Portfolio: Guillermo Srodek-Hart, Short Stories I

Guillermo Srodek-Hart has a show at the Dina Mitrani Gallery in Miami from February 9 to March 30 called "Short Stories." The exhibition includes images taken during the artist's travels to photograph interiors in remote rural towns outside of Buenos Aires. These interiors - frequently crowded with highly organized objects - tell as much about the lives lived there as about the spaces themselves. Accompanying the photographs in the show are texts that further explore the lives of the people that the artist encounters in these isolated towns.

Over three posts we will present a selection of these images and their complete accompanying texts.

Srodek-Hart (b. 1977) studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University, Boston, and received his MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He was awarded the Klemm Prize in 2005 and the Petrobrás Award 2006, both in Argentina. In 2008, he was among the 30 artists chosen to be part of the book Contemporary Argentine Art, Artista X Artista. His work is included in the North Dakota Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan.

Dry Cleaner's 'Japan', courtesy of the artist and Dina Mitrani Gallery

Dry Cleaner’s ‘Japan’

Two days before hitting the road, I found Ricardo Nakamurakare’s number and called him. ‘I don’t know if you remember me, I’m the photographer who uses the antique camera. I took a photo of the dry cleaner’s in 2008. I think I sent you a copy, I’m not sure if you got it.’

Nakamurakare answers in a frail voice: ‘Señor, at this moment I am not allowed to see anybody, I’m in very poor health.’

I can’t stop myself and insist: ‘I am so sorry you are not doing well. You know, all I need is a little of your time, maybe a half hour or so, perhaps we can chat a bit?’

‘It’s just that I can hardly speak, Señor. I have a health problem and I am undergoing a treatment. I can’t even leave my house.’

I care about his health, of course, but I also care about my project. I need to rescue the stories behind the photos; connect with the people before everything disappears. It’s hard to believe that Nakamurakare, whom I remember as a relatively young man, would be in a convalescent state.

‘What do you say if you give me your home address? I could swing by and we could have a cup of tea or some mate. I will be in your town the day after tomorrow, you know.’

‘You do not understand Señor, I am very sick and under medical treatment and can hardly talk at all. I have to ask you to call me in the future, perhaps I will be cured by then.’

‘Ok, ok, very well Ricardo, I truly hope you recover from your illness and I will try and get in touch with you later. Take care now.’

I nervously scratch my head. The thought of Nakamurakare’s death makes me itchy. Rejection makes me itchy.

Two days later I am driving through Saladillo, looking around for the dry cleaners. I can’t find it. I ask around. ‘Yeah, that place is about 10 feet from San Martin Ave. but I think it’s no longer there.’
I step on the gas. Getting closer to the corner. Sold. Maybe its been preserved… maybe…
I couldn’t get out of the pick up truck. Three years ago, I walked into this dark, symmetrical, humid interior. Garments saturated the ceiling like spirits in a state of suspension. Ricardo and his ancient father watched in perplexity as I danced around the tripod in a trance.

The whole place had been demolished.

Bar El Mate, courtesy of the artist and Dina Mitrani Gallery
Bar El Mate

‘It must have been at least two years since you were here, don’t you think?’ Giye asked as he held the photograph close to his face. ‘Sit. Do you want a coke?’

Tucho, who was right across from me, became very interested in what I was doing.

‘So you like all the old stuff. General stores and such? Listen, you have to go to Chacharramendi.’
‘What’s there?’ I’ve heard that name before.’
‘There’s an old store, the kind you don’t see anymore. The things they have in there! Trust me, you won’t regret it.’

Next to Tucho sits a dude who had crashed his motorcycle the night before.

‘You still have that bike?’
‘Yep. But let's drop the subject.’
‘Hey, careful with those concrete walls. They can be pretty solid.’
‘Yeah? Guess what I am having today.’ The dude lifts a bottle of Coke and shakes it.
‘Forget it, it's not like you were drunk the other night. You couldn’t even start the engine!’
‘And this place is how far from here?’
‘You have about 140 miles, going through Colonel Acha, it’s the desert road. But it’s worth it, seriously. If by any chance you have a problem, ask for the mayor, tell him you’re my friend. He knows me.’
‘You know what’s the problem with this motorcycle? That it has no clutch.’
‘C’mon! You were accelerating like a madman!’
‘No, no, the thing won’t drive if you don’t accelerate it.’
‘You are not familiar with the machine, that’s what it is.’
‘Tucho, listen, many times they tell me ‘go here, go there,’ the place is amazing, and when I show up it’s all tidy and clean, completely impersonal; it starts looking like a museum, you know?’
‘Yes but I’m telling you its got things you won’t see anywhere else in the country. Seriously.’
‘You have to be an idiot not to take the motorcycle on the street before hitting the gas.’
‘Face it, you’ve never ridden a bike in your life.’
‘Its tough man, cause if it came with a clutch I could slowly let it go and the thing would move, but this has no clutch so you hit the gas and bum!’
‘Yeah, Pintos has a pick up truck with no clutch. It’s an automatic.’
‘Oh… an automatic… And how do you shift gears?’
‘You do it by stepping on the break.’
‘What a piece of shit!’
‘I know, the other day the thing drove itself straight into some trees. It took a punishment, believe me.’

The next morning I left early to Chacharramendi. I drove for three hours and by 11am I was parking under some trees. The dashboard read 95F in the shadow. I walked up the steps and peeked through the window. My heart sunk. The place was completely septic. ‘No Smoking’ signs were plastered all over the walls and every object on display had a label printed from a computer. It was a grave.

I didn’t take a photo. Instead, I drove back to the motel empty-handed. It was about siesta time so I laid down to nap hoping my mood would change by the time I woke up.