The more I think of the title “Mood Ring” the more I am convinced that there exists no other phrase more appropriate to entitle an exhibition. Because an exhibition functions as such: an array of colours, or shades, representing a spectrum of emotions, the interiority of the artist, and moods that can be murky, lucid, stagnant, or shifting. An indicator of the wearer/maker’s reaction to a physical state, a full exposure. And yet, mood rings can often be misleading, scientifically faulty, tricking the viewer into misinterpreting the emotions at hand: as often is the case with art. American artist Martin Kersels’ (b. 1960) solo exhibition “Mood Ring” presented at Treignac Projet thus takes on the role of the object it is named after. It is a staging of the artist’s vulnerability, and as with mood rings, this vulnerability is embodied, worn, assumed, venerated even, in a way that reassures the viewer of the physical sensations of existence we all experience while navigating this world. “Dramatic, playful and desperate,”1 are the qualities Kersels embraces while developing his practice, all of which are felt, heard and made visible throughout the show.
A Molotov cocktail [Charm (Revolution), 2011] dangles over the doorway of the exhibition space on the ground floor: a dramatic entrance that nevertheless captures the artist’s tongue in cheek humour as the flame here functions as a lampshade, the sculpture thus becoming both light fixture and talisman, trinket and cartoonish prop for an imaginary revolution. What follows is a space distinguished by sound. A brown sound – this electric guitar distortion generated by musicians with pedals and amps – rumbles out of a nondescript speaker (Brown Sound Kit, 1994-2016) whilst everything feels a bit hazy, undetermined. The uneasiness is heightened by the presence of two interactive/sound sculptures, Hades (2014) and Orpheus (2014), assembled from curious fragments of found objects. Hades, god of the underworld, appears here above ground, composed of a plastic rooster with a number of speakers perturbing from its body, hanging by its feet. A hand microphone falls by its head, welcoming the visitor to amplify their voice into the space. Orpheus, named after the Greek musician and poet who had perfected the lyre is presented in a DIY version of the instrument, built from a hacked amplifier and broken furniture. Orpheus’ poetry and musical mastery seem trivialised, embodied in a precarious device held together by duct tape and cables, societal standards of beauty thus called into question. This questioning of the ideal is emphasized by Fat Iggy– Kersels’ alter ego as antithesis to the muscular and “perfect” performer Iggy Pop– and his record, “Waiting Room” (2009) playing softly in the background. Everything is pleasantly out of sync and awkward. The absurdity of a charming revolution, the idolized god, poet, pop star, all vibrate together, in a harmonious cacophony.
If the mood on the ground floor is predominately that of uneasiness, upstairs, the playful and desperate qualities of Kersels’ work come into tension. A video entitled Pink Constellation (2001) greets the visitor, a work that seems crucial to understanding Kersels’ body of work spanning performance, sound, photography, video and sculpture. A still frame of a pink, teenage girl’s bedroom welcomes two performers: a graceful young girl and a clumsy Martin Kersels. Alternating scenes depict the two characters respectively dancing, walking and falling on the walls and ceiling of the space while the bedroom itself stays intact2. A certain cuteness is juxtaposed with a certain awkwardness as the viewer bears witness to a staging of the sensation of feeling like an outcast in face of the standard. Similarly, the series Falling Photos #7 #8 #9 (1997)– depicting Martin Kersels mid fall – and the work Stingray Medley (1996) – an installation featuring a video of the artist heroically riding a bicycle before launching himself off a ramp and, in turn, falling once again – venerates the vulnerable and embarrassing moment of falling in public. Voluntarily testing the body’s limits, Kersels turns desperate situations into comical portrayals of deeply human experiences.
Between the video works and the series of photos, a long racetrack traces the floor of the space upon which sits a creaturelike toy car composed of kitchen utensils, flattened Oasis cans and melted Fat Iggy vinyl records, waiting to be activated. The title Kitchen Katamari (Proof of concept for future ride) (2022) – a work made in collaboration with Sabrina Tarasoff and Sam Basu – borrows the Japanese word “katamari” meaning “clump.” This kitchen clump thus recalls images from video games in which rolling balls accumulate fragments to gain power and speed. Another clump, Ailing Katamari (2022), sits nearby. Yet rather than the idea of a clump increasing in power, the title refers to the flawed, the unwell. Kersels created Ailing Katamari on site, using broken chairs and worn down furniture to create a massive sphere that almost floats in the space, as an ode to “every chair I’ve ever broken,”3 the artist stated. Yet another instant of embracing the embarrassing.
Although the exhibition shifts between an array of emotions, the overall mood could perhaps be that of defiance. A defiance of gravity, a defiance of the standard, a defiance of categorisation resonate throughout the space. However, Martin Kersels’ defiance is not an aggressive, reactionary one– it is humble, honest, and, perhaps most refreshingly, filled with humour.