Mauro C. Martinez’s latest solo exhibition with Unit London examines our ever-evolving relationship to technology. The artist’s latest body of work expands on the principal image of his previous exhibition, The Last Man, delving deeper into the idea of the gamer setup.
Inspired by the online subreddit thread, RateMySetup, where users post images of their gaming systems, Martinez’s exhibition of the same name explores the lengths that people will go to in order to stay online. While always maintaining a characteristic sense of humour, RateMySetup uncovers our dependence on convenience and our capacity to innovate, allowing space for both criticism and reflection.
Martinez presents a series of works that depict gaming setups, both in the home and in the outside world. Exploring contemporary ideas of hyper-convenience, these artworks comment on our increasing intolerance of any disruption to our comfort and needs.
These notions are reflected in the precarity of many of these gaming setups: a desktop computer balances unsteadily on cardboard boxes or hovers at a dangerous angle over a recliner chair. Martinez visualises a need to stay online in any context, creating images of setups that are only viable as long as the surrounding environment sustains them. In Shelter, a gamer has set up in the booth of a McDonald’s, only able to play as long as the McDonald’s remains open and the power stays on. In Trust, a desktop and keyboard take centre stage. Altar-like, they balance on a flimsy piece of cardboard. At any second, the whole setup could drop to the floor and the world the user has created could fall apart. Here, Martinez presents an overlap of dependency and innovation. Users want to stay online despite all obstacles and, in doing so, they conceive these elaborate setups to improve their own gaming experience.
When considering the connection between convenience and innovation, Martinez has conceived artworks that also carry practical functions such as Airwocs. Through his artwork, Martinez aims to solve real world gaming problems, using technological innovation to create something convenient. Equally, the artist’s diptychs blur this line between artwork and practical object. Using custom printing, Martinez’s diptychs prop open at a 45-degree angle, at once hanging from the walls like an art piece and opening like a laptop. As such, the artist emphasises the potential of collaboration between art and technology, bringing ideas he has learned from the gaming industry to his artwork.
These gaming setups are often used as vehicles to embed oneself at the centre of a narrative. In retreating from the physical world, one becomes the protagonist of a virtual realm. These notions are reflected in the contrasting colour palettes of each painting. Vivid screens are juxtaposed with the comparatively dull rooms in which they are situated. Here, Martinez alludes to the mundanity of everyday life in comparison to the limitlessness of online worlds. In doing so, the artist pictures the community that can be felt online, referring to his own personal experience of connecting with friends virtually during the pandemic through gaming. In many ways, RateMySetup undermines the trope of the isolated gamer, shedding light on the community that can be found online.
Ultimately, RateMySetup is characterised by a sense of ambivalence, presenting the positive and negative aspects of our increasing online presence. Without judgement, Martinez views technological advancement as a trajectory that humankind has collectively embarked on. RateMySetup does not see our relationship to technology as a monolith, but as an entity that contains multitudes. The exhibition therefore uncovers our society’s dualistic bond to the online world, a bond that can lead to dangerous dependence as well as incredible ingenuity.