Kris Martin

I’m rarely won over to a new artist by a single work, but it happened during the recent art fair in Cologne. When I entered the Sies + Höke booth, my gaze was unexpectedly drawn to a gold-plated steel ball, sitting like an afterthought on the carpeting in the corner of the space. This work, by the young Belgian artist Kris Martin, immediately brought to mind images of golden orbs by James Lee Byars, the beauty of their spherical forms intensified by the brilliance of gold—but something more was going on here. I soon learned that this aesthetically perfect object, 100 years, 2004, purportedly contains ten bombs set to explode in one hundred years. And suddenly everything was different: Unlike most artworks, meant to exist enduringly, the meaning of this orb’s existence lay in its predicted obliteration, however far off.

But will the promised explosion really take place? Who can guarantee its fate in one hundred years? In any case, the work awoke in me an impatient curiosity to see more by this artist. In good time I was rewarded with this show of thirteen pieces—Martin’s first substantial solo. A Chinese vase, over seven feet tall, stood in the space. Untitled (vase), 2005, had already undergone the first stage of its gradual destruction, having aged over twenty years. Before it was installed in the gallery, however, the artist tipped it over, letting it break into a thousand pieces. He then reassembled it, piece by piece, and set it up again. At each new venue, it will be smashed by the artist and again glued back together. And so its owner faces a dilemma: Should he want to keep his artwork as whole as possible, he won’t be able to loan it for further exhibition—but in so doing, he would be robbing the artwork of its raison d’être, which of course lies in its gradual destruction. The vase has been sold to a collector; we’ll have to see whether it ever turns up again.

A small sheet of paper hanging on the wall in a Baroque-style wooden frame also deals with themes of destruction and preservation. The paper was written on with a ballpoint pen, the margins carefully observed, the straight course of the individual lines of text written one on top of the other still readily discernable: The artist, in his own hand, had copied out the text of Kafka’s story “The Metamorphosis,” which lends the 2004 work its title, Verwandlung. The entire content of the tale is spooled into this single page, and although present, it remains closed to the eye of the observer; though right in front of our eyes, it doesn’t exist. Another series of framed pages was also dedicated to this moment in which a text ceases to exist and dissolves into nothing. Martin painstakingly cut the final period out of several novels, among them Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, then glued each one onto the middle of a white sheet of paper. While Mann’s work ended with this full stop, it now calls another work, End-Point of “ Der Zauberberg” (Thomas Mann), 2004, into existence; and so art propagates itself much as does life—as does my curiosity about the next destructive-creative explosion by Kris Martin.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.