Dalibor Martinis

Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb

The work of Dalibor Martinis dates back to the “open reel” phase of the Video Age, and this retrospective examines the various forms his involvement with the medium has taken over the years. The exhibition includes eight video installations in separate museum rooms, as well as three video sculptures. The work ranges from readymade pieces such as Nature morte, 1974, Cold Kiss, 1977, and Cage, 1990, to a video performance reconstructed here as an installation (Walking together, 1979), to a closed-circuit installation in combination with a video-projected text (On your own, 1990).

Martinis has always placed the image and text on equal footing: a dialogue between lovers figures prominently in the installation Tavolacalda (Diner, 1987); William Burroughs’ writings are featured in the videotape Image is virus, 1983; and Antonin Artaud’s correspondence provides a voice-over for the tape Liquid Ice, 1988.

Since Martinis began working with video in 1973, he has made fictional as opposed to documentary work. Rather than attempting to establish the truth of the image, he has questioned it, focusing on the relation between the image without camera (“true reality”) and the image with camera (“fictional reality”).

The mini-installation In case. . ., 1990, is hidden in a spot that usually goes unnoticed. From the screen of a pocket monitor placed in a glass-covered fire-alarm box, Martinis gazes out at us. The idea of video-as-surveillance is obvious here, but what is more central to Martinis’ project is the sense of the “beholder being beheld.” This same notion informs the videotape Dutch Moves, 1986.

The installation Equinox II, 1990, is a meditation piece, a three-dimensional yin/yang sign for which the wall has been divided into equal black and white halves. A monitor with the same image, but inverted, is positioned in front of the wall. Although we immediately recognize the yin/yang, the work’s gestalt would be desperately Modernist were the video monitor not turned upside down, so as to underscore the idea of reversibility in change.

Based on Martinis’ recollection of the Ryoanji Temples in Kyoto, the installation Rock Garden, 1986, reinterprets nature already interpreted as a Zen garden. Twelve monitors grouped in twos and threes and partially buried in a bed of pebbles, mimic boulders in a Zen garden. The images on the screens alternate static or dynamic shots of rocks in water.

Though it would be an exaggeration to suggest that television is a video artist’s nightmare, one necessarily establishes some kind of relationship with the mainstream media. Yet, where Bill Viola had a “seven-channel childhood,” Martinis grew up in Yugoslavia, with only one available station. Artistically formed around, and by, the events of ’68, Martinis first exhibited in an atmosphere in which Modern doctrine held sway, and his early efforts focus on the institution of the museum. A participant in the “half-inch” revolution, he also questioned the institution of television; ironically, major networks (ZDF in Germany or TV Belgrade in Yugoslavia) have recently produced a number of his tapes.

The installation View to Another View, 1986, brings together art history, B-movies, and the museum as the resting place for “original” but socially impotent artworks. A text placed in front of and on the outer walls of the installation describes a mysterious museum murder in which a diplomat is killed while looking at Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors. The installation contains two images: a full-size photographic reproduction of Holbein’s painting and an image on a monitor of the back of a man looking at the work. A shot is heard, and the man on the screen falls dead! Through a hole on the outer wall, we discover the truth about the famous anamorphosis depicted in the Holbein; the mysterious object is a human skull, a fact that seems to suggest that the murder had been predicted by the painting 453 years before it actually happened! Were we to adopt Jean Baudrillard’s theory of the simulacrum—the idea that the image has lost its reference to “basic reality”—then the picture would no longer be a victim of reality. But can reality then, conversely, become victim of an image? Can the empire of the image strike back? Well, didn’t the bullet that killed the diplomat come from the painting? Still, there are no witnesses. Not yet. . . .

Bojana Pejić

Translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Ivan Vejvoda.