BY Amanda Coulson in Reviews | 13 JUN 05
Featured in
Issue 92

Mateo Maté

BY Amanda Coulson in Reviews | 13 JUN 05

Margaret Thatcher once said, ‘Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.’ Mateo Maté’s solo show ‘Domestic Nationalism’ portrays the home as a territory controlled by the same kind of politicking and power plays that may have been necessary to allow the Iron Lady to lead her country to war. While using domestic microcosms as a way of studying political macrocosms may not be entirely new, the Madrid-based artist pulls it off in an original and witty way, with photographs, prints, videos and sculptures humorously portraying humanity’s natural instinct for marking out terrain and defending it to the death – even if that territory is only a particular side of the bed.

The visitor is greeted by Acto Heróico I (Heroic Act I, all works 2004), a large colour photograph of a homemaker – immediately identifiable by her floral house dress, crisp apron and shabby slippers – who seems to be parodying a pose from a Socialist Realism handbook. She stands on the roof of a house, yelling a battle-cry and holding aloft her territory’s flag: a lacy embroidered table-cloth. In the corner of the gallery a looped video captures her standard in close-up, screening the corny image so often seen in patriotic clips: the flag fluttering in the wind, seemingly in time with a jingoistic musical soundtrack.

In the next room a series of technical drafts on photographic paper, also entitled Acto Heróico, illustrate the floor plans of apparently normal flats, though the large, sinuous red and black arrows invading the various rooms endow them with the quality of plans for a military campaign. Icons locate danger areas: red cartoon explosions, a hammer, iron or stockpot in a black or red circle.

While at first all of these may seem (though coming from a male artist) like facile feminist images about the survival plans of desperate housewives, the larger issue of petty domestic aggression growing into international conflict develops as the visitor proceeds. In another technical drawing, entitled Casa España (Spain House), the Iberian peninsula is illustrated as one huge apartment, with room after room extending to fill the entire land mass. Here no icons are necessary; newspaper headlines reporting the almost weekly bombings by ETA reveal the trouble spots. In the middle of the same room Spain’s international political discourse is literally heating up on a gas cooker, entitled Nacionalismo Doméstico II (Domestic Nationalism II). Two of the hobs – permanently lit – are shaped like silhouettes of Spain and the USA, with perfectly aligned blue flames licking at their edges.

The final room brings the show to its climax. Long and thin, with a soaring ceiling, it is furnished to recall a banquet hall replete with beautifully crafted wooden tables and flags grandly hanging from on high. The table, though, is not a single piece of furniture but rather a set of modules that can fit together – if the international mood is right – since they are defined by the contours of nations including Spain, France, Italy and the UK. The hanging banners, a series of differently patterned table-cloths, lead the eye to the final wall, which acts as the projection screen for Nacionalismo Doméstico (Comida = Guerra) (Domestic Nationalism [Food = War]), a skilful video montage made up of clips from ads and famous films. It starts off languidly with gorgeous shots of luscious food being prepared. Gleaming kitchen knives are inter-cut with weapons – swords, axes, guns – being cleaned. As the chopping and dicing pick up speed and vehemence (succulent tomatoes give way to oozing fish bellies), troops are seen being roused to battle until at last the feast – with the tearing of flesh and the ripping of bones from juicy carcasses – allows for the final bloodbath. While this kind of cinematic slicing is not entirely original – Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet’s 2003 Play (2003) and Tracey Moffatt’s Love (2004) come to mind – the visitor nonetheless feels substituted for the disembowelled lamb or the speared warrior, and Maté’s point is felt sharply in the gut.

Amanda Coulson is a Bahamian-American writer and curator until recently based in Frankfurt. She was one of the co-founders of the VOLTA art fairs in Basel and New York and after seven years as Executive Director she is stepping down to take up the post of Director of the National Gallery of the Bahamas in Nassau.