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Tramoya: A Royal Flush from Martin Spei

October 11th, 2017

In theater, after a play has closed its run, odds and ends of sets, stage devices, and other detritus of the past are often left behind. New stage management eagerly rummages through what is called “tramoya” for what is usable, what can be carried forward to the upcoming performance, what can be salvaged and reclaimed. Such is life—we build upon whatever we drag along from the past whether material or spiritual; we attempt to reshape it into a meaningful present. Martin Spei’s brilliant new series builds upon this concept with his presentation of eight remarkable sculptures.


In “Tramoya Royale,” Spei steers away from his previous sculptural medium to bring us an innovative cast of figures created from carefully chiseled wood, epoxy sculpting putty, milk paint, found metals, rope, and other imaginatively repurposed elements. But beneath their often sizable facades lies the themes that weave throughout his work: How human beings wield power, react to its forces, push against cultural imperatives to acquire material goods, rest briefly and then do it all over again. “The Kings,” he says, “are made from accumulated, simple materials . . . [they] rule over subjects they only vaguely remember and perpetuate their comical maneuvering of a traditional and absurd power system.”


Several of the artist’s figures are reminiscent of ventriloquist dummies, puppets, or marionettes—although they sport a king’s crown, we sense there is power behind the throne, something or someone else is pulling the strings and shaping the action. There is an angst about these characters, a sense of longing along with a touch of irony or humor. In spite of their rough exteriors, they reveal an elemental classicism and a deep comprehension of life’s complexity.


Martin Spei is a close observer of people, the tasks they perform and the efficacy of them. He sees that we duplicate the stage manager’s quandary—what to keep from the past, what to reassemble or use as a springboard, and what must be created anew. Rather than the play is the thing, Spei brings us a royal entourage that draws us in and makes us consider that life is the thing. The choices are up to us.


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