Renzo Martens
Into the Eye of the Storm

Of all the artists whose works are featured in “Into the Eye of the Storm", Renzo Martens is perhaps the one who is most acutely aware of boundaries and of being judged. His work beckons, even taunts, its viewers to pass judgment on him. For the filming of Episode I (2003), Martens traveled to then war-torn Chechnya with nothing but a video camera. He did not have a press pass, and entry to the country was illegal. Given the desperate situation of the local population, which demanded empathy and compassion, Martens’ delivery is paradoxical: he asks his subjects – refugees, soldiers, and UN workers captured against a washed-out background of ruin and desperation – what they think of him.  What may at first appear like the bestowment of control to powerless people is, in fact, a ploy. Martens is on a mission to provoke the viewer, and he relishes the confrontation. He wields narcissism as a tool designed to jar his viewers, compelling them to demand accountability. The sense of offence that this work generates in its viewers is intentional, and is meant to confront us with our own reflection; it forces us to consider the media we consume on a daily basis, and our acceptance of the lopsided news and documentary coverage that, although purportedly neutral, functions to maintain a status quo that serves the affluent Western world. This film is a parable for today’s economy of images, and its reliance on representations of pain and suffering to justify what the Marxist Philosophers Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt call “Empire.” In essence, Episode I puts a mirror up to the media industry by turning the camera on the photographer – in this case, Martens himself – a privileged white man who consumes and produces images.