Since the mid 80s the Dutch artist Mark Manders (Volkel, 1968) has developed an extremely personal sculptural and installational language. At the heart of his practice lies an idea of sculpture as a residual “fragment”, as a unity generated by the recovery and aggregation of forms and materials that show the wear of time. The interest shown ever since his formative years in the language of poetry ﬁnds an echo in the way he combines objects to form compositions that retain precisely the charm and mystery of the associative mechanisms of poetry, as well as a concern with the beauty that lies even in the poorest aspects of reality. The language of classical sculpture – understood as integrity of the ﬁgure, modelling and monumentality – though inevitably his starting point, is so to speak eroded, revealing the fragile and precarious nature of human existence, portrayed in all its frailty and a state of perpetual transition.
In 1986 Manders produced the ﬁrst work in the series Self Portrait as a Building entitled Inhabited for a Survey, an installation conceived as a “self-portrait” in the form of a minimal design. The artist created the outline of the plan of an imaginary building by arranging on the floor pencils, crayons, erasers and other drawing instruments that are part of an artist’s everyday work in studio. This book – the ﬁrst in a long series still in progress, which the artist conceives as a project that will last his lifetime – clariﬁes some key points of Manders’ whole artistic practice: the intersection between autobiography and residual fragments of memory and art history, and the extension of subjectivity and the inner dimension to the exhibition space.
In Manders’ sculptures and installations quite mundane objects — such as worn— out utensils and furniture – are used to compose the microcosms within which the functionality and rationality implicit in the constructional act give way to scenes of intimacy, even verging on degradation and madness.
Head with Wooden Hammer (2011) is part of a body of work that is among the most iconic to be created by the artist, a series of sculptures in which bodies (or parts of them) allude to classical sculpture but are at the same time pressed and forced into elements that recall the dimension of housing, such as furniture or wooden boards. These enigmatic ﬁgures are the result of combinatory and transitional processes between the body and its representation, between organic and inorganic, between the human and the material. The Cubist and Dadaist matrix implicit in the assemblage of heterogeneous materials is subtly transformed and disrupted: the materials the artist uses are in fact treated in ways that emphasize both the illusory effect and the nature of time, subject to wearing out and crumbling.
Materials such as bronze or, in the case of this work epoxy, are treated so as to appear made of fresh clay, as if the sculpture had recently left the artist’s studio. In this sense, the original, primordial, basic dimension of sculpture (fresh clay) is superimposed on the image of the fragment as an archaeological ﬁnd, confusing the planes of past and present and contrasting them with the human aspiration to immortality and the acceptance of mortal destiny. An exercise in suspension and reconciliation, wholly internal to the language of painting, sculpture and architecture.