MUSCLE WORN & WEARING
The acts of wrapping and encasing can be seen as ways to contain, conceal, or keep something in, but in Kyle Alden Martens’ MUSCLE WORN & WEARING, they also are acts of care and protection. In truth, they are not either, but both: concealment and protection are not binary motivations. They are material actions inflected by intent and framing. In his handbag t-shirt jigsaw puzzle, pieces fit neatly into one another—that’s the catch of puzzles, there is only one space that perfectly suits a piece. While we are inclined to focus on the larger image that the pieces form, we also ought to consider the importance of discrete pieces, not simply in service of the whole, but as they delineate space for the others. These works are instruments of care, creating new pockets for the safekeeping of precious objects, made precious by the care that is shown to them. A lesson on the tautology of belonging: what belongs somewhere must have somewhere to belong.
Kyle Alden Martens’ objects tuck into newly claimed contours by recombining the familiar: a wooden shoe earring covered in taffeta, a chair jewellery display cushion, an upholstered suit pattern drawing, a shirt handbag puzzle. This is gentle disorientation. He describes it as a blur or a frequency that only certain people can hear, like a dog whistle, or a secret code, something that can hide in plain sight. The objects’ apparent logic—the preciousness and carefulness of their presentation and materiality—registers them as beautiful and delicate at first, and then the strangeness hits. Familiarity is a decoy that allows the works to slip between codified categories and suspends them in between nameable things.
To hide in plain sight is also to protect from reaction at being found out, to create plausible deniability. Fear of being found out of place is a legacy of queerness, but this work neither embraces or rejects this burden. Rather, it slowly pushes the context so that we are necessarily reoriented. There is a vigilance here, a polite defensiveness, imbued with the will to remain unthreatening yet ever-present. Towards this end, we are beguiled by the miniature and the gigantic. Playfulness is both a cast of protection and an invitation.
Situating us among familiar forms, Kyle Alden Martens carefully disrupts our sense of scale: we might perceive a taffeta-covered climbing rope in repose as a snake, a necklace, or even a silken thread. A community of mood rings nestled into their chairs change colours with the ambient air temperature, a change we are unlikely to notice until after the fact, which shifts the temporal scale. The works are always in transit, delineated between push and pull, between elements that may seem at odds: assertions of belonging and specificity in a persistent state of change. If these are apparent contradictions, they are part of the puzzle that shows us where the pieces fit together. Each thing acts on the others, setting in motion a constellation of forces of which we may also briefly become a part.
by Elliott Elliott