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Daniel Joseph Martinez: from Pliny the Elder to the post-Human, "the world wants to be deceived"
by Victor Zamudio-Taylor

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"Happiness is obsolete: uneconomic"
T.W. Adorno, from Minima Moralia

Daniel Joseph Martinez' recent works pry open various art historical traditions, mine contemporary languages, and contribute to the debate engaging aesthetics; visual culture; and representation. With a knockout worthy of a good boxing match and a twist reminiscent of a Jorge Luis Borges tale from his Universal History of Infamy (1935), Martinez--who for so long critics bracketed as the pyromaniac fueling the fires of the cultural wars-- appears to dwell in the sublime and subjective. Yet his work has long been characterized by such qualities along with beauty albeit with fury. With a militant discipline, he has consistently approached formalism in a poetic and political fashion. In works of the last years, particularly photography and sculpture, he has been referencing classics of the European baroque and Colonial Latin American tradition, not as appropriation but as keys with which to aid entrance into the work. In the artist's own words, "I am employing a rhetorical use of beauty as a means by which to extremely and effectively construct a content."


"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are"
Bertolt Brecht

For almost three decades now Martinez has upheld the figure of the artist as a provocateur challenging explanations regarding the state of things. Difficult to swallow for an art public accustomed to 'eye candy' (the artist's words), his works are situational to the core and grounded in research. Over the years, in his public and social spatial oriented works, many of which were performance-based, he created instances of controversy and expanded the arena of discourses. Now in his studio-based photographic and sculptural works, Martinez articulates themes and issues by means of a formalism that is not abstracted from it social and cultural frameworks.


"The World wants to be deceived"
Sebastian Brant, from The Ship of Fools

In his photographic series "Fifth attempt to clone mental disorder or How one philosophizes with a Hammer" (2000-2001) and related sculptures such as "Happiness is Over-Rated" (2002), Martinez has been investigating the seemingly exhausted traditional genre of the self-portrait. Assisted by pioneer special effects and make-up artists from the Hollywood film industry, Martinez' direct treatment of his very own (re) production is beautiful and sinister; real and simulated; reproducible yet auratic. According to the artist, "Everything we experience is artificial to such a degree that we now believe that the artificial is reality...I am trying to suggest that you can have mechanical reproduction and an aura simultaneously. It has something to do with the consistence of multiple realities."

Reading today such classic writers as Pliny the Elder, one gets the impression that even with the aura of the real thing, the privilege of illusion and simulation over reality was true even in ancient times. In the historian's account of the bet between the classical Greek artists Parrhasios and Zeuxis, Zeuxis exhibited a painting of grapes "so true to nature" that birds pecked at it. Parrhasios won the bet when the elated Zeuxis asked him to pull a linen curtain to reveal his counterpart's painting: it was the painting. Zeuxis recognized that while he had fooled the birds, Parrhasios had deceived him, a human and master painter. The tale suggests that from its very origins, Western aesthetic dictums and precepts have been linked to games and desire, and to tricks and deception driven by the imitatio of the object world and our experience and repression of it. As David Levi Strauss has remarked, Martinez' recent works embody a high degree of illusion, reiterating the postmodern preference for images rather than for the real thing, which many times is unbearable.

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