For his first solo commission in a British public space Simon Martin presents Untitled (2008), a new single-screen video installation conceived specially for this exhibition at Chisenhale.
Martin’s practice examines the cultural significance of art and artifacts and our relationship to them, and encompasses painting, sculpture and moving image. In recent years he has focused almost exclusively on film. Untitled marks a departure into the realm of high definition, CAD (computer assisted design) animation.
In 1998 Martin made a photorealist painting of a strawberry poison dart frog based on a found photograph. Untitled returns to that same source image though here it is rendered in a fully three-dimensional state. The animation of the frog could be seen as a collection of establishing shots, carefully observing the creature and exploring the virtual space of the synthetic image. Moving between stillness and motion, Martin’s digital rendering of the photographic image creates an uncanny effect and a self-reflexive comment on the construction of images.
Punctuating shots of the frog are intertitles consisting of text taken from various airport novels. These are banal, generic phrases, which describe a variety of locations and simple actions and combine to evoke a liminal non-space. A collage of rainforest sounds and orchestral extracts accompanies the images and text. The orchestral extracts signify the ‘cinematic’, yet the images, text and sound do not fully fuse, instead remaining as discrete, parallel layers of information. There might be clues to things outside of the film - love affairs or world events - but extracted from a wider narrative, here, in isolation, meaning is infinitely deferred and we remain resolutely in the presentness of the work.
To quote Martin, ‘A picture of a poison dart frog is something we could all be familiar with from a TV documentary or a museum postcard. An image like this becomes the start of a discussion or a springboard to somewhere else. An event or situation can also coalesce into a memorable image, one that we can try to reproduce or simply hold in our heads. How are images used to direct our attention and what information unwittingly leaks out in the process. What did the image-maker not see? What does the frame exorcise? Why this particular image? And how is it that some images remain, despite familiarity or analysis, potent or strange whilst others will slip by barely noticed.’
Simon Martin was included in Beatrix Ruf’s Tate Triennial (2006) and he has had solo exhibitions at The Power Plant, Toronto (2006), Carl Freedman Gallery, London (2006), and White Columns, New York (2005). Martin’s work has been purchased by Tate and the Arts Council Collection and his films are distributed by LUX.
Esther Leslie, Professor of Political Aesthetics, Birkbeck University explores moments in the history, politics and aesthetics of animation and its employment in the rendering of a ‘digital sublime’.
A screening of films selected by Simon Martin including ‘Castle One’ (1966) by Malcolm Le Grice, ‘Clouds’ (1969) by Peter Gidal and ‘A Study of Relationships between Inner and Outer Space’ (1969) by David Lamelas.
Dan Fox, Associate Editor, Frieze in conversation with Simon Martin.
Stuart Comer, Curator: Film, Tate Modern discusses themes and concerns emerging from Simon Martin’s exhibition.