Mark Manders

Galerie Erika & Otto Friedrich

In Mark Manders’ recent show clay torsos and pieces resembling parts of humans and animals lay in rows on the ground like finds from an archeological dig. They conjured up a strange array of images: crab shells, petrified embryos, deformed bodily organs, puppets. Manders arranged these fragments in rows according to similarities in their appearance, as though following some long-forgotten ordering system. These “bodies,” which sometimes have a dull luster, seem to express themselves through a vulnerable outer skin. One is tempted to touch them, even though many are very fragile—several “limbs” are bound to the small, slightly gnomelike torsos with only thread or adhesive tape. The viewer felt like an intruder in an intimate, almost sacred space, but at the same time felt an urge to superimpose his own ordering system on the fragments, perhaps because they brought to mind children’s toys rather than sacred objects.

In the course of viewing the exhibition, it became apparent that Manders repeats a variety of forms in order to constantly reposition them within a complex system of references. What at first glance might appear to be an accidental arrangement often proves on closer examination to be a precise constellation based on judicious decisions. Each reconfiguration is another step in an ongoing project the artist calls “Self-portrait as building,” an idea he has worked with since 1986. Existing and future works are sketched into a provisional groundplan of a building, and each exhibition is the realization of new rooms in this imaginary edifice. Last year, on the occasion of his large solo exhibition at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp, Manders went so far as to modify the exhibition space according to the proportions of his “construction.”

In the basement of his projected building, Manders has placed what he calls the “Encyclopedia.” This is where all of the available data concerning his constantly changing construction-complex is stored. For each arrangement of objects there is a parallel arrangement of words. The photowork entitled Black bird! dead bird! current thought, 1994, depicts a live bird, a schematic metal “mold” of this bird, and a metal wire that links the two and is meant to represent a “current of thought.” An encyclopedic representation and excavation of the world is common to the work of many contemporary artists, such as that of Edouard Bruly-Bouabré, Raymond Pettibon, and Jason Rhoades. But the sheer number of objects and the conceptual underpinnings of Manders’ work most immediately bring to mind Rhoades’ installations.

Manders’ attempts to bring his encyclopedic collection of things under the control of some sort of classificatory system in a single work led him to produce images that are extremely fragmented yet indicate a larger ordering system. In a photo included in the show in Bern, two large figures hang next to each other on the wall of the studio, surrounded by tools, almost as though remembering the process that produced them. The two are identical, except for a barely detectable smile, which decisively separates one from the other. In an effort to create an equally emphatic separation, Manders uses the third person when writing about himself.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from the German by Franz-Peter Hugdahl