North West England

Kris Martin

Mandi XV, 2007

Cast bronze, stainless steel

702.2 x 136 cm

Edition of 2 + 1 AP

Courtesy of the artist and Sies +Hoke Galerie, Dusseldorf

The Black-E

1 Great George Street Liverpool L1 5EW

Entering this fine 19th century building, up the eight stone steps through the classical Corinthian columns, you immediately catch a sharp reflection of light hitting cold steel. An enormous medieval cruciform sword is suspended from the dead centre of the circular domed vestibule of this former Great George Street Congregational Church, 1840-1.

Instantly impressive, due to its size, material and suspended weight, the blade of polished stainless steel glistens and appears sharp with its handle being cast bronze. Here we are presented with the inspiring work of Belgian artist Kris Martin, “Mandi XV”. (“Mandi XV” is one of a series of works which stems from a colloquial Italian term for ‘goodbye’, an expression originating from the words mano (hand) and dio (god) and meaning ‘to leave in the hands of God’).

Its central placement and alignment within the brick walls elevates the tension of this deadly weapon which invites the spectator to submissively view from beneath. At this moment, when the tip of the vast sword is above your head, thoughts of chance, destiny, accident, torture and mortality resonate throughout your mind. It’s a magical instant of realisation when you know that if this sword breaks free it would easily slice you in half. You cannot help visually calculating the actual weight of this sword imagining what it would feel like to hold, the clamour of sound it would produce if it fell, the damage it would cause, both in terms of the human spectator and the fabric of the building it occupies.

It’s amazing how the onerous mass of this sword can instantly bring into play thoughts of our fragile hold on life and makes us question the role of destiny. The sword acts both as an invitation to participation, by placing oneself directly below the point, but also repels the cautious viewer who considers the risk of such an action, reminiscent of the tempting of fate by walking beneath a ladder.

The staircase, within and opposite the entrance, serves as a platform to view the work. This change of perspective draws you in to a consideration of the material aspects of the artwork, affording you a more detailed view of the perpendicular steel as well as helping you to focus on the detail of the hilt. Now you can examine the craftsmanship of the bronze work, though the markings on the hilt are intriguing and tantalisingly out of reach.

On reaching the top of the staircase the view now becomes an elevated reverse of when you entered the space. In your line of vision is the grand entrance door open to the hustle and bustle of the chaotic and chancy city. The noise of traffic and commuters invades the contemplative atmosphere within, but maybe adds another layer of meaning to Martin’s piece by acknowledging the risks we take in everyday life, whether it’s crossing the road or driving a car. The massive double doors are constantly open and invite you to confront your fate directly from the street. The static pendulum demonstrating its weight and gravity is beautifully framed by the symmetry of the building.

The location of this work is successful on many levels, the mocking Corinthian columns with the modern made medieval sword which in turn echoes the tale of Damocles from the same 4th century Greek mythology. The positioning of spotlights is effective, casting a dynamic shadow of a cross upon the surrounding back wall, with the staircase alluding both to an interactive and sophisticated gothic theatre set as well as the original religious setting of this site.

In the story of Damocles the sword is suspended by a single horse hair, the threat of ever present danger hanging above his head teaching him about the unenviable situation of the King despite the obvious advantages of power. For us in the 21st century we may read messages of the threat of terrorism or global destruction hanging over mankind, or we may simply come to accept that all our lives hang by a thread.