“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.” Mark Manders
Visitors to the Venice Biennale 2013 may have been disappointed when they walked into the Dutch Pavillion to see Mark Manders work; while sheared female heads are ‘acceptable’, clay dogs lying on the floor, maybe, but what to make of these scrap pieces of wood lying around? That’s the last straw for some. Murmurs could be heard in the background:
“What the ….”
“I didn’t come all the way to Italy just to see that..”
“Don’t touch it..”
“What a nice exhibition, I think we need a tea break.”
“Get me the hell out of here.”
While its a given that many artists and especially conceptual artists’ work are going to be ‘cryptic’, having scrap pieces of wood lying around and calling it ‘art’ has just blown Marcel Duchamp and his toilet-bowl Ready Mades and any other previous interpretation of what art could be, out of the water. We don’t understand it, it goes against conventional wisdom that artists are supposed to be able to do something ordinary people can’t do in order to be ‘good’, and incidently against everything we’ve ever been taught or have believed was ‘true’ in art.
By now its getting obvious that Manders’ Self Portrait As A Building is not a painted or photographed self-portrait in the traditional sense, but Mander’s expression of himself. The ‘building’, is an abstraction on the word building. The word ‘building’ traditionally describes a place which people inhabit and use, while Manders’ ‘building’ are objects that inhabits in his and the viewers’ minds. The fact that he did a floor plan of the exhibition venue out of found objects does not help bring clarity to our cartesian, reason-oriented minds but further ‘ambigui-fies’ the situation.
The issue becomes clear upon seeing the Acolyte Frena (2014) exhibition, which was based on the name of his fake newspaper, where found, everyday objects are arranged in a manner that is more like an artist’s studio; its apparent that these things displayed might be something found in Manders’ studio, and their existence, position and arrangement are by extension a part of Manders life and ultimately, a reflection of something about himself.
As these objects get moved around in his studio and new objects, whether tools or pieces of creation, are born, no arrangement ever stays the same and thus the exhibitions never stays the same either; which might be why he thought of these exhibitions as a survey, for they really are a survey, a snap shot of the current state of his studio and ultimately of his mind.