Dalibor Martinis Bal, 2003. binarni niz
svjetlosna instalacija u Istarskoj sabornici u Poreču
6. - 23. V. 2003.
Algorithm of Reality In the most recent series of his works entitled "Critical Points" that have appeared within the major cycle Binary Series, Dalibor Martinis continues to cover the topic of comprehending the structure of the language, the value of the sign, the concept of reality notwithstanding whether these are expressed in the form of "spatial" installations, "flickering" video stills or "static" two-dimensional images. When he started producing the works based on the idea of a binary coded text and specific messages in 1997, the author raised new questions though it is true that he had previously dealt with the domain of the image as a "natural sign" and its reception, but never in the manner manifested in his most recent works. It was at the same time similar and quite contrary to the definition of the language "as a social product" for transfer of information. Namely, in his cycle of the binary works, Martinis presumes that the linguistic and visual messages are actualizations of specific codes which further presupposes that they bear features of the sign, or, in other words, that their function, their appearance as a group of signs, sounds and visual elements, is a mere representation of something else, some other message or the structure of the message itself.1 Martinis is extremely radical and perpetuates the process of coding, transforming the existing "natural sings" into a coded language understandable only to those familiar with the Morse code or with a digital system of "ones" and "zeroes" used as the basis of the computer language. The already existent and "defined" objects that we utilize, automobiles, bicycles, cans, church bells or popular feature movies, documentary video records, are transformed, under Martinis's editorship, into a new language of communication appropriated by the artist to transmit messages. For the observers who receives such a message, the overall comprehension process becomes questionable. Owing to this complex procedure of understanding, reading and decoding of such parts, the majority of observers is taken only by the visual fascination and a rather unusual magical dimension produced by the internal organization, a recognizable solid structure. However, it is worth reiterating that to understand it, it is necessary to know how to decode the system and to want to decode it. Otherwise, the system functions, in Jack Derrida's wording, as a deconstruction, in other words, a tactical exercise the goal of which is to signal the instability of the language and the insecure basis, the majority of our theories2, and, accordingly, our possible understanding of the coded messages and, indirectly, their meanings, relies on. Thus, the visual aspect of Martinis's works can appear understandable at first because it consists of "natural signs", "images" that are to a greater extent familiar to us from different contexts. However, even on this level, the observer can stumble upon a problem. Martinis takes "visual images" that we are familiar with, from the sphere of everyday life, movies and popular culture, and uses them as matrices for creating new structures. He applies them repeatedly as elements of a coded language, as dots and dashes in case of the Morse code, or as ones and zeroes in case of the digital system. Another confusing element is a mimetic dimension of the "visual images" because each image incorporates its previous authentic meanings and functions. New functions that Martinis formulates in the code system do not narrow down the narrative or descriptive features of images, but rather add layers of new values. In his most recent work entitled the Baghdad Thief, Martinis appropriates stills from a documentary video record taken from a satellite TV station. These are the night shots of the recent attack of the coalition forces on Baghdad during the war in Iraq. He picks a static shot that records in a very documentary and objective manner a short time interval during the night bombing, consisting of the simplest possible dramatic development: two scenes illustrating superbly the state of the war. The first scene shows Baghdad by night and the second reveals a "spectacular" explosion of the projectile that has just landed. Thus, the scenes emit rather clashing messages, and when "frozen", the images create an absurd relationship manifested in the antipodean nature of the same: the same town in two completely contradictory, different situations. Martinis uses such contrasts as a matrix for binary signs. The next step is to incorporate such images into a binary syntax that the artist uses for inscribing a cryptic message. Thus, the observer is faced with irregular sequences of an image consisting of the peaceful night scenes and powerful explosions. This procedure transforms the image into the word (the text), but the word that has come out of the image does not bear the same meaning as the image itself. The same happens in the work Within the Maltese Falcon from 2001 in which the author reedits the famous movie Maltese Falcon and inserts black shots in the existing structure of 25 video stills, thus inscribing therein a binary coded text of the leader of the Zapatista Army, commander Marcos. Following the reediting process, the movie has thus become two-layered, completely apprehensible on its "first" level, the layer of the original story, as well as on its "second" cryptic level of the movie which is perceived as a continuous flickering reminiscent of the technical imperfections of the early movies. Martinis shows the movie reedited in this manner in the interior that has been redecorated into an old movie theatre which further motivates the observer to accept watching this old cinematic classic. Comprehension or cognition that the movie is used as a medium for quite another purpose causes unease among the audience alluding to the paranoid aspect of today when the old rule "what-you-get-is-what-you-see" is no longer valid. Those who have found themselves in front of Martinis's works from the Binary Series and the subgroup Critical Points, know that the works are hard to "penetrate". However, Martinis is not satisfied with that. He tries to find new, different and unknown relations and tensions for the works he has created to be exhibited in the public spaces. He seeks to identify neuralgic points of the community, most frequently by a direct action the aim of which is to provoke people, as he has done with his installation Parken Verboten (Rosenheim, 2000) that consisted of some forty Volkswagen Golf cars parked on the town square, or a somewhat neutral version he performed with SOS S.B. (Slavonski Brod, 2002) when he placed ten bikes on the locations in the town he had defined as neuralgic. Though structurally similar and equally engaged in the domain of social awareness, the "intonations" of these two installations are quite different. The difference in intonation is established via different social, political and cultural circumstances of these two communities. Though Rosenheim and Slavonski Brod are very similar small towns remaining outside the main events and developments, their destinies are quite divergent. Parken Verboten was a "glamorous Sunday parade wrapped in high technology and capital" that appropriated identifiable elements of a developed, rich, cultivated and tolerant Western society in which the performance took place. However, while the cars were lining up on the square in a "parade" manner, the tolerance of the Sunday passersby, cyclists (and pigeons) was becoming weaker that sunny afternoon in Rosenheim. Martinis incorporated their disapproval and negative reactions to some forty parked cars in the pedestrian zone into his work which juxtaposed the binary coded message written on the cars to the mood of the gathered crowd. The message was about the beauty ("No parking is sometimes beautiful"). A different intonation without a high pitch provocation occurred in the work with the SOS. S.B.. Martinis transported old bicycles across Slavonski Brod without causing any difficulties to the local population. We could say that he resembled an alternative doctor trying to touch the sore points of the life of this town in order to cure them. Such a sensibility and questioning of the topics stemming from the life itself promptly articulated in accordance with the reality is Martinis's new mode of expression that the author has been developing from the first works of his Binary Series. The Critical Points in Novigrad touch upon the most recent and most sensitive global points of today that define unequivocally an impossibility of the future, whether we like it or not. The war in Iraq, migrants and refugees from Cuba and the Far East, escalating conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians, fight for supremacy over global energy sources, all this testifies undoubtedly to the extremely low historical-political-ethical level of the majority of societies in the world, notwithstanding their wealth, development, or cultural and historical determinations. Funnily enough, a threat of another kind comes from the sphere of high science and technology manifested in the expansion of genetic engineering which is used in the attempt to counterattack frantically the ever evolving technology of the machine and its timeless, unhistorical and immortal nature. The machine, and I use it here primarily in the context of digitalization, is marked by the artificial intelligence capable of producing itself to secure its limitless duration. Some believe that the human reproduction cannot guarantee existence and survival. Conscious existence thus becomes no longer a philosophical, but a pragmatic issue. It is essential to postpone the individual "disappearance" which is why it is important to find the manner of self-preservation and the possibility to challenge the machine by perfecting the self-reproduction procedure, the precondition of which is reading-decoding of the human genome. Martinis's artistic procedure, its dual nature of "clear, apparent, real" and "hidden, vague, counter-real", treads on dangerous ground between affirmation and critique, bringing up and not resolving numerous, primarily, ethical issues of our time. But we can equally see him searching persistently for the methods necessary for improving our reality. Could it be that these are hidden in the sphere of algorithm? Tihomir Milovac, April 11, 2003
1 Vanda Božićević, Riječ i slika, hermeneutički i semantički pristup, Zagreb: Filozofska istraživanja, 1990, p. 95. 2 Stuart Sim, Derrida i kraj povijesti, Zagreb: Jesenski i Turk, 2001, p. 62.