Mandi XV at Art Basel Hong Kong 2013

Sies + Höke Galerie
May 21, 2013 7:57AM

"My father promised me a sword. I would find it in deepest distress...."

Richard Wagner, The Valkyrie, Act 1

A sword, secretly hidden for the later use of the future hero, is a widely known mythological motif. In Greek mythology it was Aegeus, who, after the secret act of procreation of Theseus, left a sword in anticipation of the later exploits of his future son. It was one of the earliest weapons heard of – with the help of it Theseus freed himself and conquered the world, to become the prototypical hero of Greek myths and legends, he slew the Minotaur, for example.

In the Edda, the Germanic founding myth, and the therefrom derived setting "The Valkyrie" by Richard Wagner, Siegmund finds a sword pushed by his father into a tree trunk, too heavy to extract for anyone not worth but the hero, only tailored to him. Similarly, Siegfried, the child of Siegmund and Sieglinde, who is to support the same weapon later, is the only one who can forge the broken sword after it was destroyed by Wotan (Odin), the god, when he turned against Siegmund. King Arthur’s story in the English Grail saga  follows a similar structured pattern concerning the central importance of a sword as an indicator of heroism, royalty and power in the central myth of a country, this time of Great Britain.

In the Far Eastern mythology it is no different: the sword of the warrior or hero is also often customized for his support and connected with him on life and limb. Its use often forces into play the border on the superhuman. It is reported, among other things, of swordsmiths whose swords had a spiritual power that made them superior to all others. There is the ritual of burying the sword with the warrior after his death, thus escaping any foreign acquisition and utilization. Swords were, as in the myth of Lü Dongbin, synonym to the gate to heaven and were medium and test vehicle in virtue and virility. It is also reported of swords that were hidden until the hero was ready for them, in a prominent Japanese myth for example in the belly of a snake, the hero killed the beast and thus achieved his weapon.

Kris Martin's monumental work Mandi XV hides nothing. The dimensions alone are overwhelming, any optionof appropriating it is impossible, it is obvious that the sword would belong into the hands of a superhuman, giant or superhero. Nevertheless, above contemplation on form and symbolism, the work is also intended as a call for action: for example as a reflection on our possibilities and limitations. Or on the enormous effort that is required to solve the problems mankind is facing over and over again. Who would not make a wish for someone who could, with a stroke of his sword, solve all our problems, make them all of a sudden obsolete. The weapon is waiting for a new, modern hero of the 21st century.

In addition, the sword was and is, as such, symbol of judgment and the double-edged nature of it, its necessity to sharply separate the true from the false. Also in this reading the symbolism is ambivalent, as so often with Martin. Are we with our human existence too small, too insignificant to learn embracing justice, or is the sword perhaps a sign of a higher order, of God's judgment, of the Apocalypse? Have we created civilizational relations which now grow far beyond our heads due to their complexity now turning against us as their creators. We can only answer the questions ourselves. Or we have to bear the fact that they remain unanswered, on a knife’s edge.

It was essential for Martin that the sword could properly be used. It has been manufactured like a real weapon, both in weight and proportions as well as in terms of the sharpness of the blade. So if in the foreseeable future somebody shows himself capable of using it, the device would be ready.

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