Buenos Aires

Matías Duville

Galería Alberto Sendrós

According to the Toba catastrophe theory, a supervolcanic event 75,000 years ago at Lake Toba, on Sumatra, triggered an ice age that changed the course of human history by creating a bottleneck in evolution. When looking at Matías Duville’s images, one wonders whether a second global catastrophe of major proportions is due any moment, for the artist is a chronicler of disaster, registering in his paintings the aftermath of a cataclysm.

In 2003, at this gallery, Duville presented his first drawings—nightmarish images of swimming pools surrounded by a thick, ominous liquid, drawn on small pieces of silk. Part of their mysterious atmosphere was due to a curious procedure: Duville would first draw on and then tug at the silk threads, blurring the image. At other times he used crayon directly on the wall, hurriedly drawing a plane crash in the mountains or a hurricane sweeping away everything in its path. The paintings in the recent show are part of his “Wood Shavings” series, 2007, works on huge wooden panels out of which he chops bits and pieces as if a bird had furiously pecked at the image.

At first glance, Duville might appear to be a landscape artist. But all his landscapes are about threat and foreboding. In his shattered paintings, the world is cobbled together, slightly out of scale and perspective. The landscapes stretch from snowcapped alpine peaks to the thatched roofs of a village. Nothing about them is sentimentally rustic as, like a wrathful god, Duville summons the elements: the slicing cold of deep winter, the ferocious storm welling up in a dark sky. Flinty precipices rise up beyond the frosted valley, its houses muffled in white; bony fir trees grow like mushrooms, water swallows up a camp, blackbirds hover over rural towns, while the chopped wood itself reinforces the sense of destruction. In Primitivo Agreste (Primitive Wilderness), a picture of rural cottages is disassembled through its own making: The tidy precision of the homes is rendered surreal by the chaos of their surroundings; the serenity of the lake is marred by the scratching towers of trees.

If in Duville’s earlier work human beings only rarely appeared as anonymous somnambulists, they have now completely vanished. Parque con casas y rocas (Park with Houses and Rocks) here recalls a time when the world turned white, animals froze, and trees died. Something about the picture recalls Brueghel’s _Hunters in the Snow, 1565; but whereas in Brueghel’s painting the freezing cold that threatens life provokes vitality, in Duville’s work life has disappeared altogether. Hunters in the Snow appears in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris, as a print that decorates the lounge of the space station; it is the astronauts’ memento of Earth. The thought that Duville’s picture may be the premonitory image of a radically altered planet is chilling.

The images seem full of premonitions, evident in the use of aerial perspective to heighten the sense of a spine-chilling silence. Aerial surveillance views have become familiar to us; they are an essentially indifferent way of experiencing the world. The overall effect here is one of tenebrous anxiety. It reminds us that this planet is an extraordinarily fragile place fraught with danger, a tiny rock hurtling through space.

María Gainza