A Certain Distance

Interview with Sylvia Matas

By Michael Benjamin Brown


MBB: When I look at these drawings I sense a big, mega, celestial event about to happen. It reminds me of the ancient Egyptians building holes through the pyramids and waiting for alignments of celestial bodies. A certain giant intensity pervades, like the slow motion of huge objects far away.

SM: I sometimes find myself thinking of the moment when an object collides with Earth, but also that object's journey though space and even its formation. There's a feeling of something that has already happened, but is also about to happen...it's the same feeling I get from looking at an old photograph of a person and knowing their fate from my perspective in the future. It's the mental experience of the cyclical nature of events in time, whether cosmological, or personal, like waking up or opening a window.

MBB: Looking at these images I hear in my imagination a spacious, hollow sound. Do you get aural associations with images? I frequently do. It’s almost synaesthetic.

SM: Yes, I often do. With these images it’s like a constant, low, hum - quiet and distant. My work is sometimes influenced by, or refers to, sound even though the work doesn't end up containing sound that you can hear.

MBB: Relating to your videos, I’m trying to get at something to do with your "withholding" of information. The peaks and valleys of your narrative; little pockets of potential to be understood or undertaken by the viewer. Tell me more about your method of narrative deployment.

SM: In That day, this time, I suppose the viewer does not really know what is going on. It is very descriptive, but on the other hand it's unclear what is really happening. What are these people experiencing on the side of this road?

I don't think it’s important for the viewer to fully understand what’s going on. For me that sense of perceptual confusion or "not getting the whole picture" is a very real part of the experience of being human. What the narrative describes is the experience of the thing, rather than the thing itself. The "event" in this narrative becomes a stand in for phenomena that cannot be described directly, only by its affects on people and the environment.

In The Window, the story is simple: a person is walking toward a window. But the narrative swings back and forth between describing their movement though the space and the space itself, which starts to become metaphorical for their inner state. The boundary between inner and outer becomes more and more blurred as he approaches the window.

MBB: I feel that there is a lot of movement in your show. I feel an experience of a shifting, a changing, a coming together of forces, and a dismantling of them as well. Amazingly, nothing in your show moves, not even the videos. The drawings even bypass the written narrative word. So what’s digging up all this "change over time", and what does that concept mean for you?

SM: I think our experience of time is a strange thing. Time appears to be going in a single direction and we are aware of the irreversible nature of events, both personal and cosmological. But we also know that how we experience the arrow of time might not be very accurate.

MBB: You are showing two of, so far, four new video works. For me, video is much more ethereal. What, in an experiential sense, are you getting from this new-for-you medium?

SM: I do like the immateriality of a video projection. It’s just light and is as ethereal as time and memory.

That day, this time is created from pieces of a single photograph. By using video I was able to reveal this image (and the narrative) in bits and pieces instead of all at once. In this way, one can never see the full picture.

In The Window, the image is static, but the story unfolds over time. There is a slowness to taking it all in. Since the image doesn’t move the story must play out in the viewer’s imagination.  Also because the image doesn’t depict what is happening, it creates another layer of distance since the viewer is forever on the other side of the window.