In his ongoing show at UNIT London, RateMySetup, Mauro C. Martinez explores the relationship between individuals and computers by replicating images posted in the subreddit RateMySetup—a forum in which users share their work and gaming spaces. Bringing together the computer space with sexual desires, Martinez transforms these sites—what users call their “battle stations”—into oil paintings and sculptures bathed in a translucent, cum-like material. The following interview discusses Martinez’s relationship to his online source material, the biographical implications of his research, masculinity, and the medium of oil painting.
AWC: Let's start at the beginning. What do you think is the appeal of rating gear?
Mauro Martinez: It’s not really about rating gear. The RateMySetup subreddit is about being accepted by a community. It’s a rite of passage—an environment where you have to show yourself, and bravely demonstrate vulnerability. In that sense, the subreddit is not really about being at the top of any hierarchy, but about being included into a peer group. A lot of the photos Redditors post blur the boundary between being very serious and being a joke. That’s why the reactions are very coded. Sometimes a shitty set-up gets very positive feedback, and you have to be in on the joke to understand why it’s receiving top ratings.
Doesn’t that hint towards the fact that the users are in a hierarchy regulated through a bro code, one in which, sometimes, the losers have to take hits in order to be accepted?
Actually, it is difficult to assume gender from the Reddit thread. Somehow, these spaces are anti-masculine. There is an intentional absence of traditional masculinity. It's something else; a suspended or defeated masculinity. Maybe masculinity in limbo. And while the internet flattens some hierarchies, it also creates others. In my opinion, the community RateMySetup generates—or rather, inverts—hierarchies. Sharing your setup is not a hostile barrier to entry. And if you're not doing so well, that might even make your post do better.
Mauro C. Martinez, Personal Computer. 2022. Oil on linen. Image Courtesy of Unit London
Is your artistic research linked to your own biography?
My mom is a nurse, and some of my earliest memories of looking at images are the representations of medical patients in her copy of Mosby’s Medical Dictionary. I remember seeing people, often with physical differences, with black bars covering their eyes. There was no information about who they were; just a description of the conditions they had. I remember wondering about who these people were, and thinking that it was so strange that they would be included in a book without any indication that they were ok. When I started making art later in life, I saw a similar mechanism that separated identity from the body as one of the essential problems of modernity.
Mauro C. Martinez in his studio, 2022. Image Courtesy of Unit London
How does your interest in people translate to your working methods? Does your work contradict a voyeuristic gaze?
Technology has become such a natural extension of us. I can find out so much about a person and their identity by looking at how they use their computer gear. When I look at the images in the RateMySetup subreddit, I take notes, choosing which parts I want to paint. Like an archaeologist, I take hints from how they arrange their set-ups, and I empathize with my subjects by painting their environments. To me, the energy one puts into immersing themselves into the internet displays a devotion to an entirely materialistic world; one that replaces the needs we formerly compensated through religion.
Your empathy for your subjects might also show in their absence: you make them visible without exposing them. By doing so, you mediate their desire for company. But let’s go back to the question of masculinity in this series: in other interviews, you haven’t explicitly talked about gender. Yet one could make a gendered reading of your work based on your use of cum and anime porn in the visual worlds that you create.
I relate to this totalistic devotion that the redditors of RateMySetup have to computer games and their virtual world. It’s a result of observing everything around you slipping into an impoverished economic, financial, and social state. The desire to escape into another world, one that reminds them of how things were yesterday, is very relatable to me. The RateMySetup posters’ archetypal hero is not a gamer—it’s usually an athlete. The subjects of my work form online groups that are able to flatten hierarchies, infiltrate financial systems, and do what politicians do every day—cheating everybody out of every dollar that they make.
Why do you use painting as a medium specifically?
Painting allows you to create an empathetic relationship with a topic. It renders things tender, rounding the edges of sharp corners, literally. Painting allows you to confront harsh realities in a way that you become able to converse about it. It's also been so impactful to me as a human being. I had a six year-long heroin addiction. Nothing worked until one day, I sought treatment. I was then able to start attending community college and take painting classes. I believe in painting as a medium because I've seen how transformative it can be in the hands of somebody who feels like they have nothing, you know? I want to pass on the importance of this medium. It's a way of making sense of the world around me.
How does painting allow you to understand more about the world?
Whenever I start a painting, I have to think about my position on things. By the time I’m finished, I know what I think about a topic, or, at least, I have a better idea of what I think about it. Painting is almost a means for inquiry, as opposed to making a statement. It's a vehicle through which I ask myself all the right questions, or all of the questions that I feel are necessary to ask.
Mauro C. Martinez's RateMySetup exhibition will take place in Unit London until 04/03/2023.