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Sep 29, 2009 2:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

High heels and mascara in the forest

Sep 29, 2009 2:33 PM

At the Watermill Center last week, Katharina Martin, a German performance and video artist, pulled on flesh-toned stockings and a skin-tight shiny dress with slits up the sides. She applied fake eyelashes, heavy blush and red lipstick and, finally, stepped into black pumps with four-inch stiletto heels.

She then walked into the nearby forest and wandered around for two days, filming herself with a video camera.

“The clothes and shoes are already giving up fast to nature,” Ms. Martin said in heavily accented English halfway through her first day at work in the woods, picking up a pump to show that the sole was already flapping off.

Ms. Martin, 38, is one of the autumn artists-in-residence at the Watermill Center, Robert Wilson’s avant garde performance laboratory. Some 79 artists from around the world were chosen for artist residencies this fall and next spring. Ms. Martin will share a video of her work-in-progess, called “Forest Time,” with a public audience on October 2 at 7 p.m.

Although descriptions from the Watermill Center billed her project as a reflection on the absurdity of classic signifiers of glamorous femininity, Ms. Martin would not concede that her work had one simple meaning. But she agreed that her work always has focused on gender and the body and that she enjoyed playing with concepts tied to these themes.

“To be a woman, you always see how you present yourself on the outside,” she said. “In life you can play with identities. In video, you can see them clash.”

Ms. Martin said she was not going to take off her makeup for the two days she spent in the forest. She planned to sleep on a yoga mat on the floor in the Watermill Center, instead of actually living in the woods. Then she was planning to work on editing her footage and to use the inspiration of the Watermill Center to work on other projects for the remainder of her two-week residency, she said.

Born in Rheina, Germany, Ms. Martin now lives in the Netherlands, in Rotterdam, home to the busiest port in Europe. “My work is very connected to my life and my history,” she said. As a child, she said, she used to spend countless hours playing in the forest near her house. So this project, she said, is like “a meeting with myself in the past,” as she has spent her adult years living in the city and no longer has any interest in spending time outdoors.

She also did not deny the humor of the project. “It’s just funny when you see how limiting it is,” she said, speaking of the dress and manicured nails and high heels.

“In the beginning, you try not to rip the dress, but soon the stockings are ripping, and then you don’t care so much,” she said, pointing out all the scratches on her legs and hands.

“It was difficult, finding where I can step so it doesn’t hurt. But I also had a lot of nice feelings in the woods, using my imagination, feeling home, feeling safe.”

While among the trees, she positions the camera as her witness and sets about clearing the ground, gathering leaves and making a homey little nest for herself as she once had done when she was a child. She said the nature of what she did then, and was doing now, was domestic—a sort of nesting ritual that simultaneously plays on another gender convention.

Ms. Martin has always focused on the body in the way she has lived and worked, so when she began to work formally as an artist it was only natural that her creative efforts would connect to physicality and be body-oriented. She was a competitive gymnast growing up, then worked as a stripper in Los Angeles for two and a half years, and, later, worked as an acrobat. “When you are a performance artist, you are really close to your body,” she said.

But when asked again what statement she was trying to make about the body or femininity with her project, she scoffed at the question. “To be an artist is a statement,” she said, giving her audience the responsibility for deciding what it means.

“It’s for them,” Ms. Martin said of the audience. “In the end, you are very vulnerable. They can do with the art what they want.”

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An earlier version of this article misstated Ms. Martin's place of birth. A correction will be printed in the October 8 edition of The Southampton Press.
By BOReilly (130), Hampton Bays on Oct 6, 09 10:27 AM
What a cool idea. I'd like to see the video. Will it be available for sale, does anyone know? If you find out it is, please email me at: nopEda@bellsouth.net.

Thanks,
Barb
By nopEda (1), Buford on Nov 18, 09 4:21 PM