Coming up for air

With Heinrich von Kleist’s idea in mind regarding ‘the production of thought while speaking’, this is somewhat thinking aloud (though i’m writing, quietly). It’s an attempt to unpick the experience of reading ‘The Absence of Mark Manders’, a book with images of his work alongside some text mostly written by Manders himself. I’m continuing to think about various aspects to the reading experience, so this can also be seen to tie in with this recent post.

I loved the room with Manders’ work in the recent Hayward Gallery show ‘Walking in my Mind’. It was the only room I liked at all really. The evening before I was in the street talking on the phone. When I hung up, I saw a small fox with a mouse in its mouth looking at me, only a couple of metres away. I rode off on my bike, and it followed me, trotting alongside. That night I dreamed I befriended a baby fox – we spoke quite a bit. The next day I walked into that room and saw this on the floor.

And so I bought his book. In it, I read of this sculpture >

Fox / Mouse / Belt
Actually, this work originated from a series of three separate words. The word ‘fox’ consists of a jumping fox that I froze in the middle of a leap. I caught it at a moment in time. I then used my belt to tie a mouse to the fox’s stomach into which the mouse would normally disappear. With a simple gesture, I took this ‘unit’, which took place in mid-air, and set it down on the ground, whereby the sculpture sank even deeper into motionlessness. Consequently, the moment seems to occur in a continuous present or outside of time. The stylization creates an unbelievable standstill without a ‘before’ or ‘after’.
During this period, I was also fascinated by the fact that living creatures can disappear into other creatures as food, sometimes even when they’re still alive. At the same time, I wanted to create a sculpture in which a human act could be clearly distinguished. I ended up painting the sculpture to look like it was made of wet clay. For this reason, it exhibits an extreme, vulnerable nakedness, and it seems as if you could just press your fingers into it at any time. This is the only future moment that the sculpture seems to capture.

Somewhere in the book he says what you often hear from artists, something like people are free to interpret from the work what they will, etc. But the joy of the book is how the text leads. It usually goes like this. You turn the page and,

1. you see a picture of the object and begin to imagine yourself next to it physically,
2. you give it some thought of your own,
3. you try to anticipate what he might write about it,
4. you read his text
5. you look at the object again.

He talks a lot about seeing his art as a ‘research into thinking rather than an investigation of perception.’ He also talks about the time it takes for thought to happen, that ‘thinking needs time’. Maybe the time it takes to read the texts is exactly the time required to think about each piece, plus a few seconds before and after, following sections 1-5 above!

I definately like the idea of an accompanying text actually structuring the thinking time. It’s a bit perverse, because from one angle it’s like allowing the wall-texts in a gallery to exert sole influence on how you interpret the art on display. But if you accept the work as an extension of this text – that it’s actually an expanded reading experience – a different perspective opens up for which a sculptural object is no longer king of the situation. Instead, it becomes an accompaniment to the thoughts which flow on, under a kind of intertia, following the reading of the text.

This reminds me of something I once read, and keep trying to find again (I usually find out it was Peter Handke who said these things – for some reason I became fascinated with his work when i was younger), about the moment when a reader needs to ‘rise for air’… when a passage is simply too replete with thought, beauty or associations, and we need to put the book down for a moment and look up. It’s a very special act, or moment. It seems to mark the point at which the human frame can’t internalise any more, where the thoughts have to escape, where we somehow acknowledge the world and our presence in it, wherever that may be, even while remaining under the book’s spell.

For me, each of these texts generates something like this moment. The mix of assertion, guesswork, metaphor and association is humble but powerful in its invitation to imagine the forces within, surrounding and preceeding the object. And it’s within that moment of ‘coming up for air’ that we see the sculpture for the second time. This moment serves also as a kind of yardstick for the power of the text, in that it creates a ‘before and after’ scenario – it was only a few seconds ago that we were on stages 1-3, looking at it for the first time, alone with our own thoughts and reactions.

Wednesday Box

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