Daria Martin: Sensorium Tests

Daria Martin, Soft Materials. 16mm film, 2004.


20 January - 8 April 2012

Daria Martin’s first survey exhibition in a UK public gallery presents a selection of short 16mm films made over the last 10 years, including the premier of an ambitious new work, Sensorium Tests. Throughout this period, Martin has pursued a sustained enquiry into numerous pressing issues relating to film, art and culture, including enchantment, voyeurs and artificial intelligence. 

The exhibition includes the following films: Closeup Gallery (2003), in which a magician and his assistant engage in a strange game where cards dance, as if equivalent with inner worlds; Soft Materials (2004) where intimate relationships between man and machine are nurtured in an artificial intelligence laboratory; Harpstrings and Lava (2007) a dark narrative that animates dream images through clashing textures and structures; and the new film Sensorium Tests (2012), which revolves around a recently recognised neurological condition called ‘mirror-touch synaesthesia’.

People affected with mirror touch synaesthesia experience a physical sense of touch on their own bodies when they see other people, or sometimes even objects, being touched.  Using staged scenarios based on a real life experiment into this condition, the film explores how sensations might be created and shared between people and objects.

Encountering art has always produced varying degrees of engagement and interaction, whether triggering personal memories, associations or feelings, or more recently in literal, physical responses to immersive, participatory installations. In some ways, Martin’s work turns these distinctions on their head, using mirror-touch synaesthesia to render virtual or remote activities indistinguishable from literal actions.

Martin’s work often raises questions about what it means to be ‘touched’ by cinema and alternates playfully between luring the viewer through sensuous images and lush archetypes, and pushing them back into an awareness of artifice. This intentionally crafted push and pull, Martin says, is a reflection of the essential contradictions of the medium of film: its ephemerality together with a physical realisation of fantasy.

Combining elements of painting, sculpture, performance art, dance, music and science, Martin’s films re-enact on a modest basis the historical ideal of the ‘gesamtkunstwerk’ or total artwork in order to create new frictions. Her casts frequently include musicians, choreographers and actors, and practitioners of professions or members of subcultures not normally placed before the camera. The cast of Sensorium Tests comprises the Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca as well as several non-actors, including the synaesthete James Wannterton, who ‘tastes words’.

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