Rubén Martín de Lucas’ geometric landscapes are born from a few simple gestures: appropriate 100 square metres of space, outline a border, and inhabit it for no more than 24 hours. From parking lots to empty agricultural crops, anonymous segments of land are transformed by these actions into what the artist describes as “ephemeral micro-states.” Here, in these neat and ordered territories with a solitary population of just one, our human efforts to delineate and control the natural world are made stark.
The colorful bird’s eye views in Minimal Republics, captured by a drone, make for compelling photographs—but Martín de Lucas does not call himself a photographer. His artistic journey first started through the initiation of urban street art projects (he also co-founded the Spanish urban art collective Boa Mistura), and he is more likely to describe himself as a painter who also happens to have a background in civil and territorial engineering. With this broad and rich melting pot of disciplines and knowledge, Martín de Lucas can be fluid in his approach, choosing whatever medium best translates the ideas he wants to talk about.
The concern he comes back to time and time again as an artist is the fraught relationship we have with our planet, and finding ways to visualize it. “I study the relationships that unite us with territory. Almost always, these relationships consist of subjection and control,” he laments. “Humanity has drawn itself to the top of a pyramid, as if the rest of beings—both those alive and inanimate—were at our service, instead of the obvious view, which is that we are a node within a network of nodes. A system where all nodes and all relationships are important. A nature that we are a part of; not a nature seen as an opposite, a distant entity, alien and opposite, which is how we usually look at it.”
Minimal Republics is part of his first project away from painting, Stupid Borders. Setting out to question the artificial nature of borders and the liquid concept of the nation-state, Martín de Lucas eventually found his answer in a concoction of abstraction and absurdity. Searching for locations with little appeal or resources, these ‘minimal republics’ are unlikely spots for a new nation, amping up the nonsensical gesture of Martín de Lucas’ temporary occupation. “I use geometry because it is the coldest and most absurd criterion to define a border and I use the drone to raise the point of view,” the artist explains. “When the spectator moves away and sees it from above, he sees the absurdity of these micro-nations and consequently, the artificiality of all frontiers.”
Each micro-state is usually exhibited alongside a video piece that shows Martín de Lucas as a solitary citizen of each nation, performing arbitrary actions such as patrolling the border, reading a book, doing exercise. The effect is almost farcical, drawing attention to the dubious attitude we have towards the natural world and calling out the unwarranted sense of possession we hold over our surroundings. “I think humor works very well as the first contact with the viewer,” he says. “It invites you to stand and observe.”
Beyond the humour lies a serious call to action. “I think it is urgent to review and re-examine our relationships with our environment, because they are what define our behavior as a species. We are not isolated individuals. We are part of a complex network, a nature that we are a part of; where all the nodes and all the relationships have great value,” Martín de Lucas stresses. “We live on a planet that is now overpopulated by our species and we are not doing well. We must be critical of our actions. One simple note: the 99.9% of remaining species would be better without us. And that does not speak very well in our favor.”