PRINT January 2001

David Rimanelli

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED DARIA MARTIN’S ART IN A group exhibition at the Works on Paper gallery in Los Angeles. She was showing pencil and watercolor drawings, but I found out that she was also doing videos, about which there was a very favorable “buzz.” At the time, Martin was completing the MFA program at UCLA, where she had studied with Lari Pittman and Charles Ray, among others. (Ray in fact lent her the camera for her first film, In the Palace, 2000, which she exhibited for the MFA show and at the Analix Forever gallery in Switzerland.) I was curating a group exhibition, “Sentimental Education,” for Deitch Projects in New York, and as soon as I got a look at Martin’s video and film work, I knew she was indeed a must.

In this era of omnipresent digital technology, special effects don’t seem that special anymore. As if in response to the mundane extraordinary, Martin makes good use of the charms of the archaic in her films and videos, deploying what she calls “low-tech magic” to reinvigorate the art of the moving image. Or better, the art of the barely moving image—Martin’s works feel rapturously sedated. In the videos Runaways and Shangri-La, both 1999, she situates her models within plainly fake, painted dioramas. The living figures remain almost still while the artificial landscapes gently move—in Runaways, the dust of snow; in Shangri-La, the languidly falling motes. The mood is foggy, distant, romantic, sensual. At the same time, the artist’s reluctance to conceal the artifice—she seems to revel in phoniness—restores to these vistas a certain measure of self-consciousness. They sustain an invitation to bask in never-never-land dreaminess even as the nuts-and-bolts seams of the productions insist on their distance. Seduced and abandoned . . .

The subtle shifts between stasis and movement, historicity and timeliness, are even more pronounced in Martin’s 16 mm film In the Palace. The title refers to Giacometti’s The Palace at 4 a.m., its spindly, skeletal forms recast here as a cage for the actor-models, who strike exaggerated, balletic poses evocative of Martha Graham. If Martin relishes the seeming naïveté of early modernist art, still she is wary of the dangers of uncritical nostalgia. So while she skirts the too-easy posture of camp, she is nevertheless unafraid of partaking in the thrill of a moment in history when the avant-garde was consumed by the problem of what it meant to be “modern people”—a mood very much in keeping with our own uncertainly forward-looking times.

A pair of recent LA teaching gigs occasioned a year of reconnaissance for New York–based Artforum contributing editor DAVID RIMANELLI, who showcased his West Coast discoveries in “Sentimental Education,” the exhibition he organized at Deitch Projects last July. Daria Martin, the artist he introduces here, is an alum of that show. A longtime champion of tomorrow’s art today, Rimanelli has previously organized such exhibitions as 1998’s “Harriet Craig” at Apex Art and “The Salon of 1999: Friends and Enemies” at the Fifth International. He is currently at work on a book about Pop’s neo incarnations, to be published by Thames & Hudson.