Modernity of a different kind
It is as if all vocabulary has become obsolete or at least severely limited. When speaking of the forms, gestures and narratives which Federica Matta creates in her paintings, prints, sculptures (also textiles, objects and toys) we have to resort to words yet to be created or that have fallen into desuetude. Because, while Matta’s work is of a narrative nature, it is also highly symbolic and mythological. Over the years Matta has created a universe of figures, stories and narrations harking back to the realm of ancient myth but which are firmly anchored in the construct of the conscience of our technological, all-encompassing, loudly cosmopolitan and post-modern times. Both in opposition to all these adjectives and in tune with them, the paradox of her work stems from the ease with which she incorporates, in the full flowering of the positivistic spirit in science, technology and innovation, the presence of the ancient, the magical, from supernatural narration to the distant but uchronic forms of warm hybrids from a past and future world.
Painting and sculpture are elements of the great edifice of Art created by the West which have supported the development of modernity. History painting, monuments and memorials – constantly refined techniques in an arena for a reading of the human condition in which it is impossible to verify improvement or progress. Modernity, the modern project in visual arts, architecture and music, among other areas, tried to establish a tabula rasa toeradicate allirrational traditions transmitted from generation to generation. Far from being incompatible, repetition and invention are the life forces of the changes of form and narrative that tradition pushes beyond the vagaries of taste. We should also consider our position as “dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size", which is how Bernard of Chartres illustrated the supremacy of inventive intellect over reproductive intellect.
The telling of stories, either original or reinterpreted traditional tales, is what drives Federica Matta’s work. Her pictures and sculptures are teeming with hybrid situations and beings half-human, half-animal. Mythological or imagined creatures, of ancient lineage or recent invention, forms decorated with recognisable motifs with long-forgotten meanings; lines, points, curves, waves, craters and fissures. These paintings and sculptures are done in plain and yet effervescent colours; colours which jump out and soothe the eye, drawing it towards the flat surfaces inhabited by forms and associations that both calm and disturb. The apparent innocence of the motifs (mermaids, reptiles, vegetation – things that crawl and fly; that rise up and contort). These images remind me of the development of the depiction of animals in the unofficial, unrecorded history of art, which Aby Warburg studied and which is unfettered by religious beliefs or recorded mythology.
We can identify in Federica Matta’s work a special concern for the human, the animal and the vegetable, in other words, all things living. The inert and the mineral are also shown in movement, like hair ruffled by the wind. In the end it is sculpture, which acquires almost monumental dimensions, that best illustrates this new paradox, that of captured movement. Sculpture more clearly shows us one of the main concerns of the artist. Beyond forms and static decisions we can observe an interest in public space, space shared by all for celebration, participation and exchange. In France, Japan, Portugal and Chile we can find her work in squares and public areas, freighted with different stories and content which take us back to the very beginnings of society. It also invites us to reconsider the role of play and imagination in collective narratives, often fantastic, always of a highly symbolic content. We find ourselves confronted by immediately approachable images which acquire the characteristics of smiling monstrosities, of beings created in the gardens of invention and good humour. On occasion, we are reminded of motifs and colouring more commonly found in street artists such as Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, and the art scene of the 1980s. Her work also reminds us of the deftness of Nikki de Saint-Phalle’s sculptures and the sensuality of Hannah Höch’s collages from the early 1920s. All of which is condensed into a holistic vision of the relationship between individuals in defined spaces, either real or imaginary.
In early 2005, Federica Matta and the writer Nahal Tajadod were invited by the Kanoon association to carry out a collaborative project with poets and children from several Iranian cities. It clearly shows her interest in the need for, and the power of, the poetic word. The project was called The Caravan of Poets and consisted of flags with poems written on them in Persian and French by the artist mixed with ones written by children from the different cities and places where the project was based. Emblems for words, candles for poems, motors to "make poetry fly" and position it in a nomadic state close to the people. We know that poetry is created not only to be read but also to be spoken, declaimed, whispered or shouted. "Poetry as the only weapon" as Pablo Neruda said. We should note the participative as well as the unpredictable character of the project and especially its portable, itinerant and nomadic aspects.
Federica Matta’s work is infused with a nomadic spirit; just as she herself is a nomad and a constant traveller; a citizen of the world with a capacity for absorbing things from different places and returning them as form, colour, play and narrative in her works.
Bartomeu Marí / December 2005
Federica MATTA, Abaya, Thessa Herold Gallery, Winter / Spring 2006, January 30th 2006, Ediciones del Umbral.