Interview with Mathias Escotto Gadea

Tell us please about yourself and your art.


My name is Mathias Escotto Gadea, I am from Uruguay, and I have been living in Berlin for two years. I studied International Relations in Uruguay, and then I continued studying different postgraduate and master's degrees in cooperation, economic development, and international migration, both in Uruguay and abroad. I have worked for more than ten years in international development cooperation.


I had the opportunity to train abroad and also to work abroad. Photography and painting were a hobby that I later developed through my studies. I bought my first analog camera in Seoul (in 2013), and so I started a whole process of work and study of photography as a photo reportage, both in analog and digital format. I have studied photography at the Centro de Fotografía del Uruguay and at the Foto Club del Uruguay, where I developed individual and collective projects. I have also participated in collective exhibitions and photography festivals. I studied painting at the School of Fine Arts of Uruguay and at the Joaquín Torres García School. 


Although I continue to do photography (especially for the painting archive), painting has taken a more central place, displacing photography. This has also led me to continue researching and investigating the debate: painting vs. photography, which comes first? Normally in painting, there is talk of "purifying to the point of abstraction" (currents such as German expressionism); it is an idea that runs through my work. In that sense, my work is also influenced by abstract expressionism and constructivism, but I prefer not to limit myself to a definition out of caution to delimit the creative process. That is what is most important for me in the construction of the work: the creative process, what the artist really wants to convey, the passage towards the construction of the work, and the work itself. Each stage is really important and must be allowed to mature.


Who is Mathias Escotto Gadea? An artist? A photographer? The curator? Who do you think you are in the first place?


Mathias is an artist first. I really like the definition of a multidisciplinary artist. I don't think I can define myself solely from the study of colors and the use of techniques to put together work. What defines me are the trajectories I have traveled, the experiences, the people. In the construction of a work, whatever the format (photography, painting), it is traversed by my training and by reinterpreting what I have seen. Each work is a part of me. 

You have several photo projects that are based on the social problems of our society. Why did you choose this topic for your projects?


What lies behind my projects is largely the study or a hermeneutic approach to the understanding of human behavior, whether individually or collectively, whether of specific social problems or issues that affect us as a society. Photography is often used to make these problems visible and raise awareness of them and make people adopt attitudes and behaviors that favor an improvement in each situation. 


Do you think social photo projects are always drama or not? How did you feel when you created such projects?


No. I don't think they are always dramatic. In photography, there are different aspects of photographic formats that allow you to achieve a better approximation of what the photographer wants to show, from photo-reportage or photo documentary, etc. There are two outstanding issues here: the first has to do with the photographer's sensitivity to a certain subject; the second: what he or she seeks to generate with that photograph. Both are traversed by the principle of subjectivity. 


This is related to a debate that is not yet closed and that the pandemic has once again brought to the fore: Photography vs. Painting? Photography, from this point of view, seeks to make visible a situation that is already there, already determined. While it is true that photography can also create a situation to be photographed, painting, from the outset, must be created from scratch, even if it is a copy of a photo.


The times I have worked on social themes in my projects have been to contribute to the visibility of certain social problems, but not as a press medium, but by empathizing and entering different realities. These experiences also enrich the photographer.

You have a lot of research, you have written and published various articles in the field of international cooperation, you have curated a photo exhibition on this topic. Why are you interested in the topic of international cooperation, and why is it so important for you?


Cooperation should be a guiding principle of human relations. Without being the cliche, the world today is much smaller; and the form is not a competition but collaboration. I have been trained in International Relations, migration and I have worked in international cooperation, participating in various projects in Latin America and in Uruguay in particular. Undoubtedly, many of these projects have mobilized me and triggered different emotions and questions. I believe that in cooperation, on whatever scale, in solidarity, the way to greater individual and collective satisfaction is paved.


[VoDMA] Von Der Mitte Aus is a work conceived on the basis of abstract and constructivist painting, made in 2020 in the context of the pandemic crisis. Tell us more about this project.


Working on VoDMA started in Barcelona. It was there that I bought some acrylics that were very different from the ones I was working with. I had started a new process of my own. 


It was changing my city of residence (in October 2019), starting to go through an unknown situation such as the pandemic and the absolute immobility in Berlin. The loss of a close loved one had also stirred many feelings. 


From the middle (von der Mitte us) is the place from which I paint. From the center of me, but also from a geographical (country - city) and emotional place that is necessary to travel through. In the construction of this work, collecting personal experiences, I associated emotions to the places where I had been, where I had experienced similar emotions, hence the name of each piece. From those places, I took, visually, the colors and their reinterpretation in the face of questions such as: What did I feel or experience when I was in Seoul? How many dimensions do we know or encounter when we move (that dimension) from one place to another? What is happening at this very moment in Mexico? What did I learn there? In that creative process, there were millimetric places, millimetric movements, millimetric emotions. The millimetric sometimes scares; they seem to be small spaces, but they are giants. In VoDMA, the brew is a piece that summarises or manages to have in each millimetric square, each one of the other pieces, of all of them. When I achieved that I felt that the work was finished. Sometimes I go back to VoDMA, to question it, to question myself, and to restart a new, completely unknown process. Now I am working on DESMEDIR, which partly questions the above.

What do you strive for in your works? What thought do you want to convey to the viewer?


The creation of a work is not only in the construction and experimentation of colors, forms, assemblages, etc. Work has to have a message, a narrative, a statement. In this sense, I seek with my narrative that the spectator feels identified, that the experience of seeing a work becomes an experience that at the same time can generate a new beginning; or a reinterpretation of previously incorporated concepts and notions. 


It is also a reinterpretation of the artist on certain issues, experiences, and daily emotions, but also to generate a message of "doing what one is passionate about"; and to understand the indivisibility of people, emotions, the creative moment.


What is strong work for you? Can you decipher it?


The most important thing is the creative process. At that moment, you often try to come up with a concrete idea, and it almost always leads to more than one project. That's incredible. That's where you have to stop and write down that many ideas because they will be future projects. By writing them down, deciphering them, you are going through a very valuable creative process.


Strong work for me is one where the artist has gone through that creative process and is very happy with the final product; he identifies with it, regardless of the time that has passed since it was built or finished. A work that has visual and emotional validity and from there allows the construction of new beginnings, of new projects, where the artist returns to the beginning to continue growing.

You have completed your master's thesis on the bilateral relations between Uruguay and Mexico. Tell us more about this work and how did you feel when you discovered that MascoGA is not only an abbreviation of your full name but also that "mascoga” is a subgroup of the indigenous shaman community in Mexico?


When I studied about Mexico, I must have done a lot of research on that nation. I still think I still have a lot to learn. In that journey, I found and read about many authors. That is how I came to this original population called Mascoga. I found two very interesting facts about them. The first was that they were defined by their ability to change their emotions when they decided to do so. The second, closely related, has to do with the Toltecs and what they have called mitote: mitote is the definition of the permanent noise of the cities, but also of the permanent noise in human beings; that permanent thought that is within us, our worries, concerns, worries, etc. 


Ninety percent of our thoughts - ideas that we have in a day are exactly the same as the day before. Therefore, the 10%, understood as "the new of the new day," is where we should concentrate and enhance it. That led me to the reflection, in 2014, that societies are going through an exponential acceleration of content production; photographs, images, etc.; where there is not much space to enhance that 10%, and it is often in that percentage that the strength of the creative process lies.


This is how I developed the photographic project "A world alone" about the massive use of mobile phones and MITOZIP - That was Mexico. MITOZIP is a fusion of the terms mitote and the term used in computer science: zip; to compress documents, photographs, etc. The question that guided me was: How to compress without loss at the moment we are going through as a society? MITOZIP are ten photographs taken in Mexico City, and it plays with this double meaning: the bustle of a city and the noise inside. 


With A world alone, I got to exchange, through individual cooperation, with artists from different parts of the world who were doing the same thing, reflecting on the same thing: the massive use of mobile phones.

You took part in various seminars, discussions and were a curator. Are public activities an integral part of your creative development, or do you pursue other goals?


For me, training is lifelong learning, and knowledge should be circular. I was sharing what has been learned. In these encounters, one learns; one gets to know new ways of thinking, of understanding, and of exchanging ideas, projects, theories, experiences, etc. For this reason, whenever I can, I try to continue studying and researching and to participate in these instances of enrichment and broadening of knowledge. It is also to investigate myself and to know myself with greater subtlety as an artist.


In your opinion, what does the success of an artist or photographer depend on talent, hard work, or media?


True success is doing every day what you are passionate about, and if you like it and it generates a back, and forth, it is doubly satisfying.


It depends on a combination of factors. The first of these has to do with the conviction that what you are doing is what you want to do. 


Permanent work and perseverance are also very important. The search for opportunities and not getting discouraged along the way are also fundamental. 


I also believe that there is a factor that often does not depend on the artist and has to do with being in the right place at the right time.

Would you like to leave a mark on history? Do something important for society? Or have you already done it? What do you think?


Yes, it is something that runs through my work, my way of being, and that I would like to achieve. The construction of a work and its narrative is largely oriented towards that; to generate reflection on where we are as a society, but also from the individual to the collective, and to encourage us to do what we like to do.


Instagram Mathias Escotto Gadea @mas.coga


Text by Lyubov Melnickowa @lumenicka