by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
To constantly reinvent one's art practice is what drives the art installation practice of Mark Manders. The experiment to manipulate the trained eye's way of looking at the built environment and the architectural spaces has populated the works of the Netherlands-born Manders who is currently based in Belgium. His exhibition Writing Skiapod. at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in Los Angeles, aims to expand the notion of time embedded within the architectural space. This is the artist’s fifth solo show with the gallery and the first solo exhibition in Los Angeles since his 2010 show at the Hammer Museum, which also travelled to the Walker Art Center, the Aspen Museum of Art, and the Dallas Museum of Art. Largely motivated to have a seamless flow of movement across the physical place defines its aesthetic appeal. Contrary to this, the artist reimagines sculptures and rooms within a non-linear narrative to open a place of tension. The yawning contradiction between ancient and the future, temporary and permanent, beautiful and grotesque, and reality and fantasy, are put on display to let the audience play with their inherent meanings. The phantasmagoria is physically translated to a tangible reality when Manders disturbs the usual flow of scale and material of an object.
In an interview with STIR, the Installation artist explains the ideation process of the exhibition, which for her is akin to the three-dimensional poem, "The whole show is made of just a few words: Landscape, Chair, Cloud, Dog, Skiapod, Head. It consists of three-dimensional paintings of heads, landscapes and also a didactic room about one word.” A surreal and immersive installation, Room with All Existing Words is about the construction of a mythical narrative from the objects and source material whose authenticity is challenged. For this Manders has conjured a whole narrative and history around the Greek creature 'Skiapod', which translated to shadow foot in English. An ancient creature who would use his giant foot as protection from the sun. The mythologies have long amused Manders, who is fascinated by human tendencies to have a long admiration for fantasy and fantastical worlds. The historical context of the Skiapod is presented in the last details in order to force the viewers to blur the lines of distinction between reality and fiction. Manders has a Skiapod at the centre of the fictional narrative to talk about an array of mythological figures and stories that allows him to gauge the outreaching effects of making information.
The uniformity of the word and letters in the work Notional Newspapers by Manders is challenged when he engages every word in the language English, but places it in an incongruent manner and uses just once. Manders confides that many years ago he made a series of ‘notional’ fake newspapers and it took him 15 years to make them. During that process, he took one of the words from the newspaper. With the hardly known word Skiapod, he decided to create two rooms around this word. The word Skiapod has a long history and is subject to a strange failed myth. “I expanded the myth by making many fake images and related fake content, which I set out to embed in art history by making fake images of Skiapods by many different artists.”
The simulation of the newspaper carries zero connection with real-time and place. The fragments undervalue the intrinsic qualities of the newspaper. “The newspaper becomes a canvas for paintings, a wedge to angle a sculpture, a pillar set upon baked earth in a landscape, or stacked into a block beneath the head of a dog-like form," informs the press release. Dubbed the time-travel device, the newspaper block catapults the image of the past into present. Manders does not stop here but creates a fake Wikipedia page that could be accessed via a QR code. “With a QR code in the shape of a Skiapod, one can access a fake Wikipedia website. This work is really about fake news and conspiracies. At the same time, it is a homage, a tribute, to the human mind,” mentions the artist.
The painted bronze dog in the piece seems to be made of fragile dry clay and its head rests on a package of the same notional newspapers that contain all existing words in English, including the word dog. Manders explains, "I took that word out of all existing words, made it three-dimensional and put that word to rest again, on all existing words. For me, the main strength of this piece is how the simple word dog is stylised in dry clay and communicates something more than just this simple word dog.”
Towards the end of the interview, Manders admits to being grateful to be alive and be able to freeze his thoughts and feelings in artworks during this lifetime. “It is something so fantastic to me. It would be great if I could share a bit of this with the visitors of this current show.”
The exhibition Writing Skiapod by Mark Manders runs at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles until April 8, 2023.