by Franklin Sirmans

Riddle me this? How did I get there? How do I work this? 'And you may find yourself in another part of the world/ and you may tell yourself/ this is not my beautiful house!/ this is not my beautiful wife!/ And you may ask yourself, well.../ how did I get there?/ same as it ever was/ same as it ever was.'(i) And, you may find yourself in just such a place when viewing the artwork of Katarina Matiasek. Welcome to the memory palace, where everything is not always as it seems. Did you really already have this conversation? Did you really, or maybe, virtually, see that before? There's a grey contour to this thought bubble? This is the world in which we enter Matiasek's art.

Born to artist parents in Vienna where she lives and works, Matiasek has created a body of work that explores physical and psychological space while consistently assigning an active role for the viewer. Activating memory to explore notions of difference and sameness, Matiasek's work challenges universal yet also highly individual perceptions of time and space. It is a rare place in the ever-proliferating archive of empty imagery that fills the advertisement-generated screen of contemporary media. Though her art is not easily definable by its formal qualities, Matiasek is primarily known for her installation-based displays of photographic and filmic imagery with elegant economy.

Drawn to the stage photography which accompanied her parent's work in theater and opera from a very early age, Matiasek and her practice conjure up Godard, who once said that cinema starts where acting ends. Likewise, Michael Fried has stated in reference to cinema, 'The success, even the survival, of the arts has come increasingly to depend on their ability to defeat theater. There is, however, one art that, by its very nature, escapes theater entirely - the movies.'(ii)

While photography often plays a role in Matiasek's constructed imagery, CLOSURE (1999), was created directly from freeze frames of different movies showing close-ups of people on the telephone. The shots are taken from the exact moment of the character's blinking, thus capturing a moment of introspection invisible in the original moving image. Displayed as a video projection, CLOSURE takes the format of film and cuts that recorded imagery into a completely new movie, not unlike the DJ remixing the sounds of the past, milking that one groove for all it's worth. Accompanying the screened imagery is an ambient soundtrack that also samples the interludes of conversation taking place. At once it is a direct quotation, a sample from the visual archive, yet seemingly the same intimate pauses and breaths we have all experienced. The resulting installation revels in triggering an imaginary conversation that alludes to a critical fiction open to various reading based upon the experiences of the viewer.

The use of sound, though not completely recent, has become paramount in Matiasek's work of the last four years in notable collaborations with the English composer Scanner. Working with Scanner as she had on CLOSURE, Matiasek's other recent projects juxtapose sound and image seamlessly utilizing sound as sculptural component, to be encountered bodily in the form of installation art, as in WISHING WELL (1998) and THE COLLECTOR (2000). While the memory of active participation is personified by the diverse characters of classic film scenes in CLOSURE, WISHING WELL is murkier and perhaps more intimate, closer to an inexplicable sensation of déjà vu. Projected from the ceiling a blue circular vision of water rings is cast onto the floor in endless repetition. The desire akin to wishing at a fountain is made manifest by a soundtrack of whispered voices, collected anonymously from the internet. Combined with an underwater sound composition, the piece conjures dreamy 'desires' of wanting to be elsewhere or wanting something else, perhaps in a sense of utopic longing. Like the act of throwing coins itself, there is conscious thought process that says anywhere but here is better. And, so we wish.

Where CLOSURE and WISHING WELL synchronize sound and image for their integral effect in recalling memory, THE COLLECTOR (2000) abstracts the complicity between sound and image we have come to reflexively expect from popular culture. The work also is demonstrative of Matiasek's ongoing interest in the borders between science and art, as she has an educational background in Anthropology and often researches in natural history museums. Displayed on ppising walls two identical projections of a series of butterflies - actually singel stills of each butterfly superimposed one upon another in succession - seemingly flap their wings. The specimens are taken from an imaginary 'collection' and while their taxonomy is clearly approximated, the soundtrack of rustling wings is mixed with the sounds of an auction's hammer. The delicate beauty of the colorful butterflies creates an abstract image of nature in its purity, though it is betrayed by the 'collector'. With its classical history as object of scientific display, the butterfly raises questions of visual display and science to a fore while contrasting nature with the human reaction to collect and contain nature.

Like Muybridge, Matiasek's work often straddles the ground between scientific documentation of nature and the display of visual art. In reference to the photographic panoramas of ON SITE (2001), she has said, 'Technically the trace of a lens motion over celluloid, the all view (pan horama) reflects the static wish to completely capture enduring spatial proportions. Especially with the ever popular landscape and city views, Man feels staged in the middle and in control of things.' ON SITE points back to the artist's emphasis on architectural spaces as metonymic structural signs designed to cue memory. Narrow vertical strips cut from larger landscape photographs were displayed throughout the gallery. Are we within this landscape or is it only a fragment of the imagination? DOUBLE BAR (2000) further ruptures a sense of place as it relates to memory. While working at a residency in Dublin, Matiasek learned of a bar that was an exact replica of Adolf Loos' famous Kaerntner Bar in Vienna. The architects DeBlacam & Meagher 'remixed' Loos' classical modern design from 1907 in Dublin at Trinity College's Dining Hall. Playing out this exploration of identical space in vastly different environments, Matiasek and the artist Ursula Fuhs set out on the same night to photograph the bars at the same time.

Though the environment surrounding the differing metropolises is so different, the settings of DOUBLE BAR are remarkable for their functional relationship to people being people comfortably. And no matter where one may find oneself that is of ultimate importance. It is so important that you may not ask yourself, 'well..., how did I get here?'

(i) Quotation taken from David Byrne: Once in a Lifetime, 1980
(ii) Michael Fried: Art and Objecthood, first published in Artforum, Summer 1967

Monographic website text, New York 2003