We talked with the artist and cultural communicator, Matías Roth, about his new photographic essay, LIMITES INVISIBLES (Invisible Limits) and about the panorama of contemporary Latin American art.
LIMITES INVISIBLES opens on September 6 at the Argentine Consulate of New York (12 West 56 Street, New York, NY), and will remain open until September 24.
How did LIMITES INVISIBLES happen?
In 2002 I took a photograph in the subway in Prague, and it stayed in my imagination. Something in the atmosphere of this image motivated me to start experimenting with photographs inside urban trains. I continued taking pictures in New York and other cities I visited. The series took shape when in 2011 I had the opportunity to travel to Japan and started doing a more dedicated photographic work inside the metro. It was then that, inspired by the Invisible Cities of Italo Calvino, I thought about connecting the photos from different countries through a climatic trip in a subway that united all the cities with each other, without any separation, as if it were the subway of a nonexistent mega-city.
What are the main technical aspects of this work?
I like to work with direct shots, make the smallest possible modification to the images, that’s why this project was especially challenging, since they are all shots without tripod and this is complex under low light conditions, like in the subway. Many of the photographs are taken in moving wagons, which makes the work even more difficult, since for this project I decided not to include moving photographs. I also wanted the images to have the least amount of grain, I wanted them as sharp as possible in a place that is dark 24/7. The photographs were also taken with different cameras and with different definitions, which in the editing process was also a matter to consider, specially for making the prints. In the book there is a dialogue, starting with more open shots, in opposition to the closest shots towards the end of the book where the images invite us to relate directly to the situations portrayed, exploring for example the sensations of loneliness as opposed to the power of making eye contact with the other.
What other kinds of limits concern you?
What interests me are the non-limits. That’s why I highlight the limits. Once you realize you have them, you can understand that in most cases they are nothing else than a mental construction with which you have to deal in order to grow and expand, dismantling preconceptions, staying with the mind open. In this moment where there is so much separation and so many barriers between us, I wanted to show the limits and question them.
Like the scent of the Agua de Florida, your other photographic works seem to have, at first glance, more relation to the invisible than what this new exhibition portrays. What is the invisible that connects these photos?
Something that I wanted to convey in this series is to wonder about the sense of belonging, blurring the edges, the borders that divide us. Something that is behind this series is the idea of thinking that we are all living together in the same planet and that everything that separates us from one another is the ideas, the preconceptions, that we create in our minds. I also think that the invisible thing that connects these photographs is that they propose the possibility of an harmonious coexistence in this contemporary world, where the other often matters very little and loneliness is a common place in our society.
What are your contemporary visual, literary, cultural and political influences?
I was always very interested in Eastern philosophies, especially Buddhism, their concept of unity, the way they use to describe mind and reality and the use of experience instead of belief as the main tool. Other works that have influenced me are the book “In Praise of Shadows”, where Tanizaki explores the differences in the treatment of light and shadows between the East and the West and how Western civilizations want to banish the shadows of their lives and the Asians have incorporated them as part of their culture. Another book that influenced me was Invisible Cities by Ítalo Calvino.
I am very interested in Kertés, Ansel Adams, among others, and from the contemporaries, I like Salgado, and a Belgian photographer that I find very interesting in the way he portrays the human drama, named Jacob Aue Sobol, I’m also interested in the work that Micheal Wolf and Dagmar Keller made on the subways. Painting also had a strong impact on my work, since I dedicate myself to taking pictures of art pieces, and I am very close to this world, from Bruegel and Bosch, Ucello fascinates me, and the painting of La Croix, among many others. There are great masters of Argentinian art, such as La Vega, Noé, Berni, Xul Solar. I feel influenced by magical realism, my work is related to this genre, an a strange way to look at reality is something that resonates in my work.
What do you think about the current situation of Latin American photography?
The Latin American context is always complex for the people that are in the art world, it is very difficult for artists to live from their work because the art market in Argentina, for example, is practically non-existent compared to other countries. Artists have to find many ways to survive, but that also gives them many more tools for creation. Laws, such as mecenazgo (that works based on sponsorships), help a lot in the career of the artist, where artists can get funds to try to spread the word of their art, by making books for example, which used to be very difficult.
In your work as a cultural communicator and promoting books from Argentine artists, what type of new strategies should we consider?
I think that Argentinian art doesn’t have the visibility that it should have globally, there are very few national artists who come to international markets and are recognized. Argentina really had many top artists who do not have the recognition they deserve, I think it is related to the fact that the market rules the artist’s career, since the economy is what rules the contemporary world. I believe that the art fairs and book fairs are the key for Argentinian art to reach the international audience. Through galleries and the cultural promotion from the consulates, the public can learn what kind of art exists in our country. Another tool is the internet, having an online platform and building social networks, helps in a much more horizontal way. Of course, the disadvantage of this is the enormous amount of information that exists online.
With what other artists do you collaborate?
I am working with several artists in different projects. With Fabiana Barreda we have organized a very large exhibition in the Jewish Museum of Buenos Aires, about the infinite. I also developed different projects with Luis Abadi and Juan Pablo Marturano. At this moment I am also working in collaboration with the hyperrealist artist Yigal Ozeri, we are preparing an exhibition for next year about the Jewish community in Buenos Aires at the Jewish Museum. With Pedro Roth I work in projects related with culture promotion, such as the direction of the stand of the Argentinian Ministry of Culture, and Point of Contact, which has been working for 7 years, participating at the New York Art Book Fair. I have worked in film production with Georgina Barreiro, we just finished the second documentary, Tara’s footprint that had its world premiere in Locarno Film Festival.
What is next for LIMITES INVISIBLES?
We will have the opening at the Argentine consulate in New York on September 6, where I will present the book. The book will also be available at the New York Artist Book Fair, at MoMA PS1, from September 20 to 23, with other books from the stand of the Ministry of Culture and Point of Contact. And next year I will present it in Argentina.