Deep existential questions like "Why are we here?" are answered with wit and empathy in Patrick Martinez’s show Liquid. The title isn’t an afterthought, but the theme of the conceptually analogous works. Martinez works successively, building a quietly stunning narrative starting with "Orange Wall" (2003). The partition facing the exterior of the gallery is painted neon orange that absolutely glows in direct light like the flash of an explosion.
Inside the main space, the reflected orange light seeps in, giving the darkened space an ambient glow. The room contains two distinct works, a video projection, "Liquid World" (2003) and three liquid filled holes in "Bubbling Green" (2003). The projection is a montage of organic, fluid scenes that evokes oceans and atmospheres. The beautiful imagery shifts from vast spaces to microscopic views of strange life forms. The soundtrack is limited to a sudden "big bang" that snaps the soothing regularity of the images and confirms one’s feelings that they may be watching the birth of the universe.
This feeling is also supported by the sound of the bubbling, neon green liquid that appears to have flooded the lower levels of the building, permeating the structure. It is at once primordial soup, as well as toxic spill. Still, there is a sense that life might emerge at any moment from the green soup. Expanding the cosmic narrative, Martinez introduces a life form. A monoped alien with a bulbous head contemplates its own reflection in the back of the gallery, but in a fun house mirror. Upon approach, the sympathetic alien begins to morph into an abstracted, vaguely humanoid form out of modern art. The show achieves a moment of poignancy and pathos as self-awareness is presented and experienced simultaneously in the mirror. The viewer’s reflection distorts, while the alien becomes slightly less distorted. Martinez’s bizarre, sci-fi narrative suggests the evolution of life culminating in the fleeting moments of self-awareness signaling sentience.
Martinez’s subtle ironies in the intersection of process, material, and subjectivity keep the show from cheap theatricality or farce. "Liquid World," for example, was shot entirely in a fish bowl using various liquids. The epic scale is an illusion, as are the holes in the floor, and the funhouse mirror. Martinez, conceptually, is toying with modernist ideas of pictorial flatness and its rigid adherence to abstraction by creating illusions of depth and space, narrative and figuration. His art traverses French conceptual work as easily as Surrealism. Martinez explores profoundly human questions with deceptively simple gestures that don’t so much transform the physical space as psychologically transport the viewer to another world. Martinez respects the viewer’s intelligence enough that he allows us to use our imaginations freely.