Mark Manders – Iron Figure (2011)


Mark Manders (Volkel, the Netherlands, 1968, lives and works in Arnhem and Ronse, Belgium) believes that being an artist is a privilege. After all, art has no practical purpose and yet it is allowed to exist, alongside the everyday, real world. When Manders chose to become an artist, over twenty years ago, he decided to make full use of the space he was offered to shape his own universe. That was the beginning of Manders’ zelfportret als gebouw (self-portrait as building): an imaginary place in which his thoughts, dreams and memories can take shape. Manders’ oeuvre is a continuous work in progress. Each of his works can function independently, but is also part of a cohesive whole.


Manders makes drawings, sculptures, films and poems, but is best known for his installations: sculptural still lifes of familiar objects arranged in puzzling combinations. Room with Chairs and Factory (2002-2008), for example, which was recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, consists of two industrial chimneys rising out of a dining table to which a horizontal human figure is connected. The relationship between the different forms is not clear and it is up to viewers to come up with their own associations and lend meaning to the work.


Certain elements frequently recur in Manders’ complex and imaginative installations, such as human figures, animals, but also household furniture, like chairs and tables. Although some objects look as though they’ve come straight from the shop or been found on the street, the artist makes everything himself, using a variety of materials, including wood, iron, rope, sand, clay and epoxy. Often the sculptures are ingeniously constructed and kept in balance by means of ropes and careful distribution of weight.


The decision to make everything himself is a crucial element of Manders’ artistic practice. His works reflect many different thoughts that coexist simultaneously, alongside one another. Manders believes that the most wonderful quality of art is its ability to stop time. For this reason, he avoids references to specific dates and locations, which ready-mades generally feature. The newspaper he often includes in his installations should also be seen in this light. This newspaper is covered with English words in a completely random order and features photographs of the dust in Manders’ studio – in short, it is a timeless document.


For Lustwarande ‘11, Manders created a cast-iron figure, with one leg, balancing tensely on an iron chair: the upper back of the figure is leaning against the seat of the chair, while the head is at an uncomfortable angle on the armrest. The figure is human height but seems unrealistically stretched. This is because of the extended leg, but also because the chair has been scaled up to 120 per cent. Mark Manders often magnifies and shrinks his objects. By doing so, he makes viewers particularly aware of their bodies in relation to the surroundings. The change of scale is always a small one, which is sensed, rather than seen, creating a disorienting effect. The figure, familiar from many of Manders’ other works, resembles a kouros, the figure of a naked youth from classical Greek sculptural art. By using this form, Manders is referring to one of humankind’s oldest ways of creating our own image, a sort of archetype, and also to his view of artists as individuals who carry a timeless, universal stream of thoughts within themselves.


Manon Braat / translation Laura Watkinson