For the past several years Martin Brief has investigated the manner in which language, thought
and information relate to contemporary culture and the creation of self. Drawing from earlier
conceptual art practices, information overload and data collection he makes beautiful, spare,
precisely executed works on paper. Blending absurdity and logic, the current body of work
reflects the perceived conflicts between science and religion, which are often played out in
political and cultural arenas.
The current series consists of twelve works, one for each chapter of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief
History of Time. Selected for its iconic status and profound impact on our understanding of the
universe, Hawking’s book also provides a title that is a humorous reflection on both Brief’s name
and his process. Given the time involved in creating this series (an average of 200-250 hours
per work), the exhibition represents a not-so-brief period in his life.
These new works confront the continuing dialogue between religious and scientific cosmology
and doctrine. Brief’s process began with an examination of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament),
the New Testament and the Qur’an – holy texts from the world’s three dominant monotheistic
religions. He then assigned colors to the words in each of the texts – those existing in all three
scriptures are gold; those in two are silver; and words existing in one are bronze. Copper
indicates words that appear only in the Hawking’s treatise. Each word is painstakingly
handwritten on the appropriately colored “tile” of paper and collaged onto a sheet of paper
forming an overall rectangular shape. The result is a mosaic in which pattern is randomly
determined by the coding system.
Martin Brief was born in Chicago, Illinois and received a graduate degree at Southern Illinois
University at Carbondale. His work is held in the public collections of the Art Institute of Chicago,
Newberry Library of Chicago, and the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona. Brief
was the recipient of the MacDowell Colony Fellowship in 2014 and was included in the 2010
Great Rivers Biennial of the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives
and works as an Assistant Professor at St. Louis University.