artist / participant
Playstation opens the new season with a solo exhibition by Renzo Martens (Sluiskil, 1973). Martens graduated from the Rietveld Academy in 1996, and finished a masters program in Culture Studies at the Free University in Brussels in 2000. Episode 1 is Martens's solo debut in Holland. After the Playstation exhibition, the work will be on view in De Singel in Antwerp until November 30. The artist lives and works in Brussels.
Episode 1 is a 45-minute video work, that revolves around Martens's travel to the war zone of Chechnya. Devastated cities, refugee camps with endless rows of makeshift tents, the UN headquarters: imagery we know so well from news programs and magazines -so much that these images have become emphatically part of our daily information consumption, to the extent of becoming generic. However, Martens's film is not a journalistic document: his highly personal reflections, making up the film's actual backbone, are more important than the factual registration of situations, or the disclosure of news facts. His question that returns throughout the film, What do you think of me? (he asks desillusioned refugees, or UN-employees during a meeting), produces a reversal of the typical interviewer vs. subject role division - the frank answers establish an unusual, unexpected, and very personal new relationship. Martens's shameless exhibitionism surprises and touches, but irritates and shocks at the same time: is it ethically correct for an affluent, vain Westerner to venture into a world of desperation and total misery to search for personal reflection? And, is the artist sincerely concerned with the situation his subjects are in, or are their answers just serving his self-analysis?
Within the recent developments in contemporary art, in which the socially (or politically) engaged documentary video plays a dominant role, Episode 1, with its prickling ambiguity, is an oasis of originality - formally, content-wise, and ethically. The video leaves the spectator puzzled: touched by the amount of romantic dynamism, startled by its moral flexibility.
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