Passengers: 1.1 Daria Martin

September 05, 2007 to September 29, 2007

Passengers: Daria Martin is the first solo show in this series.

The artist Daria Martin's films, many of which are shown as 16mm projections, assemble memories, reveries, scholarly research, and imported citations drawn from a wide range of sources including early twentieth century painting, sculpture, fashion, stage and dance productions. "I came to the medium of film because of its open potential," writes Daria Martin, "its invitation to travel through time and space within an imagined world." The artist values the contradictions of the medium of film, in particular the tension between the private fantasy it stimulates and the public physicality on which it depends.

The Total Work of Art

by Jens Hoffmann

The San Francisco–born and London-based artist Daria Martin has, in just a few years, created a unique body of work. She uses film to reexamine artistic concepts and tendencies from the twentieth century, with a special focus on performance and its relationship to other fields in the arts.

For centuries, achieving a broad artistic synthesis—what the nineteenth-century German composer Richard Wagner described as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art—has been a goal of many artists and art movements. In Wagner's case, he longed for a fusion of theater, music, and the visual arts, as in the dramatic performances of the ancient Greeks. Avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, in particular those associated with the Bauhaus, further investigated the possibility of combining art forms, including choreography, architecture, and design.

Martin borrows many ideas from this latter period, utilizing them in her films and, more recently, in her live performances. Her work also pays tribute to the history of film, from 1960s British New Wave cinema to contemporary American movies and the often aesthetically refined and innovative (but politically suspect) German propaganda films of the 1930s. Another significant source of inspiration is the North American performing arts avant-garde of the 1960s. Despite the historical "weight" of these many forebears, however, Martin manages to form accessible and unique creations that carry viewers into a world of romantic, subliminal wishes. The two films in this exhibition, Closeup Gallery (2003) and Loneliness and the Modern Pentathlon (2004–5), perfectly illustrate the way in which she fuses various disciplines while paying tribute to historically important movements that pursued similar ideas.

Closeup Gallery begins with an introduction to a card magician and a woman who seems to be his student or glamorous assistant. They stand at a round, rotating, translucent table whose multilayered surfaces recall a kaleidoscope. They smile and flirt, trying to impress each other with elaborate card tricks. An almost hypnotic soundtrack plays in the background while the table layers spin like roulette wheels, creating a play of colors through the set design, the cards, and the players' clothing. The film speaks of rules and games and the illusions of magic and film. In occasional moments of disruption, one of the actors suddenly steps out of his or her role or drops a card, indicating the artificiality of it all and emphasizing the constructed nature of film, games, and even life itself.

The most remarkable scene in Loneliness and the Modern Pentathlon is a clear homage to the opening sequences of Olympia (1936), which was made by the controversial filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl for the Berlin Olympic games and heroically glorified the athletic human body. Martin's creation also incorporates seemingly Bauhaus-inspired gymnastics as well as costumes that recall Eurythmy, a dance practice developed by Rudolf Steiner in the early twentieth century.

The title refers, of course, to the pentathlon competition: a combination of equestrian steeple chasing, sword fighting, pistol shooting, swimming, and running. But it is also a reference to Tony Richardson's 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Richardson gave the actress Rita Tushingham her first role, and Tushingham plays the lead in Martin's film as an older, now-retired contestant—a figure of authority who meticulously supervises the young athletes' training. As the youths polish their riding boots, run in squads, fence, and shoot, the film takes on a slightly militaristic character.

Loneliness and the Modern Pentathlon is meticulously photographed and edited, and it creates its particular ambiance through a skillfully developed soundtrack. The work clearly points to the utopian idea of physical and mental fitness as necessary for higher social and cultural achievements.