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Free Radicals - Elad Lassry´s Hermetic Photographic Works
It's interesting to be unsure - A conversation with Lorna Simpson
The Human Dimension - Thomas Scheibitz at the MMK
Visual Encyclopedia of the People's Republic - Liu Zheng's monumental photo atlas The Chinese
On Disappearance and Illumination - Michael Stevenson in the Portikus, Frankfurt
10 Years - ArtMag Celebrates its Anniversary!
Dynamic Duo - Preview Frieze London and Frieze Masters
Fabian Marti: Trip to the Other Side
Wallpaper and Transcendence: Shannon Bool - Excursions into Modernism

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Fabian Marti
Trip to the Other Side


He is widely regarded to be a shooting star on the Swiss art scene—and rightly so, because Fabian Marti’s seductive photograms, ceramics, and installations point the way to a world beyond reality. In Deutsche Bank’s new home office in Zurich, Marti’s photo works are one of the art presentation’s highlights. Achim Drucks set out to explore Marti’s unique universe.


The arms and legs grow cold, the pulse is barely perceptible; then come confusion and delusion. During the Middle Ages, entire regions were decimated by “St. Anthony’s Fire”—ergot poisoning caused by rye fields infected with the fungus, which contains a high concentration of toxic alkaloids. Mutterkorn (Ergot) is the title Fabian Marti gave to his large-scale photographic work of 2011 in the Deutsche Bank Collection. The picture’s black and white concentric circles exert a hypnotic effect. Like a spiral, they drag the eye into their depths.

Marti is a rock star among contemporary Swiss artists. His long dark hair and full beard make him look like a double of the late Jim Morrison. Marti shares a deep interest in shamanism and consciousness-expanding experiences with the charismatic singer of The DoorsBreak on through to the other side is the title of one of The Doors’s most famous songs. And it’s just this breaking through to another reality that is the 1979-born artist’s theme.

Ergot also opens the doors to another sphere; the Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered this in 1943 while searching for a vascular stimulant for the pharmaceutical company Sandoz. The substance he isolated from the fungus, however, stimulated a completely different region of the body. His lysergic acid diethylamide turned out to have hallucinogenic effects. In the 1960s, LSD became the party drug an entire generation took to trip. For Marti, however, psychoactive substances are primarily a means to gain understanding: “I believe that the knowledge of past eras—the whole axis of time—is inscribed in the human being. Not as intellectual knowledge, but more as an instinct or an emotion. The idea goes back to a vision I had on magic mushrooms. For me it is a fascinating fact, it opens up a contemporaneousness that bears the possibility of mental time-travel.”

That sounds a lot like esoterism and New Age. An artist following in the footsteps of Aldous Huxley and Carlos Castaneda, whose reports on the consciousness-expanding aspects of their drug experiences once made them counter-culture heroes? In any case, a glance at Marti’s work makes one thing clear: his photo works, films, and ceramics, staged as seductive fetishes in elaborate settings, look extremely good. Their decorative surfaces invite us to follow the artist on his trip, which not only leads through regions beyond reality and rationality, but also through the whole of art history. The amazing thing is that he succeeds in giving images back their original power, even those that have become reduced to cliché. Thus, the spiral—the most recurrent form in his work—twirls not only in Duchamp’s film Anémic Cinéma (1926); one also sees it in the eyes of the snake Kaa in Walt Disney’s Jungle Book (1967) and in thousands of comics. At the same time, the spiral is also an ancient mythological symbol. Marti’s works draw from these prehistoric images imbedded deep in the human subconscious.

The five white-glazed boxes he showed in his solo exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur in 2011 also point to the subconscious. As objects, they remind one of the Minimal Art of the 1960s, yet the fingerprints, scratches, and dents on their surfaces would hardly have pleased Donald Judd, being diametrically opposed to his flawless, industrially manufactured metal cubes. In addition, a glance into Marti’s boxes reveals that the tentacles winding out from inside them belong to an octopus. Like aliens, the creatures inhabit the ceramic boxes. The title of the work, White Cube, suggests not only something organic, impure, and threatening lurking behind Minimal Art’s perfect surfaces, but also behind the walls—and not only those in modernist, neutral exhibition spaces. “Basically, insanity is repressed in our society,” explains Marti. “Despite this, it still bubbles under the surface somewhere and can break out any time.”

Marti doesn’t only use the formal language of the Minimalists; he works with a wide variety of visual materials: Minoan vases, Old Netherlandish painting, the covers of trashy science fiction novels. African masks whose “primitivism” already inspired Picasso turn up in Marti’s work as white resin objects based on 3-D models downloaded from the Internet, which he then crosses with geometric forms. These, in turn, are based on a late painting by Picabia—the quote of a quote of a quote. This can be understood either as a criticism of modernism, or as the result of a trophy hunt in which the loot is sampled together to produce desirable artifacts. “Marti’s art appears to follow in the wake of great traditions with the aplomb of exaggerated self-confidence,” writes critic Daniel Baumann in Marti’s first catalogue. “In reality, it's probably meant to be a repository for whatever anybody wants to see in it, and nothing could be better suited to that purpose than the art world's ancient and latest traditions.”

The fact that such appropriations can also be problematic can be seen in the work Spiritual Me (2008), which exists in five versions. Marti used black tape to distort the photograph of a bare-breasted African woman dancing with eyes closed, as though in a trance. “This dancer, that’s me. I feel related to her in her naivety or blindness to the world,” explains Marti in an interview with the gallerist Karolina Dankow. For him, the woman is “a kind of metaphor for artistic identity.” Yet he is thoroughly “aware that that is a presumptuous claim, in a certain sense.” But it still remains questionable whether in this day and age Marti still needs to use a naked tribal woman from Africa to signalize “naivety” and the “path to an ‘original’ creative act.”

The Zurich-based artist became known for his large-scale black and white photograms, in which he incorporated references to ancient Christian and esoteric symbols: crosses, owls, crystals, skulls, often mirrored or superimposed—images that look as though Moholy-Nagy had taken over the cover design for the album of a gothic band. He makes these by placing various objects on the glass plate of a scanner. Hey, now, it’s the sun (Amanita Muscaria) from 2008, for example, depicts the lamellae of a fly agaric mushroom—the image resembles a huge pupil hovering before a dark universe.

References to mushrooms carry throughout Marti’s work. This is due to their psychoactive effects, which is why they play a key role in shamanist rituals. For thousands of years, these spiritual “psychonauts” have been moving in spheres the artist also seeks to explore: “Shamans are the true masters of consciousness,” Marti asserts. “They have access to other realities and can teach us to question our belief system. Since everything we perceive, think or do is based on our consciousness, and shamans show us that consciousness can be altered, one comes to the conclusion that our reality, culture, and even science is standing on an unstable base.”

How serious is he about these references to the esoteric, occultism, and consciousness expansion? Is he juggling with these meanings just as he juggles with his visual material? The intensity with which Marti scrutinizes these themes in his work is impressive in its continuity. But when he stylizes himself for a catalogue cover as a dreamy bohemian on a sofa, the book Der Geheimkult des heiligen Pilzes (Sacred Mushroom and the Cross) slipping out of his fingers, there is also a hint at an ironic game—at least with the image of the artist as a genius driven by visions.

Marti’s longing for authenticity becomes clear when he explains that he began his ceramic sculptures “to work in a more direct way, with my hands. I see it as a very archaic thing: creating something out of earth.” That’s true, of course. But it’s also a statement that sounds a lot like what you’d hear in a pottery class or self-encounter group, as the artist knows perfectly well. For him, it’s clear that this form of expression and authenticity, much like the spiral, has long since been reduced to a cliché. Despite this, Marti does the work anyway—and the results vindicate him.

In terms of the difficult subject of esoterism: it’s not only for Marti that a sphere exists beyond the White Cube, beyond reality, one that eludes our rational image of the world. Shamans have known this since time immemorial. Even the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg was clear on this: “Existing scientific concepts cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite.” On their new record, the Pet Shop Boys say the same thing in simpler words: “There is a place beyond this world.”

Current Exhibitions:

Armin Boehm / Fabian Marti / Erika Verzutti
8/31 – 10/20/2012
Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich

La jeunesse es un art
Jubiläum Manor Kunstpreis 2012

Aargauer Kunsthaus
9/1 – 11/18/2012

COSMIC LAUGHTER
timewave zero, then what?

9/9 – 10/14/2012
Curated by Fabian Marti and Cristina Ricupero
Ursula Blickle Foundation, Kraichtal




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