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Corina Matamoros: Studies for Vestiges, 2011


“And thus we see the present
and how at one point, it is gone
and done,
Should we judge wisely,
we shall see what is yet to come
as the past.
Let no one be deceived, no, thinking
that what is expected
Is going to last
more than what has already been seen,
because everything has to go
Jorge Manrique


A tiny drop of silver has fallen by chance on the untouched negative on the shelf. And a river of bromide has flown from the developing tray staining the tiles of the wall in strange ways. The starting point of the artwork of Alfredo Ramos could be regarded as the traces of photographic work.

The artist, a geographer by training and later on, theater designer, works in that extreme zone of photography where reality – chance traces and his daily experience with his own work – are used to elaborate on other topics. And this is, probably, the most noticeable counterpart of his photographic endeavor. Today, after ten years of toil, the artist has become a thorough expert in tracking down images.

Outside  – the bustling city life, the people  – do not seem to be of much interest to him. Although at first influenced by the purported solitude of certain urban areas once they are rid of human noise and he produced mysterious photos of blurred contours, he longed for the landscapes that his own darkroom offers today, through photograph manipulation, and for photography per se. In his darkroom he discovered a world of images that seem to bring forth more veracity and eloquence than everything that surrounds him. In that precise corner of his house is where the Studies for Vestiges were born.

At first glance his photos simulate sidereal surroundings, vastness in which unknown particles or mineral entities move. They could also seem to us the play of light dancing in enigmatic scenes. However, the origin of the image, its reality as witness of an specific physical process and of its accumulation over time, turn these photographs into something more than an illusory vision.

The photographic waste, what we throw into the basket of useless things, the acid that left an irreparable blotch on the table, the oversight which led to a small disaster, the mistake in preparing a substance… Everything speaks here from the perspective of observation and detailed examination. Slowly but surely, with incredible thoroughness, while everything is bustling outside, the photographer recycles every vestige, aware of their existence, and giving them a new consistency when making them part of a story.

An accidental stain may cause true annoyance. But when the artist stops to observe each stain and connects it with tomorrow’s stain and the stains of all his days to come in a time sequence, he is telling his own story through the photographic medium. Thus, the apparent subjectivity of the abstract is exchanged for the objectivity of the detailed study of the object.

But what is that makes a man with a camera stay home, preferring to rummage the corners of his house? What could be the meaning of an artist reading in his walls the fortuitous lines of decline and detecting in them, with the eyes of a cartographer, the map of the passage of things, that is to say, of the world?

Alfredo Ramos is an artist concentrated in the vicissitudes of life. He does not have to look for great unique shots or to wait for the exceptional moment of a single click among thousands. For him the clicks are all close at hand. They are not going anywhere, nor will they run away because tomorrow we will still be alive.

And that certainty in the future of the process represents the singularity of these Studies for Vestiges. If, as Barthes says, photography is pure contingency, a  witness of what already was, and therefore, a relative to death, this artist is slowly collecting the overlaid contingencies of every day, the eventualities accumulated in successive layers to build with them a collection of irrevocable existence. The vestiges he observes in his workroom give faith of him as a rational being, testify to the physical and psychic continuity of his being and, thus, to the time-space sequence of the individual in the world.

And the corroboration of that resistance is what allows us to glimpse the familiar environment of the artist. Because we face here an exotic Cuban artist who does not exploit “exotic” folklore: He does not photograph the lively environment of Havana or its cars recycled for more than half a century, nor the exuberance of its women, nor the strident light of its nature. What he needs to express -the future, the social detritus, the conflicts that overwhelm him and us, he finds it all at home.

The steady flow of contingencies and the living resistance that we make is the reason for this series made as of 2008 and, although at first sight it seems intimist, abstract and solitary, it could well be considered as a series honestly linked to the eternal crusade for human existence. A topic that, no matter how hard we try, will continue to obsess humankind.

Corina Matamoros (Curator of Contemporary Cuban Art at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana), Havana, 2011