Renzo Martens’ Episode 3

A Prior #16 / Els Roelandt

© Renzo Martens, still from Episode 3, 2009


Last summer, during my trip to Kassel for Documenta 12, I spoke with the young Dutch artist, Renzo Martens (b. 1973), who was barely known to me. To be specific, I had already met Martens, at another point in the summer’s so-called ‘Grand Tour’. Martens and I had shared a small apartment in Venice with some other colleagues and artists. I saw very little of him. As the only man in the group, he kept conspicuously to himself. He was quiet, ironing his shirts or practicing yoga. He barely spoke and impressed me as one of the most detached individuals I had ever met. Ultimately, thanks to our—coincidentally concurrent—visits to Documenta 12, we only really began a conversation somewhere near Duisburg, on the drive from Kassel back to Brussels.
While Valérie Mannaerts, the Brussels and New York-based artist, with whom A Prior had previously worked, sat concentrated at the steering wheel, manoeuvring our trajectory amongst German luxury cars, Martens and I reviewed the more memorable work that we had seen at the summer’s rare convergence of international art events. Knowing that Martens had spent quite a lot of time in Africa, I spoke to him with some conviction about the recent photographs by the South African artist, Guy Tillim (b. Johannesburg, 1962). In 2006, during the run-up to the presidential elections in Congo, Tillim produced a beautiful series of colour photographs.1 He was one of several artists fromthe African continent invited by Roger Buergel and Ruth Noack
to participate in the ‘world exhibition’ that is Documenta. Some were even present, in traditional costume, at the press conference and opening days of the exhibition.
“Tillim’s work is strong,” was how I phrased it to Martens. “His images are taken at just the right moment, with a real eye for details in the images that can become symbols. He also has a good sense of staging, using vantage points that ensure that the whole atmosphere is present—the feeling for the environment of the subject that he wants to photograph. You have, as it were, a sense that you were there.” (Months later, I would see those images anew, now through the lens of Martens’ film camera).
Yes, Martens agreed, they are beautiful photographs, “Tillim is a very good photographer,” he said dryly. “His pictures of the centre of Kinshasa during the elections, with burning propaganda, screaming crowds, the broad back and high neck of Jean-Pierre Bemba (one of the presidential candidates), a statue of Patrice Lumumba (erected by Bemba’s rival, the current Congolese President, Laurent Kabila) as a revolutionary figure in the midst of the seething masses and equally militant Congolese, the presence of the UN one day before the elections, etc., are all very attractive, lifelike and intriguingly presented."

1 Footnotes (1 references)

  • 1. ^ Congo Democratic is a series of photographs taken by GuyTillim in Kinshasa in July, 2006