The films of American artist Daria Martin (born in 1973) map out newly interpreted images of modernistic ideals and tendencies within the performative arts. A constant interchanging of performer and object challenge the viewer to re-define their perception in a world of artifice, cheap materials and alarmingly real fantasies. For the first time united, Daria Martin will be showing her 16-mm films, «In the Palace» (2000), «Birds» (2001) and «Closeup Gallery» (2003), conceived as trilogy, in the parallel-room at the Kunsthalle Zürich. Also, on 20 March 2005, the artist will give a lecture on her films and present as a one-off special screening, her newest 16-mm film «Soft Materials», which was made in November 2004.at the Artificial Intelligence Lab of the ETH Zürich.
Daria Martin's film-trilogy seduces and irritates through its exaggerated theatrical artifice as well as through its blunt exposure and its concurrent hermetic hiding of emotions. In «In the Palace» performers and objects are united in an indefinable dark interior, where on the one hand, motionless dancers hold classical poses and on the other, find themselves interlaced in a web of tubular steal constructions which through the ever rotating camera create always fresh outlines and hence trigger the viewer to perceive the space anew. Daria Martin's pays homage on Oskar Schlemmer's modernistic theatre performance "Slat Dance" of 1927, which exemplified the watershed point in 20th century theatre practises where performance and the "act of looking" was sharply re-defined. The cold dark geometry of the stage-set and the soft thunder
and rain noises lend «In the Palace» an uncanny feeling that mirror the modernistic perfection, which only gets broken by the playful, simple and sometimes banal costumes such as aluminium foil necklaces and head coverings.
In «Birds» Daria Martin changes the mood masterfully from bleak to gleeful without changing the formal structures too much. As in «In the Palace», the space stays indefinable but instead it is light-flooded white. The tubular frame structures return in form of smaller and partly mobile elements, interspersed with furniture-like Plexiglas objects. The camera moves quicker, sometime panning from left to right, other times turning in circles, capturing the transiently edited scenes that are underlined with a pulsating electro-soundtrack. The costumes resemble a sort of absurd retro-futuristic fashion, more artificial and more colourful, they remind one of the theatre and performance pieces of the sixties. An aesthetic, Kubrik-like cocktail between
Odyssey 2001, Clockwork Orange and a Cage-Cunningham-Johns performance from 1968, where objects and performers melt into one. The distance between performer and viewer gets reduced through the constant zooming in and out of the camera through which we can get a glimpse of a performer's little smirk or an unwanted look directly into the camera, signalising that everyone involved, the performer as the audience are aware of the fact that they are caught in an open game of self-exposing actor versus voyeuristic gaze of the viewer.
«Closeup Gallery» raises the formalistic scenario to a higher level. A card magician and his student, four deck of cards, blue, red, black and green and a rotating, circular table with three Plexiglas tabletops stacked on top of each other, form a kaleidoscope of colour-coordinated interpretation, like a card-game, which repeatedly gets get shuffled and laid out. A man and a woman, dressed in shirts that adapt in colour to the various card scenes. They smile at each other, play tricks to impress one another but in the end they simply act as a plastic extension of the cards themselves. Both card players direct their objects on the table, which is their mutual stage, like puppeteers who become one with their surrounding.
This aesthetic scenario is escorted by the hypnotising melody «My Little Diamond» by Egill Saebjörnsson. Image and music fuses into a carousel of feelings of various perceptions that oscillate between reality and the game of artifice, between the playful allusion to modernistic abstraction and the deceptive qualities of the act of seeing. Daria Martin's filmmaking process lays bare the methods and elements involved and more often highlights them by applying seemingly unprofessional and quasi-documentary moments. Through this she emphasises artifice and naturalness, the illusion of the disillusioned room and separates the masks of performance, theatre and film clearly.
Kunsthalle Zürich thanks: Präsidialdepartement der Stadt Zürich, Luma Stiftung