Un enigma y un ojal
Centro Cultural Rector Ricardo Rojas, fotogalería
13.09.19 | 27.11.19
In a show curated by Alberto Goldenstein, Walter Barrios (Mar del Plata, 1977) exhibited a group of twelve large- and small-format color photographs, some of them recent and others produced between 2013 and 2017, at the Fotogalería del Rojas. Thanks to the use of contrast and flecks of light, the eye sets out to explore every last detail of the image, searching, perhaps, for a hidden code that it will never manage to decipher.
In their stark clarity, the images recall, at first glance, the series of “Interiors” with which Thomas Ruff registered the Germany of the eighties and works by Humberto Rivas from that same period. Barrios’s use of the photographic medium in, for example, the works’ framing and reflections ties them, at least in appearance, to documentary registers of residential spaces. But in the rooms he photographs there are details that deviate from the logic of interiors and, hence, from photographic realism: monochrome planes, plants growing through shutters, milk spilled around an unpotted aloe vera plant in the middle of a painted tile floor, to name just a few. To make the works, the artist photographed everyday spaces to then “work on top of them.” Specifically, he made a digital sketch to plan and then produce, in the actual space, a scene. “I decorate using elements I build or buy to instill a new aesthetic—a game in which I dress an everyday space in clothes, but also in patterns and even—for good measure—jewelry, like a flower in a buttonhole.” Most of the works on exhibit are photographs of those scenes, which Barrios carefully constructs in his house in Mar del Plata, where he lives, works, teaches, and organizes exhibitions.
As the gallery text explains, his work “makes undeniable reference to Mar del Plata as stage and to the materials most prevalent in its original and its contemporary architecture: stone, wood, and majolica.” The images also blossom with the plants typical of that city: “the costillas [Swiss cheese plants]; the aloe vera with its red flower that lasts the entire frigid coastal winter to then burn and vanish when summer comes; the lazo de amor [spider plant] found on so many porches; palm trees and palmitos [European fan palm]; Portuguese tiles in hotel lobbies; wallpaper lining apartments; granite wall and floor tiles; wood for real estate agencies and kitchen walls; shutters,” Barrios goes on. All of those materials, as well as views where the urban and the natural mix, confront residents of Mar del Plata as they bustle around the city. Indeed, they make up “a compendium of elements that allows us to look at our immediate reality with sculptural vision,” the artist asserts.
That sculptural vision asks itself about what the appearance of these materials means in the urban environment in which homes surrounded by gardens reside, not without conflict, in the lingering style of the seaside resort that the city was from the time of its founding until Juan Domingo Perón’s first term. From then on, pursuant to the enactment of the Ley de Propiedad Horizontal in 1948, those materials were used to construct tall apartment buildings with units bought mostly by middle-class residents of Buenos Aires. At the same time, workers and their families began arriving. Thanks to what was called “social tourism” and paid vacation, they stayed in small hotels or in large union-owned complexes, built in their own distinctive style. “That intersection, fusion, confrontation leaves us with countless symbologies. From our tangled Mar del Plata, we draw elements to construct and re-signify in the work.”
In his stagings, Barrios creates a conversation of elements to generate an image, product of an imagination molded by its environment. In the artist’s logic, elements and materials are organized in ornamental constructions that escape the norm of interior or landscape design. In that operation, stone, plants, tiles, and other materials veer away from their original point of reference: they are now pure visuality. They turn into elements found in German photography from the eighties—but only for an instant. They then move back from that unknown space and dwell instead in their own place and history. On the intense surfaces of Barrios’s photographs, Mar del Plata returns with a different might, one that can push it, if only for a split second, elsewhere.
Content produced by arteBA. Annual Report on contemporary Argentine art.