Maria Ghost: Rick Martin
Experimental Art Foundation Adelaide SA December - January 1998
This photographic installation resounds with haunting unveilings and a richly woven sub text. It tells the story of a ship, The Maria, which foundered on the South Australian coast near Kingston.
The survivors of the wreck were rescued by the Ngarrindjeri people who led them to the mouth of the Murray and then killed them. The motive behind the slaying has never been revealed. A Ngarrindjeri man believes that the white survivors were fooling with the black women, but nobody really knows and the actual reason has been lost in time and confused by the corrupt legal machinations that followed the incident.
This is where the story echoes a quandary that has endured intractably since colonisation. The bloody-minded domination of a foreign rule of law that denied rights to Aborigines refused to determine their legal status, and so assumed authority over them. A decision was made by Governor Gawler to send a police captain and an Aboriginal policeman down to Kingston with orders to 'take no more than three'. Two men were hanged on the beach and one shot trying to escape.
Martin's articulation of this story is both serene and compelling. Most of the photographic images delineate pieces of the area's coastline. The terrain is low, partly submerged by water and the heaviness of the moonlit sky seems to weigh on the land and sea. There is a hushed, haunting quality to these images that communicate primal connections to the cosmos.
The catalogue essay describes the repetition of the images as personal and tidal. I am reminded that I once asked a child who had told me she was going to the beach, which beach she meant. She answered. "what do you mean, there is only one beach." I understood that I had mindlessly accepted that the coastline was divided up and that she saw the beach, not a beach, but as something that flows around the edge of land endlessly. This, of course, caused me to think about the way in which I disunite and divide existence into neat bits. In their calm and restrained repetition, Martin's images resonate on this idea.
Along one wall of the gallery, as counterpart to some of these works are black, glossy boxes constructed in exactly the same proportions as images. A black box must own some good address in the collective unconscious as a powerful signifier of memory, both as potential and as enigmatic murky nature. In this case, they seem to act as the impenetrable keepers of secrets, shrouding the brutality of Maria's story. As objects they sit in direct contrast to the serenity of the images.
A photograph of a motel room stands alone, almost in opposition to the landscapes. This room embodies the very essence of all motel rooms. Two beds, one made and the other slept in, with a small bedside table in between. But it is the pillows that exemplify the true nature of motel rooms. They have that starched, resistant to creasing look. There is an intense sensuality in the way the pillows, in their domestic formality, have moulded to the body of the sleeper.
If this installation has a beginning, it is marked by a small photograph of an old-fashioned trunk. Distinguishing this trunk from all other ordinary trunks is that it is golden. Washed-up from the wreck, perfectly intact, it sits auspiciously on the beach like Campion's Piano, or Doctor Who's Tardis. A golden trunk celebrating the traveller's dreams and expectations. The actual golden trunk stands at the centre of the installation brilliantly communicating its illustrious identity.
Martin has layered and intermixed individual stories and lives to create a strangely pacifying, almost mystical experience. His own story is visible, interwoven into the collective. A collective of ghosts. The survivors of The Maria, the Ngarrindjeri, and the absurd colonial authorities. Martin is clearly haunted by travel lust. Reflected in the sterile peace of the motel room, the potency of the trunk, the solitary nature of the images is desire to journey. If the golden trunk personifies wanderlust then the dreamings of the traveller are central to this work.