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matt marello beverly hillbillies matt marello

the last days of pompeii

a conversation with matt marello: bill maynes gallery • new york, new york


Lee Stoetzel: In the new work—The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Disasters—it seems that a whole range of emotions is evoked, where before humor was main stage.

Matt Marello: Humor has always played an important role in my work, although sometimes it sits right out front and at other times it recedes into the background. Both the Disasters and Caligari videos are full of humor, but in a much more subtle manner than the fake horror movie trailers I showed at Tricia Collins a few years back, or the Sitcoms video that has been showing around town. In the Disasters and Caligari videos, my intent, as far as the humor involved, was to create a certain tension between the original footage and the tongue-in-cheek humor created by the insertion of myself into the action. The act of insertion creates a deeper level of humor and irony by the fact that the inserted “actor” is placed in situations where there is a certain loss of control, but this “actor” is the artist himself, the exact person responsible for the creation of the “pseudo-situation” in the first place.

LS: When I compare your work to art historical figures, Max Ernst keeps coming up, in particular his paintings that look like the end of the world, with the figure (bird or humanoid bird) in the center that is hopeful. Do you think of your work like painting or like video?

MM: I remember my first encounter with the “insertion” phenomenon, and it wasn’t in the medium of film or video at all. While travelling through Europe after college, I was mesmerized by all those great Early Renaissance alter paintings, and became equally fascinated by the then common practice of the artist “inserting” the patron into a particular scene. There, up on the cross, is Christ in agony, with Mary and the saints weeping at his feet, and right along side kneels the nerdy patron, his hands held in devotional prayer. There is one particularly great example of an insertion, a bit more recent than the alter pieces, in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. The painting is called “Descent From the Cross,” and it features a youthful Rembrandt assisting in the deposition of Christ from the cross.

LS: Your work has one of the nicest relationships to art history—because you seem to freely pick and choose where in time (and space) you want to participate. What is your criteria for picking material in which to insert yourself?

MM: One of my criteria for picking material is that the original subject must contain a certain “contextual resonance” that can be tampered with. In the “Coming Soon” series of fake ‘50s horror and sci fi trailers mentioned earlier, I played with the oft discussed notion that the B horror movies of the ‘50s were an unconscious (or conscious) expression of society’s fear of an imminent Communist takeover. By replacing the original monsters and aliens with twentieth century art historical movements, I supplanted the original fear of Communism (personified by Eugene McCarthy) with today’s fear of contemporary art (personified by Jesse Helms).

LS: Am I twisted, because your “twisting of the context” makes me laugh and I completely embrace it! Is there something more subtle or unexplained here that makes me crave worse problems and bigger disasters?

MM: The more recent work like Dr. Caligari and the piece I am currently working on called The Hand may not be the “bigger disasters” that you crave, but I think they are more potent in their effect. The loss of control has been brought down to a personal level and is more psychological in nature. The humor and melodrama tend to blur in these pieces, and the viewer is not only amused but also provoked into questioning their own personal situations, their own moments of lost control.

LS: There is more at work here in these frames than simply inserting yourself. To what extent do you try to make them seamless or disparate?

MM: I have discussed with several people my process of creating these videos (which I won’t bore you with), and everyone thinks I am absolutely nuts. There are certainly far easier ways to do the insertions than with my particular technique, but these other methods would not give me the effect that I want—a sort of cheesy homemade look that wallows in its own laborious low-techness. Of course, if I had access to the studios of Industrial Light and Magic I could produce seemless Forest Gumpian insertions, but that is exactly not the point. The point is that I can now sit at home and knock out altered image videos that just 5 years ago were possible only within the realm of the media giants.

Lee Stoetzel

New York, New York