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05.04 - 04.05

Lingering behind the woven works and assemblages of Dani Marti’s third solo exhibition at GAGPROJECTS – simply titled Wall Hangings – is a body longing to be represented and remembered. Wall Hangings continues Marti’s longstanding assertion that abstraction is portraiture, a threshold to what he calls ‘sexual minimalism’. Emptied out and beyond conventional recognition, the body represented on these walls belongs to the artist, now in his sixties, and grappling with the conundrums of aging, health, mortality and existence as a queer man living with HIV since 1989. Stitched and woven back together, this body is like an old coat reunited with its corporeal imprint. Like a seat still warm from human skin.

Marti’s wall hangings are a visual and tactile invitation to human connection and intimacy – elegies for self and others. Polyester ropes of pink, blue and grey are woven into a grid as a tribute to murdered British transgender teen, Brianna Ghey (2006–2023).  Elsewhere, a collection of Tupperware containers once belonging to art collector Peter Fay – the subject of Marti’s earlier work of sculptural and video portraiture, Bacon’s Dog (2010) – are torched into fleshy landscapes, referencing bodily interiority. Where skin meets what lies beneath is where hand meets heart, igniting transformation within a swirling landscape of torn and exposed flesh.

Indeed, the hand is what keeps the thread of connection alive for Marti. It’s as if each work is imbued with human traces of the handmade/handheld as a counterpoint to the stone-cold modes of production rife in the machine age and beyond. What lies beyond is the same void uniting us all, tacked to the walls, a public hanging. He regards one work as an anxious act of self-revelation amid the flickering white-noise rabble-rousing of social media. Like dust particles floating in space, Marti trades one abyss for another as his customised road reflectors catch light if not fire.

Wall Hangings. Nothing could be more utilitarian and unadorned as a title. But with it, Marti sets the emotive stage for the stories untold, histories new and old. None blunter than the art historical reference to Wall Hangings, the landmark 1969 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, ‘devoted to the contemporary weaver whose work places him [sic] not in the fabric industry but in the world of art’. Ironic considering the ‘universal’ male pronoun was applied to an exhibition with a gender ratio of twenty-five female to three male artists. Evidence of the gendering of craft-based practices, then. And the queering of that same tradition, now.

Previously, Marti shunned being categorised as a queer artist, despite the flagrant homoeroticism of his video practice or the ‘sissy abstraction’ – a term coined by Australian artist Peter Maloney (1953–2023) – that ensues when the male frat house of modernism is queered. Marti repressed a queer political position that is now in full bloom, ironically, through the so-called purity (or danger?) of abstraction: ‘In the past, I kept saying, “My work is not about gay art. I'm not a gay artist.” With age, I'm starting to realise, “It is about gay issues, gay life, the gay body.” And so, I'm starting to be more relaxed about the queerness that I have repressed in the past.’

Wall Hangings is where Marti is hanging it all out to dry: past anxieties commingling with the tense present against a backdrop of specific cultural histories. We see how the gendered art/craft debate of one art historical moment (New York, 1969) coexisted culturally alongside the urgent (but not yet intersectional) politics of gay liberation birthed from the Stonewall Riots (also New York, 1969). It’s like Marti wishes to underscore how past curatorial gestures can ignite queer capacities for remembrance further down the track. This is what, for instance, the AIDS Memorial Quilt says of queer ‘craftivism’ in another context (or at the very least, the life-affirming power to memorialise through making). Or what, for Marti, the wall does for the ground when abstraction is asked to tell stories and pave the path forward.

Words by Daniel Mudie Cunningham

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