Edgar Martins (1977, Évora, Portugal) presents a photographic series produced in 2012 and 2013 at ESA (European Space Agency) facilities in nine different countries, across three continents. For the first time, the space agency has opened its doors to the eyes of an outsider, investing in its relationship with the general public through the medium of art.
Edgar Martins' work compels us to consider a geopolitics of secrecy and (in)accessibility. At the ESA sites visited by Edgar Martins, according to a protocol that enthusiastically welcomed the project, negotiation was constant and access, though real, was not always totally obvious. This underlines the fact that, for the vast majority of us, these are places that are totally impenetrable, which map out a network of loci of necessarily political and secret experimentation and decision-making at the highest level across the planet. The photographic 'document' is, or was, in this case, desired and feared, facilitated and avoided. The artist embodied the ambiguous figure of the invited intruder.
The images in this series have this dual quality of approachability and distance. Looking, for example, at a shape of a hand without seeing a hand is an unsettling experience. It is not a sculpture or a drawn or painted representation: bereft of an associated arm or body, the fabric astronauts' glove that Martins photographed, camouflaged and inflated, is placed against a black background like an animated puppet and introduces us in an ambiguous (seductive and frightening) way to the world of technical artificiality.
There is no one in these images (with one very distant and anonymous exception), and the 'body' of the machine imposes its magnitude and all-encompassing nature on the photographed spaces. We are presented with the circular chasm of deep 'wells', of machines seen face on or from a low angle, restrictive, claustrophobic; their densely filled interiors proliferating with wires, hoses, cables, electric and electronic devices, articulated arms, batteries, containers, diagrams, simulators, buttons, modules, accelerators, generators, antennas, computers, rockets, satellites, maquettes, parts, robots... Laboratory components and objects from a science museum.
The aseptic nature of these places excludes us: they have an almost inhuman quality, yet we are inexplicably drawn towards the 'inhumanity' of what seems to have surpassed us. If mechanical complexity and strangeness lead to enigmas, our distance in relation to them leads to uncomfortable reverence.
Edgar Martins also talks about the 'paradox of our finitude'. Some will prefer to think about the beauty of our infinity, alongside the infinity of the universe, as evoked by the title of this series . The choice between these two possibilities is intimately linked to our individual natures and to the nature of these photographs.