Written by Marina may
The 28 year old St. Louis native Martin Lang is dwarfed by a pink, digitized reproduction of Brancusi’s Yellow Bird.
Housed at Yale, the original work, composed of yellow marble, limestone and oak, recreates the essence of man through material elements and geometric shapes. Lang’s printed facsimile complicates the anthropomorphic form. It acts as guardian over his studio space, where his practice exploits and dismantles consumerism for an artistic purpose. He distances himself from the replication of the human form, removing all trace of manual intervention, leaving only a corrupted interpretation intact.
“I have almost no work where you can see my hand maybe the closest thing is the video work because I’m in it,” Lang says. “It allows the viewer to buy in, before they realize they’ve bought in. They already recognize that it looks good. When you use a commercial object or material, the viewer is tricked in a way.”
Perhaps the most blatant example of Lang intentionally excluding influence upon his own work is Table for Two. Produced in 2016 for his graduate thesis show at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, this formica sculpture utilizes both composition and material to construct intimacy and generate a genuine artifice. In a singular piece, Lang toys with these equivalent dualities, which unfold harmoniously and are guided with rigid perfection.
Based on the iconic Parsons design, which according to Lang seemed to “just appear” one day in the collective culture, the width of the legs is equal to the thickness of the top. He enclosed the back two sides of the cube leaving two openings for small pedestal seats, then wrapped the entire form in laminated formica. His signature scrawls thousands of times over its surface.
“Formica is literally layers of paper; there is a base layer, then the layer with my name on it, then this top protective layer, and it’s like I’ve somehow inserted myself between the layers and gotten in between the material,” Lang says.
He has penetrated the surface of a paradigmatic form, and encased his name in its being, but has again complicated his authority over the object. Instead of signing his own name, he asked another to sign it for him, then replicated that signature into a trademark, a brand. His identity becomes mass produced, like the table, like formica.
“I’ve always been interested in exploiting a commercial process or products for my own purposes,” Lang writes in his text that accompanied his graduate thesis show. “I think this goes back to collecting stickers as a kid, and then the first time I made a sticker and realized how accessible this thing was that I’d always seen a final product.”
He reincarnates the sculpture in his latest video work, which Lang will premiere during his solo-exhibition at the PLAQUE gallery of GCADD on March 17th.
The two part video relies heavily on juxtaposition. In a jarring and comically sensuous opening segment, Lang escalates his relationship to the table by romancing it (shirtless). Condescending Garfields fly across the screen, with speech bubbles spewing phrases culled from biker patches that range from highly philosophical to extraordinarily offensive.
Both Lang’s sculptural and video performance works form a reflexive, mimetic critique of consumerism. He evaluates the advantages and social implications associated with different forms of branding or trends. From the “difficulty” of modern furniture, to the misogyny of biker culture, to the popularity of the “energy drink aesthetic,” Lang artistically removes himself from the system to gain objectivity.
Lang’s practice could be traced to a singular question, “Just what is it that makes today’s world so different, so appealing?”
Those familiar with the artist Richard Hamilton will recognize the basis of this quote. Hamilton’s archetypal work Just what is it that makes today’s home so different, so appealing? essentially spawned the Pop Art movement of the 1960’s, that dissected both consumerism and the very nature of capitalism. A signifier of brand saturation and its effect on the structure of the house.
Lang extends this question, shifting focus from inside the home to the outside world. How can he investigate the processes that pull popular ideas to the fore? How can he challenge the artistic responsibility of making? Why are we drawn to certain objects, phrases, or aesthetics?