Frame 61

Martin Roth

Frame 61
Martin Roth
 

"My interest in collaborating with nature has to do with the fact that I wanted my art to be alive. To have a life of its own and to be constantly changing and evolving."

 

Interview by writer Brooke Hailey Hoffert

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Where did you study?

I was born in Austria and would spend my afternoons after school in the woods close to our home for hours. I dropped out of high school after a serious motor scooter accident that left me immobile for several months. I broke my leg and knee several times in this accident and after a couple of operations had to learn how to walk again. 

After completing an internship in graphic design I started to travel a lot and ended up in New York. My early interest was film. I studied documentary film making at New York University but had also studied animation at Parson – School of Design. Only later I decided to study art and I completed an MFA in combined media in 2012 at Hunter College.

  "In November 2017 I collected a plant from the garden of a mass shooter."

"In November 2017 I collected a plant from the garden of a mass shooter."

Your work seems to cross the boundaries between art and nature. What inspired this interaction?

As someone who lives in a major city, I’m interested in this idea that we’re removed from nature, and the nature we know has been so intensely cultivated - a lawn is a stand in for nature, or public parks are highly curated natural habitats.  We live in an image of nature in a sense but I’m also interested in this space between natural and artificial.

My interest in collaborating with nature has to do with the fact that I wanted my art to be alive. To have a life of its own and to be constantly changing and evolving.  I am interested in the interplay between the artificial image of nature created via care and cultivation and the processes of entropy, change and the passage of time.

But if you work with organic elements you also have to take care and nurture your collaborators. So for me it was important that whoever exhibited my work or bought my work would be obligated to commit to take care of the work. So this maintenance of a system is very important. Maintenance is such an overlooked part of our society and without it we know most parts of society would break down within days. I m also interested that my work does not operate as a commodity as many artworks do. My work is only a work of art if it is cared for and loved in a sense.

  "In May 2017 I cultivated a piece of land in Midtown Manhattan nurtured by tweets."

"In May 2017 I cultivated a piece of land in Midtown Manhattan nurtured by tweets."

"In May 2017 I cultivated a piece of land in Midtown Manhattan nurtured by tweets." (detail)

"From May to June 2012 I grew grass on rugs in a castle."

"From May to June 2012 I grew grass on rugs in a castle."

Is there an element of art you enjoy working with most? Why?

I like that every project is very different. I like a lot to see how the viewer interacts with my works. How the viewer moves across the space. I am interested in the relationships between the observer and the space I construct.

Most works are site-specific so I always try to incorporate every aspect of the architecture where the work is shown. I think a lot about how to transform an existing space into something else: how to emphasize a forgotten corner or to use parts of the ceiling that nobody ever considered before.  It is important for me to really transform a space. I actually think space and architecture are my mediums. I also enjoy the moment when the work comes together in the space and creates a life of its own. When new elements emerge out of the installation.

Tell us a bit about how you spend your day / studio routine? What is your studio like?

I go to my studio in the morning and usually read for a while. The rest of the day I spend with writing down things that are going through my mind and that I feel are important to me at the moment. Then after a while I think about how these elements I am interested in could be turned into ideas for installations. My studio is full of strong grow lights and full of fake trees. I also have very large fake rocks in the middle of my studio. I always used to have a large cage with birds in my studio or large terrariums with crickets or mice.

  "In july 2015 I shipped debris from the syrian border to use as bird litter."

"In july 2015 I shipped debris from the syrian border to use as bird litter."

"In july 2015 I shipped debris from the syrian border to use as bird litter."

What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?

I saw a retrospective of Bruce Nauman recently and one work that resonated with me is called Carousel.  It consists of a rotating steel cross with polyurethan molds of an assortment of animals hanging from it, from coyotes to lynx to a deer. The elements are in constant movement being dragged around in a circle leaving a scratch mark on the floor. I had seen it before but once again it had a profound impact on me. It is a dark work. It is a simple gesture but has such a profound impact. It is in a sense a peaceful work but very dark. I m curious about works that are very simple but keep you thinking or rediscovering new elements that you did not consider before.

How do you go about naming your work?

The naming of the work is very straightforward. I try to simplify the idea of the work to the most literal meaning and make it into a “one-liner”. I see the titles almost like the first sentence of a novel that was never written.

Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

I am working on a sound installation for the Kunsthaus in Vienna, Austria.  It is an imagined soundscape that will become a record of our civilization - a time capsule - similar to the Golden Record that was sent to space with the Voyager spacecraft.  This soundscape will act as a record of the most invasive species - the human. 

 The sounds will include bird sounds, frog sounds, crickets and other animals. The main idea behind the installation is to have soundscape of animals that have lost their voice and have been taught instead the songs of humans.  Scientists have observed that over recent generations, certain species have started to mimic the surrounding sounds of their habitats, often cities. In the future, my soundscape posits that the root of these animals’ songs will eventually become so altered that the natural animal call will actually sound more like the ringing of a phone, a car alarm, or an AC unit.

My soundscape looks at a post-apocalyptic time when the sounds of humans have long gone silent, but are being kept alive by nature. While our civilization has collapsed animals and insects are still able to convey the traces of us from generation to generation.

www.martinroth.org

Published: 10/07/2018
All images courtesy of the artist