A biographical note

A biographical note

English Version

Carl Friedrich Schröer

Martín Mele lives in a foreign land, it’s uncertain how foreign, how distant or familiar it is. For he has lived abroad for some time, actually forever.

Those born in Argentina have to learn to deal with a certain foreignness. Especially “as a man stuck to his nose.” In jest, his father made him familiar with this poem by the famous Spanish poet Quevedo, establishing a special tie to this world literature the longer and more idiosyncratically his nose grew.

The ancestors of almost all Argentineans came to the country from across the ocean. And if they wanted to go back, for which there have been changing reasons over the centuries, they had to get on a ship anew. The harbor of Buenos Aires at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata on the Atlantic Ocean became the transit station for immigrants and émigrés without them ever meeting. The waves of new arrivals alternated with the waves of those departing, like high and low tides. One day, when the nose was not yet fully grown and the wave of émigrés swelled once more, the family boarded a boat to Europe. Across the wide ocean to foreign lands. The goal at the other end of the Atlantic was Amsterdam.
“The evil” that the Argentinean journalist and writer (and later Argentinean president) Domingo Faustino Sarmiento laments in his book Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism, published in 1845 in Chilean exile: “The evil that plagues the Republic of Argentina is extension: the desert surrounds it on all sides, it insinuates itself into its innermost regions; solitude, desolation without human habitation, are in general the unquestionable limits between these or the other provinces. Immensity abounds everywhere.” And beyond this the expanses of the oceans between which the pampas, after all, lie, the weeks-long boat passages back and forth.

The young man stuck to his Argentinean nose grew up between the continents. In Spain, where he was apprenticed to his godfather Héctor Tizón, the writer and esteemed constitutional lawyer, who went into exile across the ocean when things once more became politically dicey. Later he came to the Netherlands, to Amsterdam and Arnhem, then moved up the Rhine to Germany.

The long shadows of the avant-garde fell across the last glimmer of twilight. He proudly took up residence in the weather-beaten neo-Renaissance palace of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf on the right bank of the Rhine (not very far from the birthplace of Heinrich Heine) and didn’t know where to turn. Lüpertz, the greatest embodiment of the painter-prince at the end of the twentieth century, became his teacher – but not his master.

More there than here, and again here and there. He, too, an early traveler and a late nomad. Truly a good schooling for an artist’s existence as became the fate of his generation. Following his nose and the demand of the global market. And yet not drifting without a home and contre la nature, for he had learned from early on to do without something like a homeland, to form his own personality. The thin, gaunt figure, the shoulder long hair, his nose in any case, and then the pipe, the handmade Correa shoes, the elegant custom-made Colmenares suits. Attired in such a fashion he enters the studio, causing all the brushes, tubes, paint buckets, piles of trash and material to surrender.

For everything about Martín Mele has a certain poetry. By this I don’t mean that his material collages, the sculptures or visual objects, his installations and spaces, his paintings and performances are literary in the sense that works of other artists are narrative and anecdotal. His works also do not refer directly to literary models, nor are they illustrations. And yet they contain the literary as an ingredient and primal melody, like Francisco Gómez de Quevedo’s (1580–1645) surrealist sentence avant la lettre, about the nose and head that once opened Martín Mele’s eyes to the past.

For him, art remains a foreign land, immeasurable and sheer endless in its fascination, full of novelties and monstrosities. The journey to a foreign land is always full of mistaken paths and close to failure. The fundamentally literary quality of his perspective on art provides a natural distance that ensures survival on insecure terrain. An independence, a fine sense of irony, a subtle humor comes to expression, which keeps the memory of the illusory and the futile, the absurd and the theatrical, and sometimes the disconsolation of his action and his existence almost lovingly awake.

As poetry came to be a protective companion on his ship passages and travels of discovery through foreign worlds, we can learn to read from his art from the foreign perspective of the literary. Kafka, Camus, and Borges as manifestations of Charon: guides, translators, and ferrymen. The phenomenon is familiar from the radio where interviews with foreign celebrities of music or politics are superimposed with the breathless voice of the translator. We can only hear the original voice of the person at the start or the end of the recording. Yet it is as impossible and pointless to distil what is original from what is the superimposition or the translation in the work of Martín Mele, as it is difficult to deduce the special character of the Argentineans from their (usually) European ancestors.

Travelling as an artistic format of its own is a strength, a driving force and an Argentinean necessity to survive, a technique that when perfected means both approach ing the goal and simultaneously moving away from it. The world is crossed, surveyed, and understood on closer inspection as a support for fictional encounters. Or, as Jorge Luis Borges knows very well from his comprehensive Babylonian library, the art of cartography once achieved such perfection that its best map was the size of the empire itself and covered each and every point of it. But later generations left it exposed to the scorn of the sun and the winter, until all that remained were the fragmented ruins of the maps in the deserts of the west, inhabited by animals and beggars.