Artist Martín Gutierrez's second show, Can She Hear You, opens at New York's Ryan Lee Gallery today, and it's a mixture of video, performance and photography that deals with gender, self-transformation and the play between fantasy and reality. Gutierrez has created large-scale self-portraits in and amongst a girl gang of mannequins, who he's positioned in ways that play with ideas of gender ("both personal and collective") and keep the viewer guessing about the relationships and scenarios unfolding. Also on display will be three new music videos (Head 2 Toe, If and Blame the Rain) featuring "Martine", his popstar alter-ego who takes cues from Riri, B and TLC and whose music (which was played at the Saint Laurent Cruise Collection in 2012) has been described as "Lana del Rey goes to the Caribbean and is still sad." To tie in with the opening of the show, Martín has co-directed an exclusive new music video for i-D, featuring himself and his beloved mannequins dressed head-to-toe in Jacquemus. We caught up with the Bed-Stuy based artist to find out more.
Do you refer to yourself as Martin or Martine?
Well, it's confusing because I was born Martín [pronounced similarly to the English "Martine"] the Spanish name. My father's from Guatemala, so it's after his father. It's a very masculine Spanish name, so going to school in the United States no-one could say Martín, so it became Martine. Every substitute teacher I had would just put the "E" at the end. I didn't realise that there was a gender play happening when I was a child just because of my name.
There are three music videos in the show, right?
Yeah. It's usually me staring in my own make-up, hair, costuming, pressing play on the music, and filming with a few friends, driving around with a camera. In the photographs I do everything completely alone so this collaboration (see our i-D video here) has been really exciting because I get to have my hands off and just perform and forget about the process.
Are you enjoying the performance element more right now?
Yeah. I guess my aesthetic becomes less a part of it because my hand isn't in every aspect. Then moments happen where I'm more real, because when I'm making work by myself, I have to prepare myself to be unprepared in a weird way. I have to think like, "Ok let's be real." The pictures in the show are like a film still. For those I probably took anywhere from 100 to 600 pictures for just one set up. Because the mannequins don't move, it's up to me to make the shot dynamic, to bring movement or some life into it.
Why the fascination with mannequins?
I've had mannequins since I was in high school. The first mannequin I was given was by my mother, and it was right when the iPods came out. And all my friends were getting iPods, and I was dead set on getting a mannequin.
To dress it up?
Yeah, to dress it. But before that, I always had a love of dolls. I had my mother's dolls, I had my grandmother's doll, I had my Barbies. I had American Girl dolls, but I've always wanted a My Size Barbie. They didn't make PC Barbies then - they only made the blonde girl. There was no like Latina My Size Barbie. That's why the mannequin idea was really exciting: I could have those things, and she could look more like me.
You say you're investigating gender, both personal and collective in your show? Can you explain that a little more?
It's about losing individuality within a group. The mannequins are meant to be seen as human, or some kind of idealistic body form of a female, but they're not made to have an identity.
Your music has been used by Saint Laurent, Dior and Acne. Didn't you just want to become a musician?
I see myself as more of an artist. I feel like music falls under that umbrella. I was never taught how to read music and I don't think about it like minor chord major chord, what's the tempo of the song. It's a process of putting things together, making an image for me. And making an image, it's about me moving little things.
What about the influence of 90s hip hop and RnB? Which singers and rappers were you really into?
Oh, the first CD I bought was by TLC. FanMail is girl power at its best. It's so good. Although, I was also a big pop fan. I listened to a lot of Spice Girls. But they had RnB influences too. I also listened to a lot of second hand music because of my sister and my mother's music. My mum was listening to Celine Dion. And who's that country singer?
Yes! And then my sister was really into rock. She's older than me, so she actually saw Madonna, David Bowie and Boy George.
What do your mum and sister think of watching Martine, your performance persona?
My sister hasn't, I think my mum has once when I was really nervous. I was really worried, like "Oh no, mum's watching."
You were worried that it was too sexy?
Yeah. My stepdad was watching too, which was maybe more uncomfortable than my mother. Cause my mum's just supportive, she's been supportive of everything since the beginning.
Will they be there for the show when it opens in April?
Yes! And my father will be flying in, which is exciting. It's easier to do things that would otherwise feel maybe morally wrong or embarrassing when you can say it's a persona. But all things are connected, and I end up maybe starting a gesture as the persona, but then the gesture kind of finishes and it's me.
And it's interesting to see whether people can spot those little moments when you come through.
Right. And maybe that's what's also confusing - in a good way. I seem to be very confusing to people all the time.
Martín Gutierrez, Can She Hear You runs 9th April - 9th May at Ryan Lee Gallery, NYC.