Kunstsammlung NRW
Kris Martin in der Ausstellung, Foto: Kunstsammlung

Questions for... Kris Martin

#32 met with Kris Martin during the installation of the exhibition “Beneath the Ground – from Kafka to Kippenberger.” For the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, the Belgian artist is not only exhibiting a new installation, but also making available an edition based on his work, which the Kunstsammlung is offering for sale. He talks about his new piece, books and the best places "beneath the earth" of Ghent, his hometown.

#32: “Unter der Erde scheint die Sonne” (Under the Earth Shines the Sun) is the title of his installation for the exhibition “Beneath the Earth.” It will be installed in the Ständehaus Park alongside the K21, which is to say, outside of the exhibition galleries. What is the origin of this idea? What does the viewer see, and what is hidden from view?

My installation consists of a piece of marble on which the lines “Under the Earth / Shines the Sun” have been inscribed. The second line, however, is not legible, since it lies below ground level. Of course, this is a paradox, through which I challenge the viewer's sense of fantasy. The installation turns normal relationships on their heads, an allusion to the possibility of life after death, and also a reference to heaven in the Christian sense.

#32: In your work, we find frequent references to books (Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Don Quixote) or literary motifs. Are there also links to Franz Kafka, whose story “Der Bau (the Burrow) is the foil of our exhibition, and a copy of which each exhibition visitor will receive together with an admission ticket?

Yes, and moreover in the form of a concrete work. In 2005, I produced work entitled Verwandlung (Metamorphosis). It consists of Kafka’s novel Die Verwandlung, which is handwritten on a single of paper. The ink has transformed the paper into a black stain on which the lines of the novel have become illegible, having been overwritten multiple times. It is a question of the metamorphosis of a blank sheet of paper into a work of art – I often thematize this kind of a transformation in my work.

(Kopie 1)

Kris Martin, Verwandlung, 2005, Ink on paper, 33.5 x 27 cm / 13 1/4 x 10 2/3 in, Courtesy Sies + H

(Kopie 2)

#32: In your work, objects stand in the foreground. Kris Martin as an individual seems to retreat behind them artistically. Is this true?

Yes. I see myself not as a creator, but instead as an observer. I observe, I position things in a different perspective, transform them. Of course, this begins with an idea, so the point of departure is obviously the artist's mind. But I prefer allowing my works to speak for themselves, to retreat behind them as an individual.

#32: In your home town of Ghent, is there a place “beneath the Earth” that we absolutely must visit on our next vacation in Belgium?

A visit to the crypt of the Sint Bavo Cathedral is definitely worth it. Formerly occupying the site was the old Church of Sint Jan. Sint Jan was also the title of an exhibition I organized in the church last year with my friend Jan Hoet. Jan died a few weeks ago. His absence leaves a huge emptiness in the hearts of many Belgian and international artists and friends. So the place has a symbolic meaning for me. Incidentally, attentive visitors will notice one of my works on the spire of the cathedral.

#32 met Kris Martin while working on his Edition. It is a frottage of the exhibited marble block, and clearly displays the text that has been engraved into the stone. Questions for #32 where asked by Alissa Krusch.