The economy of situations, FRANCISCO JAVIER MARTÍN 2013

The economy of situations


“I’m on the edge of the abyss

but the view from here is exceptional”,


Elba Martínez creates her work using painting, video, cell phones, photographs and social relationships. With people and situations. With writings and images. Formalization is the central concept in her work, the specific manner in which the situations become objects. In the painting “Cuadros chinos” it seems as if she responds to a mellow intimacy, a kind of recapitulation of the experiences she is able to repose in the form of pictorial reflection. Conversely photography is her way of constructing theses experiences with the thread of vitalized movement. Lastly, brief texts of phrases in a ready made language, found within her vocabulary, contribute to her work a density that perhaps the visual images alone could not construct. The whole of it does not pretend to be coherent or to form that unified body we often call style. On the contrary, Elba Martínez is guided towards diversity, she works with freedom, and independence from each of her creative devices refusing that coherence that on the other hand, now proves impossible to reach.

Brown Sugar  

“I’m not completely innocent”.


The paintings titled Cuadros chinos, which base their design on amplifying the dimensions of the characteristic fragments of aluminum foil used for smoking heroin. At first glance, they appear as random documentation – the flowing of the heated drug over the metallic surface- but by observing closely they show something very different: the laborious and attentive construction of randomness controlled through a pictorial process. This is why the transposition of the aluminum foil “document” to canvas isn’t exact, in the order of documentation, rather  smoothly subjective because the color, which creates a weave of overlaying paths that converge and fork, edifying a spatiality in the painting that is lacking in the original; but also, and maybe this may be the determining aspect, because the reality of time has stopped, the quick flow of the liquid mass over the paper, has paused to exasperation over the surface of the painting: slow rivers which flow to the rhythm of the pictorial decisions of the artist. In this way, what seemed to be the simple amplifying and coloring of a miniscule document of vital experience, ends up showing its density of pictorial experience, the differences, visual as much as emotional surpass the similarities.

These images by Elba Martínez have been realized though a system of “trial and error”: evidence of the adjudication of a particular color to one of the “channels”,  proof of the adjustment with adjacent tones, of their spatiality in regards to them;  reflection, sensibility and corrections. That in turn starts the loop of new color changes and their successive rectifications. What was fluid becomes dense, what once flowed freely over the surface, is held back in the reflective space of form and the emotion of color. In these paintings, there is an extended duration, colored rest together with psychedelic vibration. In addition, there is  some magic or alchemy in this pictorial process in which through a disposable residue; remains which are grey and dead, the artist has imposed upon herself the task of constructing a new cycle of color and vitality: something like an elegy backwards. The color flows better than life, even better that the heated mixture, better than the best dream.

Oedipus Rex

“ Perverse intentions can

produce good results”.


The camera is still, like in the old silent slapstick movies. Now in color, and even though humor predominates, it is more serious or, perhaps more contained in it’s narration of the world and the relationships between people. Perhaps the most notable feature of the film Me and My Parents Playing is the unstable balance- unstable and disturbing- that is established between documentary objectivity, practically in real-time, by which the action is narrated through, and the deep set ambiguity of the discourse. A story situated in virgin territory, between low-key violence and play, between sincerity and parody. The film is energetic and smoothly aggressive, perhaps only to camouflage or insinuate its sensual matrix, its insinuation of caress. The plot is minimal yet infinite, enclosed in an endless loop: the artist tosses a foam ball at her parents in the garden of their family home, in what to all eyes seems to be a rite of initiation.  Apparently, they don’t react: they are a wall, a support or an excuse. A screen. In any case, facing the daughter’s acts, they define the passive and bereaved element of this paradoxical communication. In the same way as there is an exasperating violence in some kisses, it shouldn’t surprise us that love might also be expressed by getting struck in the face by a ball.

In addition, the performance shows evidence of the generational relay, the vital moment in which the parents- in their moment, the actors of the new life- pass to adopt a receptive attitude; while the newborn, who with age has become an adult, takes the reins of action. In any case, violent or friendly, in this form of primitive and sophisticated relationship the intergenerational communication is present. In the beginning of the historical vanguards the slogan “kill the father” constituted the promise of a permanent creativity; Elba Martínez, more cynical or perhaps more lucid, simply proposes to play with Him.

We also find, shown subtly, expressed in minimal but significant gestures, the varying responses of the father and mother-the Man and the Woman- to the daughter’s violent pleas of the. She asks something of them, anything; they discreetly avoid her questions, sometimes smiling.

Documents of fragility

“I wish I were innocent”,


In this show at the Ciudadela of Pamplona, Elba Martínez has chosen to show a great number of photographic slides. Somewhere around three hundred. That means that she trusts more in the whole, in the compact packet of information, than in the isolated moments, more in the accumulation of situations that in the concrete brilliance of some moments. And above all, that the artist wants to highlight the structure of a grand story in which the characters constantly change, but that allows us to follow the thread of a story. The decision seems correct: through the projection of many images, she makes the concrete instant relative and allows the meaning to drift towards an extended narrative. Elba Martínez doesn’t seem as interested in photographing people as she is in photographing situations. In addition, to a certain extent, she creates these situations through the camera.  In the images, it is specifically about an emotional acknowledgment of the places people and situations photographed a kind of emotive and aesthetic empathy with environments populated by disorder, lucidity and vulnerability. Her photographs open her to different circles of coexistence.  Partying and at rest; they’re a socialization key. Or to put it differently, these photographs don’t limit themselves just to bear witness to the people groups and places who appear in them, but rather instead constitutes a sort of safeguard which introduces the artist in them, a map of coexistence, almost a guide to good manners. The photographic camera passes to the background and the figure of the artist emerges—her persona—it is a context of proximity and complicity. Neither by any means is it an invasion of privacy, rather the opposite, the immersion in a situation. In addition, from here stems this spontaneous and intuitive aspect of her photographs, absolutely devoid of rhetoric. It is not that they are improvised, but rather that they surge from the internal dynamic of the situation photographed.

The characters that appear in the photographs are in some way personifications of the artist herself. In the tacit acceptance of the art of subjectivity, the characters in an image are ways of camouflaging who has made them, premonitions of the self. As if, for Elba Martínez photographing a place, should to a certain degree speak of her. And here resides one of the most interesting aspects of her proposal:  in these so immediate photographs, we begin to discover a well defined strategy and we’ll see the coefficient of fiction augment exponentially, in such a way that they end up becoming metaphors of life, above all, in elements of a collective identity.

Deep violet

“Violet (…) that lascivious color”.


Continuing with her use of public display of intimacy in, in the last years Elba has realized an ample series of micro performances in which she negotiates with strangers an act of extreme intimacy: a suck mark on the neck of the artist sufficiently long and intense enough to leave an unmistakable imprint. These strangers, who after the act cease to be so, are musicians that Elba listened to as a teenager:  RIP, Eskorbuto, Las Vulpes, Vomito…, completed by bands she currently listens to, such as El Columpio Asesino, Amor De Tokyo, EL Gran Puzble Cozmico, We Are Standard… public figures that the artist introduces into her intimacy through the artistic act.

In this series, the contact with the onlooker culminates: from the language of text messaging to tongue on skin. Lips and teeth inscribe the communicative act: violet marks on the throat, burst capillaries, blood blooms, relational designs, excavations in skin. Art, once again, for Elba Martinez, is a vehicle for opening and relating, of communication, and consequently, of wounding.

Formally, the piece appears as a series of business cards, with close-ups of the artist that show on her throat the imprints of this pacted passion. They are cards printed on both sides, with the name of the artist on one side and the name of the band on the other. Two self-portraits of the moment, conceived to pass from hand to hand — also like trading cards from a collection—and never to be displayed as photographic images on a wall. The stereotype of “ a true Lady never airs her…” seems radically inverted in these images in which the imprint on her throat appears like some personal information to share, on the same level as a telephone number or an email address. Some of the self portraits intimate the smirk of certain happiness in having obtained the trophy – the mark of sexual passion—but the majority show the dark side, deep violet, of this strange approximation.

The sense of accumulation, the collection of imprints, is important in these brief and intimate performances. It’s not about displaying just the mark of a specific musician whose work she admires, something a vulgar groupie would do, who wants emotional and sexual intimacy with a musician who she admires unconditionally, rather her serial character, indiscriminate and reiterative. This is more like an assault on the intimacy of fame rather than on the celebrity.

Contact Impulse 

As we were saying, Elba Martínez’s artistic practice of isn’t as much oriented towards communicating something with her pieces –well what could she communicate?—but instead she constructs them to establish relations. As Marcel Duchamp said now a century ago that it is the onlooker who completes the piece; Elba, on the contrary, has put into movement a system in which the relationship with the onlooker is the beginning of the piece. An onlooker who in the strictest sense can no longer be called such, because their proximity to the project turns them into part of it, in a necessary accomplice of the situation created.

The most obvious and extreme example is of the conversations via text messages: from an act of in-communication– a text message erroneously sent by a stranger where the artist answers—we pass from an aggressive intimacy, a message between bedroom and street corner, between seduction and insult. At the end of a long exchange of messages, that the artist displays as a theater of the absurd, an intimate and perturbed communication has been produced, a vital contact that we could identify with what occurs between the artist and the onlooker: dialogues in the air, blind communication. Although written on keypads, the text messages maintain their essence of oral language.

In connection to this Conversation Piece, we find other formalizations such as large typographical panels, with monochrome backgrounds, in the form of ironic literary paintings. Phrases that are framed in the routine and trivial of a conversation—“I’ve told you a thousand times…”–  and that in itself , as in the process of estrangement that Freud studied in the field of images, ends up entering to say the least a disturbing dimension.  Once again, it’s important identify that these poetic and disconcerting phrases, sincere and delirious—“It’s forbidden to kiss the deer, everything is so suave”—which we now contemplate solemnly amplified in the space of art, have been previously read on the screen of her cell phone. Before formalizing them into those monochrome panels, the artist sent them via text messages to people in her circle, perhaps not so much as to evaluate the responses that they would evoke, but by the very instinct of communication, the impulse to get out of oneself. “Naked  is naked because there aren’t any cats”, in the surrealist tradition, in this medium acquires a specific dimension. As a counterpoint; and maybe to avoid any relation with the “poetry” the most credible phrase on the screen of a cell phone such as; “Live everything, I only told you that I wanted to live everything”, seems to soil this possible poetic, but actually it achieves the opposite effect: it takes a vulgar couple’s dispute message to the terrain of linguistic speculation which turns it into an emotional earthquake, an explosion of unforeseeable meanings.

“When the end of the world comes, all the artists, all the filmmakers, all the poets who were considered mediocre will be rehabilitated and promoted to the status of genius”.