After a dream of Alaska’s icy vistas awoke Matias Duville from his bed in Buenos Aires, the artist spent a year rendering vivid landscapes of a place that existed solely in his imagination. Having never once set foot in the 49th state, Duville deprived himself of any reference images—instead, the frozen rivers and idyllic-yet-desolate landscapes of his drawings came from preconceived notions, ones he would challenge when the project took a field-based turn. In 2009, Duville physically traveled to Alaska, setting his charcoal and crayon fictions vis-à-vis reality as he captured the landscape from the window of an RV. Between 2011 and 2012, Duville returned to Argentina for the final chapter of the project, incorporating real-life memories of Alaska with the fictional world he’d once imagined.
This week, while Duville is honored as the Guest Artist of PINTA New York, his work will grace the cover of the fair’s catalogue and will be featured in a solo booth curated and run by The Drawing Center, who will release a publication documenting the Alaska project in three volumes: before Alaska, during Alaska, and after Alaska. We caught Duville for a quick chat before the madness.
Artsy: How did you become involved with PINTA? It is the only fair outside of Latin America that is devoted to Latin American art. Why is that significant?
Matias Duville: It was as a result of the publishing project I’m doing with The Drawing Center that PINTA invited me. I think events like this provide an overview of what’s been going on in Latin America over these last few years. But I’m also interested in the idea of linking scenes, and not just showing the characteristics of any one in particular; these days, it’s virtually impossible to sit inside a bubble. The different works and projects are infused with a universal notion and that’s what really produces drastic changes.
Artsy: Can you tell us briefly about the booth?
MD: I plan to show works that can help expand the experience of being inside this small architecture. Being able to go beyond space in a drawing is always a starting point for me. In this case, frozen rivers, branches that levitate, the trail of a swan, or a letter “H” floating on a lost river form part of the selection for this booth, which will be curated by The Drawing Center.
Artsy: Could you tell us more about your project, “Alaska”? What inspired you to depict a place solely from imagination?
MD: The project was divided into three parts: a series of drawings from 2008, done in Buenos Aires with certain rules, such as not being able to see pictures or documentation on Alaska. This meant I had to draw by mentally constructing the place I’d be visiting one year later. I began this project because up to that point I’d only ever reflected on the idea of a place that was not real. So I decided to do the opposite and began a project influenced by a real geography.
Artsy: Why Alaska?
MD: There were many reasons. There was a very close relationship between the mental landscapes that I’d created up to that time because of their atmosphere, their strange natural phenomena and their outlandish species of animals. There were many reasons why the whole system coincided with my works. Apart from that I found the enormous distance that separated my studio in Buenos Aires from the end of the continent very appealing. This distance meant that the appeal became even more fantastic. I began to work on a wall as if it were a whole territory. I began to create relationships between drawings, like a complete genealogy of real fantastic bonds; mental associations with the general idea every human being has about the geography of Alaska.
Artsy: The second part of the project involved physically traveling to Alaska. Can you describe this experience?
MD: In 2009, I traveled to Alaska and worked there for two months with my brother Bernardo, who’s a biologist, but at that time he was my assistant. We hired a motorhome and converted it into a sort of mobile studio. The result was another series of works but, psychologically speaking, a much harder one. I used to draw at night, without copying any actual model; I tried to follow the same logic by working with memory but without ignoring the projections that the day had provided me. In that regard, this series also has a certain share of fantastic fiction, but my mental state had undergone a change. There was no longer any difference between drawing, cleaning the vehicle, fishing and cooking a salmon. It was spatial chaos, a very interesting cocktail and one that was new for my production. I was there, supposedly visiting what I’d been drawing a year before, but my head was much further away. I was virtually diving into the depths of the mind, almost as if the scenario was plunging me deeper and deeper.
Artsy: What was it like returning to Buenos Aires from Alaska, and how did this impact your subject matter?
MD: Between 2011 and 2012 I worked on another series, the memories of this process, which functioned as an exercise in regression, but with another background now. In this series I used pink paper. I did so because I was looking for a way of achieving concentration. But it worked like a filter that brought me moments of lucidity but also certain amnesia. It’s something that helped me a great deal to return to the starting point using all I’d lived through as experience, and that no doubt changed the logic of these latest works.
Artsy: What are you working on next?
MD: At the moment I’m producing a future exhibition for the Modern Art Museum in Rio and developing a project that is part of the Guggenheim Fellowship. The project is called “Open House” and is a project of concrete that works as a platform for the different transformation process between human aspects and nature. It presents itself as an abstract plain structure but, at the same time, contains traces of what seems to have been a possible fragmented human habitat: a roof that is embedded in the land, a lamp under the water, surfaces that refer to different profiles of a folded house; the main floor covered with a carpet and holes as windows and doors.
This information isn’t related to a specific moment in time; it isn’t possible to talk about the future or the past. However, it is plausible to think about a time that is affected by a natural process, which is constantly modifying the narrative and the formal aspect of the work. The photographic record of transformations and phenomena that the work has suffered will be collected and presented in a future publication. The different changes that the work had to endure due to the passage of time will be captured in a sequence of images that will be true to the random character of the events. Furthermore, a film record of the project will be done.