In her first solo exhibition Rastros [Tracks], São Paulo artist Layla Motta tackles a project spanning over photography, even though the images presented in the the Zip'Up Room are developed along a fragmented path.
Commenting on her work, Motta underlines that time is the raw material for her vision. With this in mind, the use of a key project in the history of contemporary art - A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey (1967), by Robert Smithson (1938-1973) - which results in the series Passaic (2012), exhibits an ambitious, yet experimental, feature in the artist's work. It does, after all, require courage to review the Smithsonian legacy and develop it into a proposal of expanded land art - yes, land art is not necessarily related to interventions in nature; photographic records that bring to the fore vestiges, the anti-monument, the undone, ruins in collapse before their completion, among other elements, are pungent testimonies of the contemporariness of Smithson, Heizer, Holt, Oppenheim.
At the same time, Motta's focus when retracing Smithson's steps through his home town involves yet another facet, which demonstrates the power of the banal and prosaic. A torn garbage bag submitted to the inexorable process of entropy. A facade of a suburban building, like a bric a brac of textures and absolutely tedious surfaces. Two images that condense some of the artist's poetic angles, such as highlighting the investigation into attentively observed details, captured and reworked until the final arrangement in an exhibition environment.
"Actually, Passaic center was no center - it was instead a typical abyss or an ordinary void"1, wrote Smithson in the 1967 text. The "unitary chaos"2, a paradoxical and utterly precise image suggested by the artist about the place, can be seen in the Traces collection. A certain void pervades all the photographs. The abyssal or shallower-than-planned lack attests a focus on the ephemeral, the precarious, through diverse visual records from different series. Thus, paired trees imitate each other, but when studied more carefully, reveal distinguishing details. The enigmatic is imbricated in the legs buried under beach sand, the young bodies hidden in the frightening green of Atlantic Forest and the incessant movements of the sea at a headland on the São Paulo north coast, captured in series at different times.
Then there is Via Láctea [Milky Way] (2012), from the series Dormência, a key image that unites routine, everyday and terrestrial time to broader time of a geological, stellar and cosmic scope. Flanking abandoned houses in the original polyptych, the nocturnal shot generates more ordinary feelings. Contemplated in isolation, the photograph lends itself to less trite interpretations and can take on a scientific, perhaps astrophysical, semblance. And the lights from an already extinct celestial body evoke the finite and malleable nature of time, so neatly polished by the artist in her tracks, gaining metaphysical, philosophical and other readings thought leads to. "An artist is enslaved by time, only if the time is controlled by someone or something other than himself. The deeper an artist sinks into the time stream the more it becomes oblivion; because of this, he must remain close to the temporal surfaces. [...] (The artist) must instead explore the pre- and post-historic mind; must go into the places where remote futures meet remote pasts"3, writes Smithson in his central work A Sedimentation of the Mind (1968).
And, in line with what Flusser, Benjamin and Arendt previously argued in the theory of photography, this artist's work opens windows to the 'in between', full of meaning, however drab such passages may appear. "Photography may therefore present a more accurate way of thinking of the relation between past and future, and of our position in this interval. What is more, photography may be the medium that inserts itself into the empty interval of the "in-between" past and future and teaches us that the future is never quite what we think it might be. The future, as every photograph reminds us, is pure potentiality. It is not the continuation of the past but it is a direct result of our situation of being inserted into time as the empty "in-between" of past and future"4, argues the German thinker Ulrich Baer. Through intervals, silences, (re)encountered objects, natures marked by mystery, intimacies of bodies, dismantled manmade constructs, Layla Motta's photography is revealing.
1. SMITHSON, Robert. Um Passeio pelos Monumentos de Passaic, Nova Jersey. Revista Arte e Ensaios, PPGAV/EBA/UFRJ, Rio de Janeiro, 2009, n. 19, p.166
2. SMITHSON, Robert. Idem, p. 165
3. FERREIRA, Glória e COTRIM, Cecilia (org.). Escritos de Artistas - Anos 60/70. Rio de Janeiro, Jorge Zahar, 2006, p. 197
4. MAH, Sergio (org.). El Tiempo Expandido. Madrid, La Fábrica, 2010, p. 47 e 48