New York

Ferran Martin

Roger Smith Gallery

Ferran Martin’s new video, part of his series “Le Modulor” (The module), 2001, is at once amusing and ominous. Donning a hollow mirrored cube that covers his whole head, turning him into a kind of fumbling robot, he makes his way through the labyrinth of rubble behind St. John the Divine cathedral in New York. In photographs also on view in this recent show we see Martin with his cube head exploring other locations in the city: Riverside Church on the Upper West Side; a block of lower Broadway. The complex reflection of his surroundings is not exactly mimetic: We experience the site as an incoherent accumulation of expressive scenes, both picturesque and absurd. It is subtly transformed rather than simply mirrored; we are brought to a new consciousness of it, but it has lost its particular identity in the world. As Martin climbs and pivots, never ceasing to move and turn his head, the mirrored image acquires an expressive and aesthetic dimension: It turns into quasi art. Martin seems to be posing the Duchampian question, What is the difference between quasi art and “real” art?

Martin’s work is not simply an homage to the square (or its three-dimensional counterpart). Although it shares a certain affinity with Hans Richter's whimsical and abstract Dada Heads, 1918, his cube is not a Suprematist object run amok and vulgarized, dumped into a democratic environment that points up its artificiality. It also has a Minimalist ancestry, as it plays on Sol LeWitt’s closed and open cubes (Martin’s cube is a closed form, but its reflectiveness makes it in a sense open, to the world) and relates to Robert Morris’s early mirrored sculptures with their simple geometry and dead-end Constructivism. The key to Martin’s work is hinted at in Robert Smithson’s suggestive use of mirrors, in which whatever is reflected supposedly becomes timeless and spaceless, “displaced.” Displacement is Martin’s ultimate goal: not simply what Smithson called “mirror displacements” but the displacement of identity into an unknown “space.” Like the architecture fragmented by Martin's cube head, Martin himself seems to have lost his identity and moves blindly through the world (he’s not cheating—the mirrors are opaque). In a sense, he is suggesting that the artist is an unseeing, anonymous idiot simply reflecting whatever he encounters, which invariably makes it look different—not that the artist actually transforms the appearance of his subject with his insight into its substance, but that the subject becomes an insubstantial appearance by reason of the deceptive novelty of the “artistic” veneer. In the end Martin’s cube man is less a caricature of the artist than an anti-art device that, as art, has become a caricature of itself.

Donald Kuspit