Madrid

Alicia Martín

Galería Oliva Arauna

Alicia Martín belongs to the generation of Spanish artists that began exhibiting in the early ’90s. Initially, this generation was known for a metaphorical use of objects and materials, and for the importance of subjectivity in their work. Even sometimes in relation to seemingly neutral themes, these artists often made themselves into the substance of their art. That was a long time ago, however, and those early years were difficult; the economic crisis of the time meant that many galleries and collectors were resistant to anything that seemed new. Yet the absolute freedom with which these artists worked as well as the novel character of their proposals gave rise to powerful and fresh art.

Many young creators from those years (including Santiago Sierra, Eulàlia Valldosera, Montserrat Soto, and Ana Laura Aláez) are now leading figures in contemporary Spanish art. Among them, Martín is a remarkable figure. Early on, she made a name for herself with object-based works, especially those in which she used a variety of materials in combination with books, her favorite raw material. The results were so impressive that she came to be identified with that work.

The name of her new exhibition, “Subjetivos” (Subjective), furthers the idea that has run through her work since the beginning: the clash or dialectic between a person and an external reality—a reality whose objectivity is sensed yet unknown since it can only be experienced through the mediation of our subjectivity. Apparently Martín realizes that while more works about books might assure her commercial success, continuing artistic vitality depends instead on working with ideas, nuances, and even forms that she has not explored before. This doesn’t necessarily mean a complete break. The triptych Hasta que la muerte… (Until Death Do…), 2005, like a number of her latest pieces, harks back to the artist’s past. In this piece, Martín reworks a photograph she used a decade ago in the intense “Acupuntura sentimental” (Sentimental Acupuncture), 1995. This time, she subjects the photograph to an ambiguous pun tightly linked to the real. A tense relation between language and reality once again comes into play in Sinfonía (Symphony), 2004, a video showing a disoriented rat wandering through a maze while a child’s voice awkwardly recites the alphabet.

Martín’s greatest innovation in this show is the use of language as a key dramatic element. In addition to the two pieces mentioned above, there is a third that consists of spheres on whose surface appear images and words, sometimes distorted or altered. By cutting out or underlining parts of words, Martín alters not only their syntax but also their meaning, thus showing that expressions like todo (everything) and historia (history) are not precise, but relative and subject to manipulation. D4, 2003, a large, realistic graphite portrait of a girl—the artist’s daughter, in fact—presides over an exhibition that relates childhood with the difficulty of learning preestablished codes. The girl in the portrait stretches out her arms in an elusive gesture that seems to be one of offering. It is the only purely visual piece in the show, the only one without need of words.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.