While diaristic testimonies and documentary critique have become commonplace in contemporary art’s response to the networked age, and while the archive has been plundered as a seemingly bottomless resource for cultural commentary, the form of fiction has experienced a significant decline. Simon Martin’s latest work, then, is perhaps the anomaly within an array of practices primarily dedicated to knowledge-forming subjects.
‘Untitled’, 2008, is a single-screen projection—the only work on show. Here, Martin presents fictions in dialogue, carefully dovetailing visual and textual artifice. An initially straightforward establishing shot of an exotic tree frog floods a large screen in ultra-saturated, high definition video. The frog’s neck pulsates lightly; its leg twitches erratically. Occasionally these slick shots are intercut with ambiguous text extracts, which are short enough to describe a character or two, but never long enough to discern any intent or actions beyond mere gesture. Despite the steady documentary eye that records the frog, and the casual, lazy language of the texts, Martin’s ‘Untitled’ is an unlikely orchestration of elements whose unifying theme is the fiction of high capitalism.
The work’s primary image is not, after all, a real frog; it is a laborious construction of computer-assisted design. The texts meanwhile, replete with hackneyed exoticism and airless detail, have been cribbed from a range of airport novels. Martin’s sequence of text and image is intriguing. Both require a certain knowledge or experience of cultural capitalism. Of animation, the boundless language of desire developed primarily in the marketplace of advertising. And of airport literature, a genre that is so completely instant, escapist and ultimately repeatable.
Some of this subject matter is not new territory to Martin. The animated frog is itself rendered from the artist’s own oil paintings ‘Strawberry Poison Dart Frog’, 1998, and its greyscale replica in 2003. Now animated on the digital plane, the representation emerges not as the artist’s touchstone but rather as a Borgesian ‘Zahir’, a returning coin that possesses its owner. Martin has embedded the image of the frog in a paradox between reality and fiction. The frog is so radically advanced in its evolutionary appearance that it approaches technological perfection. It is a hyperreal image in nature alone. And there is more than a hint of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in Martin’s frog, which exists as a convincing electronic fiction rendered more exotic than real life and yet can, of course, be replicated indiscriminately.
‘Untitled’ links global anonymity (the exhaustive theme in the airport novel) with digital reproducibility (so meticulously laid out in the construction of the animated frog) for a brief encounter, in order that one might expose the other.
Isla Leaver-Yap is MAP’s editor-at-large