Hot from Russia
When we think of Siberia, Russia; it conjures up notions of ice fields, endless winters, and survival tactics against the elements. So regarding the printed environments from Novosibirsk print-artist Vladimir Martynov, one might wonder if his simmering use of hues from the warm end of the spectrum is drawn from desire to offset his surroundings.
The Russian artist’s early work is a delightful mapping of abstract geometries that are made up of myriad lines cross-hatched to reveal soft forms that fill the picture plane, as if he has situated the viewer to peer directly down on drawings with a stick scratched into beach sand. His touch is apparent across the entire paper surface inviting an obsessive contact between his hand tools and the imagery. And he might well have kept his hand in making an endless stream of this kind of work with success; but for the revolution that has befallen many artists who have voyaged into the unknown terrain of new media, technology and materials. This turn sent his imaginings into complex layering and double exposures that brought his cross-hatched methods into deeper dimensions of illusion through experiments in digital printing. And it is at this point that I observe his traditional work practice, although somewhat left behind as far as working on plates by hand on paper; carrying him into an informed position to explore illusionistic space as real.
The transition from having work hung on a wall to building a transparent environment that becomes a room within a room, is the step that Martynov made to allow pedestrian interaction into actual geometric space. Printing in commercial ink on mylar sheets, Martynov is able to take the transparency to a real, rather than virtual level; and throw into question the very boundaries of what printed works might be imagined to be…
Rolls of printed ink on mylar, hung in sections like vertical pillars side-by-side, construct a simple shed-like configuration of four walls, floor and ceiling that almost floats within a gallery. Entry spaces left open at the corners, mean you can enter into the installed architectural envelope and review the entire room from an even more interior position; or explore it like a set of thin membrane walls of an invisible room… made visible.
Because Martynov has built his imagery in sections, the potential for installing a particular piece in any gallery setting, can be measured and controlled depending on where he is able to situate the piece. But I return to what this work comes from, as the artist’s base interests. Someone once said that every artist makes a single piece over and over again, as if approaching the same door in a dream. The return might yield an altogether different image than the previous one; but there will always be a remnant of the prior attempt, hidden within the process.
One need only look back to Martynov’s cross-hatched complicated route that set up perspectives into infinity to see where these present environments have come from. But I think it is contemporary protocol of how we might observe printed works, and how that reaches one’s imagination over the abyss of previous knowledge, that has Martynov’s works ready to tip the balance. His flat surfaces, that are viewed as overlapping layers, operate as optical illusions which shift colors, create skins of texture, and incorporate other viewers as accidental presences. If another person is looking at the work from the other side: the screens of colored mylar with their geometric mantras, energy fields, magnetic disturbances and reflective properties, conspire to change how we must regard them as more experiential moments where we (and others) become part of the work unwittingly. Distorted reflection is a property of mylar anyway, but add to this layers of ink that are opaque or transparent in places, and viewing becomes a negotiation of what was before compressed into one picture plane on a single piece of paper.
The coolness of the materials is a strange conflict to the “heat” of the imagery in some cases too:
A molten surface erupts across Martynov’s expansive ground, as if someone left the top burners of the stove on. Similar to the mirage of an oasis shimmering across desert sand, the haze of heat that obliterates the Los Angeles morning skyline, or searching for the near-sighted glasses misplaced in dim light: all of these symptoms infect Martynov’s newest printed works in digital media.
Finding the disintegrated forms within other forms vibrates his surface treatments into a rich combination that I have observed before, when Tibetan monks construct a sand mandala. Athough these exercises of faith are drawn from dropping grains of colored sand into a pattern of symmetry; it is the moment of completion when the master draws his hand through the finished mandala, and the color hard-edge design falls in slow motion into neutral combinations of confluence from damage and destruction. Martynov’s surfaces hold a similar after-effect as a puzzle for one to enter into looking and seeing. However, the act of involvement to resolve his imagery, to unravel the strands or pick apart the onionskin, is its own reward.
In his latest imagery, Martynov has formalized the spatial treatment of vanishing point perspectives, into full frontal monumental encounters. These squares and rectangular affronts echo the formal rich textures of Persian rugs, woven with depths of color that shift depending on where the light is coming from. I cannot dismiss too, the very metaphoric sensation of looking at these latest works as television screens hissing and buzzing when the stations have gone off the air, and you wake up to the screen inviting you to make something out of nothing… the field of possibility. Or where the television transmission has somehow morphed two programs to overlap one another from poor reception, making a much more complicated single program, where voices talk over one another, and images collide to create new worlds that are a challenge to watch. But in that moment we have all experienced watching interference on screens and monitors, there is always the moment of doubt… begging the question: “what is this?”
And Martynov’s print investigations have always held this equation within them.
Derek Michael Besant RCA
Derek Besant is an artist, author and curator working in Canada & Mexico.
Professor of Fine Arts at the Alberta College of Art & Design.
His major touring exhibition BROKENGROUND will open at PhoenixBrighton
Contemporary Art Space, UK early in 2012.