Kris Martin’s practice is poetic, deeply contemplative and yet always situated within the traditions of conceptual art. With his monumental and small-scale sculptures, drawings, photographs, performances and interventions, he draws attention to the notion of time, often by attempting to mark, halt or transcend its inevitable passing.
Frequently his work engages in humankind's most fundamental issues with a wry sense of humour and play. That the idea of play and the notion of death can sometimes be contiguous is at the centre-point of Untitled (2013). The work is comprised of an installation of standing stones. Cut into the shape of gravestones and arranged in the formation of dominos, these blank slates could suggest either a cemetery or a deck of tiles, waiting to fall. The work raises questions about chance and fate, and reminds us of the phenomenon of the ‘domino effect’, in which a small, accidental occurrence can, through a linked sequence of events lead quickly to an inevitable end.
Material and immaterial concerns are delicately balanced in the artist’s work. Sculptural materials and objects are used to intervene in the constant motion of time and remind us of the fleetingness and transience of human existence. Lost Wax (2012-2013), for example, uses the ancient technique of lost wax casting to turn empty honeycomb trays into bronze. Rendering these fragile, discarded structures in the solidity and durability of bronze, the artist lends permanence to a transient form and draws attention to sculpture’s transformative processes, as it turns nature into artifice. Similarly, in Festum (2010) he covered the floor of the gallery with thousands of tiny pieces of bronze confetti. By transposing the delicate round paper pieces thrown at festivals into bronze, a material generally used for monumental sculpture and statuary, he arrests the flow of time, making permanent a brief moment of celebration.
Martin’s work often consists of acts of appropriation and the use of found objects that have been transformed through a subtle repositioning or intervention. His work Nest (2012) is a thurible filled with twigs and leaves by a bird that had made it into a temporary home. Commonly used for burning incense during church services, here the ascribed uses of this religious 'objet trouvé' have been suspended and overturned. The artist's fascination lies in the way such interventions into the daily uses and understandings of things enable the loosening of fixed identities, the subversion of established systems and hierarchies, and the opening up of a new space for reflection, resistance, creativity and thought.
Situational experiences, events and performances are afforded as much weight in Martin’s practice as visual or sculptural objects. At the Frieze Art Fair in 2007, for example, he orchestrated an intervention into the hubbub of the opening reception. Without warning, a woman’s voice came over the loudspeakers and asked fairgoers to observe ‘one minute of silence for no reason. For nobody. For nothing. Just one minute for yourself.’ The work momentarily stalled the frenzied activity of the fair, prompting a rare moment of pure contemplation and a heightened awareness of time.
Kris Martin was born in 1972 and is based in Ghent, Belgium. Solo shows include Kunstraum Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck (2014), Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Bonn; Theseustempel, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; 'MANDI', Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg (all 2012), ‘The Magnificent Seven’, CCA Wattis, San Francisco (2011); 'FESTUM', White Cube, London; 'T.Y.F.F.S.H.', K20 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf (both 2010); Aspen Art Museum, Aspen (2009); Marc Foxx, Los Angeles (2008); P.S.1, MoMA, New York (2007); Sies + Höke Galerie, Düsseldorf (2007) and Johann König, Berlin (2006). Group shows include 'A House of Leaves – First Movement', David Roberts Art Foundation, London ; 'Goldrausch', Kunsthalle Nürnberg, 'Im Schein des Unendlichen – Romantik und Gegenwart', Altana Kulturstiftung im Sinclairhaus, Bad Homburg, 'Cartographies', Fundación la Caixa, Barceolona, Madrid (all 2012); 'Untitled', 12th Istanbul Biennial (2011); ‘Touched’ 6th Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool (2010); ‘Let’s Dance’, MACVAL, Vitry-sur-Seine (2010); ‘Earth: Art of a Contemporary World’ Royal Academy of Art, London (2009); ‘Morality’ Witte de With Centre, Rotterdam (2009); ‘The Quick & the Dead’ Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, (2009); ‘Traces du sacré’, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2008); ‘Passengers’, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco (2007); ‘Learn to Read’, Tate Modern, London (2007) and ‘Of Mice and Men: 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art’ (2006).