It’s about time: Mark Manders at the Aspen Art Museum
ASPEN – “White Winter Hymnal,” a piece by Scottish artist Susan Philipsz that finished its run on Snowmass Mountain last week, was a demonstration of fine art moving out of the visual realm. The piece, presented by the Aspen Art Museum, was an audio recording that greeted skiers coming over the Trestle Bridge with Philipsz’ ethereal, mysterious version of the Fleet Foxes song of the same name.Parallel Occurrences/Documented Assignments, the current exhibition by Dutch artist Mark Manders that occupies both floors of the Art Museum, is visual. Manders’ materials are wood and clay, and manufactured objects like chairs, wires, tea bags and bricks. But like “White Winter Hymnal,” the Manders exhibition – organized by the Aspen Art Museum and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles – stretches into another dimension beyond the visible. Manders infuses his art with the element of time, in a variety of ways. There are aspects of time travel and of time freezing up, of objects and installations placing the viewer in a specific era. There are tricks having to do with time. A newspaper looks more or less like a normal newspaper, except with one essential component removed: the date. When I interviewed Manders, a rumpled, agreeable 42-year-old who works in the Netherlands and Belgium, among the first things he mentioned was that several of the pieces in the current exhibition took more than a decade to make. This might not be immediately apparent to a viewer, but that process leads to a temporal experience that Manders hopes the viewer will have.”All these things look like they’ve just been made. It looks like wet clay,” he said one morning at the museum, overlooking “Ramble Room Chair,” a piece that features a partial sculpture of a young woman’s body, resting on a chair. “You don’t see that it’s been made 18 years ago. Works made 22 years ago look like they’re made today. They all just look like the things left behind.”Talk with Manders about the work, and he will rarely go a sentence or two without bringing some facet of time into the conversation. Or read the wall text that accompanies the exhibition, and you find that most every bit of text brings time into the picture. Some excerpts:• “As an artist I am a time traveler, and I like to freeze as many thoughts as possible together into one big now. I like to think, as an artist, that the history of mankind comes together in my head.”• “All my works exist in one moment.”• “One of the nice things about a sculpture is that you can look at it for just a few seconds and then carry it away in your mind, sometimes for the rest of your life, as a mental photograph.”• “Good artworks freeze, and they all freeze around one single moment.”• “There is no difference between a work made twenty-four years ago or just a single day ago. Like the words in an encyclopedia, they are linked together in one big super-moment that is always attached to the here and now.”If there is a specific period that Parallel Occurrences suggests, it is the industrial age. The exhibition is largely devoid of bright colors; instead, there are sooty grays and browns. A prominent piece is “Room with Chairs and Factory,” which looks like a pair of old smokestacks.Manders, however, doesn’t confine himself to any particular here and now. Looking at “Obtrusive Head,” a work that features a slice of a face wedged between slats of wood, he says it was meant to fill in a gap in the art world – a gap that existed 90 years ago, in Europe.”In the 1920s, in Paris, this was really missing then,” he said of “Obtrusive Head,” which was made last year. “It’s a small gap in art history, but I wasn’t alive then. Imagine a book of art history, and this was in it. It’s not Serialism or Cubism – but if you had a book from that period and this was in it, it would be perfect, no? “It’s a good thing I’m here now. I’m imagining what I would do back then.”Speaking of back then, Manders brings up another crucial element of time – the aging process. Surveying the entire exhibition, whose works date as far back as 1992, Manders becomes sentimental about his youth.”I like to think I made all these things when I was 18. Like I could stay 18,” he said. “I really enjoy becoming older, but in my mind, I’m always 18. Because I started when I was 18.”••••It would be unfair to limit the conversation about Manders’ work to the theme of time. The art addresses issues of art history, the solidity of objects, architecture, birth and death.Manders says his creative life began with poetry, and language is a major, if subtle aspect of the work. A recurring object in Parallel Occurrences is the newspaper, and Manders is in the middle of a project that, when completed, will feature 12 newspapers that together use every word in the English language exactly once.The exhibition also features a piece, “Abandoned Room, Constructed to Provide Persistent Absence,” that has three sculptures of dog figures lying down; two are covered with plastic. There is no apparent language element, but Manders says he was sparked by the word, ‘dog.'”I used to be a poet,” he explained. “If you’re a poet, and you make a poem of one word, it’s nothing. But if you have an amount of clay and make an image of the word ‘dog,’ you can make it much wider. It becomes more complicated. If I wrote it down, it would be ‘dog, dog, dog.’ But if you look at it, you get an image of someone who makes these works, an abstract person. It has something to do with death, but also birth – it’s the creation process.”••••One component of the exhibition deals with space, rather than time. “Two Interconnected Homes,” a slide show of 80 black-and-white images depicting a tunnel that connects two houses, has been installed not at the museum, but at the Aspen Thrift Shop. For Manders, part of the appeal was playing with viewers’ expectations, depending on what kind of spatial environment they saw the work in.”For the people who go there, it will look just like an object that got in, that they’re showing for sale, just this box of slides,” he said. “It won’t be seen as art, just slides that came into the second-hand store.”
Mark Manders’ Parallel Occurrences/Documented Assignments shows through May 1 at the Aspen Art Museum.firstname.lastname@example.org
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