gathers or recreates from a universal historical past or a personal present. The artist uses the trace as a cultural pattern that relates her to a past she deems her own; her work revolves around the permanent attempt to unify, join and connect a memory that appears fragmented and disperse.
In Marín’s work, the basis of the choice of the visual medium is first conceptual and then aesthetic. She is always able to strike a balance between the two, and never works on the basis of a visual form. Traditional printmaking can be seen as a mark or trace produced in a matrix that is then reproduced on other surfaces. For Marín, printmaking was not only a fertile terrain for research but also a technique that served to conceptualize the idea of preserving a trace that is also a means to convey a certain memory that the artist attempts first to organize and then to conserve.
All of the traces that the artist uses to recreate and preserve memory, be it historical or immediate, partake of indexes.
When in the Fragments series Marín includes fragments of tiles or fossil remains from the Americas – or, later, fundamental texts from Native American culture, like Popol Vuh – she marks a difference between a universal history and an American history using selected indexes rather than symbols from Native American culture. “The meaning of this work revolves around the mere assertion of a presence by means of an index”: that presence is the sign that restores and repairs a memory that, for ethical reasons, the artist needs to preserve.
Like a great flash back, for this restoration the artist’s work has evolved from a universal historical past to a personal present, beginning with printmaking but continuing with artist’s books, sculpture, installation, photography and finally video. This evolution over time accompanies an inevitable evolution of technique insofar as the artist looks to different media according to her needs. Thus, her work must be understood as a corpus that evolves in time as her discourse evolves in history.
The two fundamental reasons for the artist’s need to work in video are, in essence, linked to her earlier works. The first is the ability of a medium like video to provide an immediate record of a contemporary reality; the second is the narrative potential of the medium, which the artist employs in the same way that she does photography. It is not a coincidence that the artist is working in these two media at the same time. Marín attempts to capture fleeting images that act as emblems of the transitory nature of humanity. Now salvaged, these narrative fragments first allow us to recognize ourselves like in a mirror, and then to construct that dangerously erratic memory. This need to preserve is not very different from the need operative in her earlier work; it too entails an ethical position in the face of a dynamic, impersonal and schizophrenic present, a present that first must be recognized in all its complexity to then be repaired.
This series of videos can also be interpreted as possible self-portraits based on collective portraits, determined and defined by a certain contingency. The visions in Crossing can be seen as a mirror where both the artist and we ourselves are reflected. Just as she had in the past, in Contemporary Bricolage Marín collects what is needed to survive but also what is not needed, which inevitably becomes a burdensome load in the course of our lives.
Recent Video Works
In Crossing, which was produced in October of 2002, the artist builds a multilevel metaphor on vital processes and their unexpected turns: anonymous visions that converse with and interrogate the present; a journey, a station, traffic, no-places that the artist photographs and presents as images representing human cartographies, vital indexes. The use of largely monochromatic gray creates a hazy and timeless atmosphere also present in her photographs, which serve to complete this possible metaphor for the present, its relationship with the past, and the future as a possible consequence of the two. A deep and disturbing dramaticism lingers above this work. The key lies in the existence that we have and construct: those visions, our visions, demonstrate dignity as well as vulnerability.
In Karina’s Day, the memory that we construct through vital processes is exemplified by the work performed by an individual whom the artist chooses from the crowd to build a metonymy on vital crossings as well as the reality where they take place. This human being is not just anyone, but a woman who performs an activity in order to survive in adverse circumstances, an activity more akin to a ritual celebrating life’s mysteries than enslaving labor. Beholding the painstaking work performed by Karina, one inevitably thinks of the poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado that goes, “I love the subtle worlds, weightless and charming, worlds like soap bubbles. I like to see them, daubed with sunlight and scarlet, quiver, under a blue sky, suddenly and burst.” By means of extreme formal austerity, Marín avoids any effect that might create a dramatic atmosphere. Indeed, the beauty of the action performed by Karina relaxes us and takes us elsewhere. In the words of Helio Oiticica, this action is an “ethical moment,” a muted act of subtly feminist revolt.
In Contemporary Bricolaje, the female vision of life and reality that has always been present in Marín’s work is furthered and deepened; this is undoubtedly her densest video work to date, and on a conceptual level it condenses all her earlier work. The vital processes are transformed into the processes of a woman who is both unique and universal. Collection as a metaphor for the search for knowledge and also as an activity necessary for survival: inevitably bound, these two sides of collection constitute a dialectic between life and death, preservation and corruption, light and dark. Not everything we carry with us in life is indispensable or positive. Not everything we create is necessary. We are also responsible for the other, for what we hide. In a paralyzingly frivolous world, this deep reflection on responsibility and ethics is necessary to making art a deeply human endeavor, an activity as necessary as others.
Produced in September of 2004, Floating Bouquets, the most recent of her video pieces, was filmed in southern Argentina, a place to which the artist feels personally tied. Rather than the register of a performance of the sort that characterizes her earlier works, this is a documentary register of nature in the most abstract sense. The artist assembles a visual collage that operates alongside her works from the 1980s; this work can also be understood as a metaphor for vital origins and artistic extensions. One of Marín´s shortest video works, this piece could be projected endlessly, like a large moving collage. Its slow pace, which is typical of Marín’s work, is reinforced by the abstract movement of the water. This work is undoubtedly connected with her earlier work, giving the art and conceptions a circular quality that she has been developing for decades. Another link in the construction of a poetic that emerges from a work built on the basis of choosing the right aesthetics and techniques for reflecting on basic ideas. In the words of Antonio Pizza