CONVERSATIONS Mousse 8
by Luca Trevisani
Mark Manders was born in 1968 in Volke, The Netherlands. he belongs to a generation of artists whose work is unabashedly grounded in narrative. in this respect, his significant precursors include Robert Gober, Juan Munoz, Kiki Smith, and Miroslaw Balka, to name a few. Manders, however, uses the figure sparingly, relying instead on alterations and configurations of everyday objects and architectural fixtures to create disturbingly quizzical tableaux.
LUCA TREVISANI: Do you want the artwork to be real?
MARK MANDERS: Sure, artworks are real. But when you make a work of art you need a lot of lies. A lie you can use as a tool to jump to somewhere else. The lie is an important aspect of our society, it’s truly a big human invention. One work of mine from 1993 is an empty room which consists of a story that has been told just once, and which is told further and passed on and passed on again, a fact upon which a large part of our history is based. I don’t know where that story is right now, and how it has changed. For me it is still in that very first room where it was told.
LT: Could an architect be called a storyteller?
MM: An architect and his building directs, to a certain level, how people act and behave in that building. If the building of that architect is more or less fictional, it becomes more complicated and for me more interesting. I would like to quote myself; it’s an answer to a question about the starting point of my work, it’s an answer to your question: “Well it started when I was 18, in 1986. I wanted to write a book. With all the writing materials I had, like ballpoints, pencils and erasers, I made a floor plan on the floor. It was a flat building with nine rooms. I called it Inhabited for a Survey and it served as the basis for a written self-portrait, which was to be formed collectively by seven imaginary persons living in the floor plan. It was to be a book without a beginning or an end, one that I would always have to keep working on. I thought it was interesting that it was a dry, formal floor plan, in which no movement whatsoever could be observed. I wanted to project a mental self-portrait onto this floor plan, one in which everything would take place only in language. Making a self-portrait seemed to me the most fundamental thing to do. However, while writing it I found I did not like the idea of using written sentences to dictate to the audience exactly what they should think. I did not want the selfportrait to become really personal—it had to remain abstract. I became more and more fascinated by the physical manifestation of the floor plan: how I stood there before it as a human being; how tall I was in relation to the things on the ground; how the changing light transformed a ballpoint pen so dramatically; how I could bring my eye closer to an eraser and what then happened inside my head. This zooming-in created a breathtaking cinematic experience: I could move over these objects, and they dictated my thoughts with their color, language, form, and their indescribable physical coherence. I concluded that making a self-portrait in language wasn’t the right thing to do. The world itself is more complex than the world of language which has been embedded in it. I decided to write the book not with words but with objects and to embed the self-portrait into reality like an imaginary building … If you write a self-portrait using objects it will be read in a totally different way. Viewers—or readers—of the objects construct their own new thoughts, and the result is a self-portrait that is suspended in between the maker and the viewers. This floorplan was never really mend to be an artwork; it was more like a strange kind of writing machine. Now it’s a work of art, it’s used as an artwork, it’s part of the collection of a great American museum”.
LT: A firmly rooted legend in the design world has it that people become designers because they are dissatisfied with existing products. Can you subscribe to that?
MM: Well, when I was studying free art on the academy I was totally against the design-department, I just hated it. They were technically very good but they made just terrible variations on tables and vases. You know in my sculptures I work a lot with words, so if I use a cup in a work I want to use the perfect normal cup. Just because of all these bad designers I cannot buy a normal cup, there is just always something wrong. So in this case I had to make the cup myself. That’s why I have to make all these tables and chairs in my studio. On the other hand I am very interested in design, if you think for example about the evolution of cups, it’s just a beautiful evolution. The first cups where human hands: folded together you could take the water with your two hands out of the river. The next step were things like hollow pieces of wood or things with folded leaves, and so on. To last beautiful moment in the history of the cup was when it did get an ear. After that nothing really interesting happened with cups, just small variations. Many generations worked on it and now you can say that the cup is finished in terms of evolution.
LT: What kind of a society is it when you can’t buy a chair?
MM: I think it is difficult to judge a society where you can’t buy chairs. It’s great if everybody is sitting or kneeling on the floor. You cannot really say that chairs did really well for the health of humans. Well maybe in colder areas of the world it is warmer for your body to sit on chairs. Its a choice in evolution, now we cannot go back, we really need chairs, our body has weaken. It’s the same thing with shoes, if we never had started wearing shoes, we would still be walking on hard skin.
LT: Can you talk a little bit about your idea of sculpture?
MM: It’s just the greatest language. Sculpture has a very interesting relationship with time. The way an object can be a frozen moment, where you can physically and mentally relate to, its just wonderful. What makes it even more interesting is the way a sculpture changes when you copy-paste it to another room. For sure sculpture is much more interesting and complex than photography and video. It’s just a pity that it is a difficult language for some people.
LT: I’m deeply interested in Roma Publications, an independent publishing project, you’ve settled up together with Roger Willems. What attracted you to the idea of being a book publisher?
MM: Many reasons. For some works I had to make newspapers, for example for the work Parallel Occurrence. In that piece the most parts are self-made: the fox, the letter, table, closet. I needed 3 newspapers to protect the table and the closet for the chain where the fox was attached to. I just couldn’t use an everyday newspaper, so I had to use three self-made newspapers. Then it’s great if you have your own publishing company. One newspaper, Newspaper with Fives, was printed in an edition of 150.000 and spread house-to-house in a city. In a way I needed just one copy for Parallel Occurrence, to protect the table for an iron chain. I just enjoy making all these publication together with Roger; it’s also a lot of fun. Next month we will publish our 100rd publication. I experienced that in way it saves also time to make your own catalogues for museums; we can react much quicker in the process of making the book.
Originally published on Mousse 8 (April 2007)