The last time we checked with our friend Martin Kazanietz at his home in Patagonia, Argentina, he shared with us a new body of work that is based on the random images of his surrounding that he's been taking with his phone. Half-year later, that type of work is comprising his arguably most ambitious exhibition to date, Historias Estancadas (Stagnant Stories), on view through February 26th at Institut Français in Madrid.

"I see Argentina as a place full of beauty and complexity in its contradictions," Kazanietz told us in an interview in our Fall 2018 issue. Combined with his love for fútbol this love for his homeland sparked the interest to paint the lives of people involved in the local amateur league, capturing its humor, sadness, romance, folklore, and rituals. In the recent months of social distancing such focused interest "watered out" towards taking a wider, more open view of the world around him and capturing it with his phone. This way of looking at and appreciating the world around eventually evolved into creating the work that captures all the random scenes taking place in front of him.  

Realized with a help of La Causa Galeria, this unique presentation uses the format and the glow of a phone screen as the ultimate and mandatory channel for observation and communication. Without a central subject, a connecting topic, or even a particular way of composing or capturing the depicted scenes, it is the format of these random visuals and the well-thought presentation that constructs the theme of the exhibition. With 24 small-size and 12 big-size paintings in a 9:16 screen ratio, the display evokes the experience of looking at random images shared through social media or messaging services. Mounted on custom-built, rotating carousels, with one work being in a spotlight in otherwise pitch-dark space, the viewers are able to actually swipe these images just as we all do on our screens through the day.  

"I like to think of Martín as a sculptor of social landscapes, of still forms, of the frozen image," Joaquin Barrera wrote in a curatorial text that accompanies the exhibition. And indeed, through this body of work Kazanietz pays tribute to his local culture, the everyday people, sometimes portraying these mundane characters as neighborhood superheroes. Captured while sitting in the park, looking at their phone, or while simply doing their jobs, these Botero-like figures are turned into role models or short-time celebrities of sorts both by being captured on the "phone screen" as well as immortalized on a painting. The way of displaying these smoothly rendered visuals has a strong conceptual quality, both commenting about the voyeurism and the appreciation for our surroundings, as well as disclosing the impact of the new ways we communicate and exchange information. At the same time, Kazanietz's dedicated approach to collecting reference imagery opens up an endless source of material to work with while again creating a sharp commentary about artistic exaggeration and overproduction, which are some of the drawbacks of a technology-obsessed society. —Sasha Bogojev