|Experimental Tactician. Mārtiņš Ratniks |
Working in the field of digital media, in the realm of "art and technology", Mārtiņš Ratniks is at present one of the most prominent young artists in this field. And not only there. He's also one of the "golden youths" of the F5 ("Famous Five") group of artists, representing Latvia this year at the Venice Biennale. Outside of the field of digital art, too, the works he has created on his own and in the company of F5 make use of the same crafty manoeuvre - mixing signs, images and cliches from contemporary visual culture, transforming reality into a flight of fancy that awakens everyday reality from its slumber.
Utilising codes from visual culture, Mārtiņš Ratniks aptly expresses in his work the "style" of the spirit of the age - games of aesthetic or mental logic, the rules of which are dictated by the possibilities of digital technology. The accustomed perceptual frame is broken down, and the newly created structures tend to address the senses in a direct, mechanical way.
The artist creates works that are entertainment "products", rather than art: the language of art, transformed by digital technology, brings with it not only new aesthetic categories, but also changes of perception - movement, rather than "immersion". Instead of thoughts, we have moving images, which make the viewer succumb to being entertained, and which allow art to settle within. Thus, for example, we have the sun, the griffin and the lion from the Latvian national coat of arms turning in techno rhythm ("Independence Day ‘18"), ethnographic designs shower in hip hop movements ("HIP HOP.LV"), or else visual club music rhythms invite one to submit completely to house music, "when not only the body dances, but the mind and soul too" ("Time to Jack", in association with F5).
The works of Mārtiņš Ratniks reveal a major interest in experimenting with the language of digital media, often involving paradoxical games that move away from entertainment, gradually being loaded with a very important message, or, less commonly, with "pure" social or political overtones, which, in the field of so-called electronic or digital art, tend to be very pointed. (These, too, have been present, for example in the video clip "History Zoo" for the Festival of Tactical Media in Amsterdam in 2003, where portraits of politicians were transformed into masked terrorists.)
In truth, he corresponds more to the artist-as-researcher type, who utilises the internet as his "global laboratory", an inexhaustible virtual resource for all that he needs. For example, there are attempts to visualise invisible physical processes, experimenting with acoustic space, with visualisation of sound and conditions close to synesthesia, the synthesis of the graphic and spatial possibilities of sound and image, approaching issues of the perception of visual culture, contextualising in a "new" format traditional cultural signs and symbols. Among the most vivid works are "Analogue/Digital" (1999), where fragments of reality are sucked into the computer's "trash bin" and reworked in digital format, and "Sound Graffiti" (2000), where colour aerosols sprayed in a dialogue one against the other to the rhythm of electronic music, create "sound graffiti" and are turned into "visual music", while at the same time mixed codes from contemporary and traditional culture are transformed into a texture of digital and universal signs.
The characteristic synthesis of social and artistic factors characteristic of the new media art is revealed in his works less as communication, but rather as reflection, focussing on ordinary perception, and sometimes also on existential generalisation. Thus, in the work "History" (2003), with very minor intervention, the artist permits the "cultural fact" to comment on itself: the window of the McDonald's restaurant, filled with an array of colourful toys and clowns, is crowned by the sign "History" (an unusual modification of the practice of ready-made art: an example of found art vividly commenting the experience of mass aesthetics). In the animated clip "103 Seconds" (2004), created for the "Living Spirit" exhibition, time is counted in the foreground, as in the depiction of downloading software, while the artist experiments with how long he can hold his breath. In visual terms, it's very simple: a person holding their breath, with a flashing scale showing the time that has passed and the time left until the program is downloaded - semantically revealing an almost terrifying contemplation on technological control over the field of existence.
Another kind of crafty move is the game with apparently opposite or incomparable things, which are equated in the process of mixing - for example, in the animated clip "Bloody TV" (in association with F5). The "immortal" presenters are both beautiful and monstrous, equally "bloody" and optimistic, while the infantilism of the colourful McDonald's toys, in combination with the title "History" crowning the window, has monumental connotations.
The obtrusive associations between this language and the artistic experiments of Dada, where unconnected things were strung together in "a cocktail of words", are heightened by the "foreplay" of Dada as a language of technology, and the reaction to social, mass or consumer culture, discussed in the book "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" by Walter Benjamin, which I chanced to come across at this time. The only difference is that Dada was a reaction to the post-war ruins of reality, while today it is a reaction to the fragmentation and "dissolution" into virtual worlds of our contemporary perception.