David Lamelas

(b. 1946, Buenos Aires, lives and works in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, and Paris)

Lamelas studied at the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires. During the 1960s he was one of the leaders of the vanguard movement originated at the Instituto Torcuato di Tella. In 1968 he traveled to London and studied at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. It was during his time in London, while using photographs and text as material, that Lamelas began working with film. His desire was to “produce sculptural forms without any physical volume.”

Lamelas is best known for the structuralist films and media installations he produced in London and Los Angeles during the late 1960s and early 1970s, which questioned art’s capacity as both a means of communication and a medium for creating self-awareness. Key to these projects was Lamelas’s interest in relating techniques and systems used by the film and television industry to the burgeoning discourse on public space and media technology. For Lamelas, location and place are primary: “space has a reality, it exists” he said; yet around the same time he asserted: “Time doesn’t exist, our consciousness constructs it. Time is a fiction.” (2007) He went on to investigate these thoughts in a range of post- minimalist installations, performances, photos, and films.

Desert People (1972) seems initially like a documentary that scrambles the rules of straight ethnographic study. The documentary and road movie genres play against one another, producing a counter-narrative. The language opens in English, slips into Spanish and finally into Papago indicating the inability to understand another culture from the outside. Time-line dialogue is interrupted and cultural exchange and analysis are turned against themselves to celebrate not a progress, but a hopelessness.

Talking about his work Desert People in 2006 Lamelas said: “The original idea of Desert People was very conceptual; it was to create two films that were unrelated, but because of the editing the viewer will believe that a story is unfolding. I wanted it to be a sort of fake documentary about a group of people recounting their experiences of visiting a Native American reservation. In a way the spectacular ending is the denial of any narrative. On the one hand, you see people travelling somewhere; on the other, you have interviews with people explaining what happened when they spent five weeks with the Papagos. But going there, they all die in a car crash. So their narrative was not possible because they were dead! At that time, apart from Hollywood movies I had seen as a child, I knew very little about American cinema. When I arrived in LA I watched television for three weeks – all the latest movies, as if I was training to understand the Hollywood syntax. I was playing with differences in the way the camera works within a fictional movie and in documentaries.”