We have long been aware that photographs are as much a means of creating illusion as they are of representing reality. Reality is what exists only in terms of sense perception, whereas the ‘real’ is an inbuilt psychical structure: humans are not merely passive receivers of sensory information, since they impose themselves on what they see, and this forms the ‘meaning’ content of images as experienced – photographic images in this respect stand alongside all other forms of representation.
The young photographer Fabian Marti takes this sense of liminality as a daily given. His photographs pass through various stages of collage, negative intervention, scanning and computer manipulation before their eventual printing. They do this while continually dissecting and questioning the space between what appears as sensory reality and the conscious processing of the ‘real’.
As can be seen from works like Brod & Tod (2005) Marti’s photography was initially highly surrealistic in that it contained an arbitrary and non-relational ‘bringing together of distant realities’, in the words of the poet Pierre Reverdy. The image of a slotted skull, and a conventional slice of bread entering it as if it were a toaster, is a marked indication of its surrealist pedigree. Another aspect derived from surrealism, and which has forged its own subsequent aesthetic, is the use of an intentional visual displacement. The image’s contents seem displaced not merely in their status as non-relational objects, but in the actual pictorial space they occupy.
What follows from this is a sense of psychological discomfort, something which appears in nearly all of the artist’s photography from that time. Marti’s fascination with the unconscious led him into several experiments with altered states of mind. It was the ideas derived from these experiences that led to his interest in questioning methods, systems and unconscious mechanisms. In works like Kristallmethode I and Kristallmethode II (2007) – crystallography having been another interest of the surrealists – we see some of these principles at work. Marti develops his final images through micro-collages, and processes using colour negatives, which are then scratched or exposed to excessive light. In this we find another characteristic of Marti’s works, namely that he frequently focuses on shards, traces, fragmentary elements and chance material accumulations like dust or crumbs, which accrete during a work’s development before the images are scanned into a computer and then printed.
Altered or heightened states of consciousness inform another theme within Marti’s works: an interest in the shamanistic, the magical and the ritual. In the first image of the series Spiritual Me we see a bare-breasted black beauty who appears to be in a trance-like state; superimposed heavy black line or collage masking has been generated before its printing, as if it were an image appropriated from some ritual event and then redirected through a singular artistic consciousness. Indeed many of the artist’s sources are taken from books of art history and anthropology. These concerns are also apparent in a work such as Air From Eleusis (2008), in which a photograph of the original site of the Eleusinian Mysteries, cultic rituals in ancient Greece dedicated to Demeter, goddess of the harvest, has been similarly presented. In Apocalypse Then (2008), a background inferno (possibly influenced by Coalbrookedale by Night, Loutherbourg’s 1801 painting of industrial furnaces, or even Bruegel’s Dulle Griet, an image of hell), has been marked off and treated in the same manner.
Issues of mysteries, the occult, the unconscious, shamanism, and the hidden aspects of human consciousness are all part of this young artist’s unfolding practice. His photography, however, should not be seen in isolation, since sculpture, installation, the hand print (a huge thumbprint, probably that of the artist, appears in a work called The Rise, (2008), and issues of the mark, shards, effacement and the trace are all elements that are used to extend Fabian Marti’s body of work.
Fabian Marti is an artist who is just thirty years of age. It remains to be seen whether the innovations that have been realized in the first five years of his artistic life can be carried forward. This said, he has certainly made a thought-provoking beginning.