Valérie Mannaerts


MANIERA 10 is designed by the Brussels based artist Valérie Mannaerts. A sculptor as much as a painter, Mannaerts makes works in a personal language characterised by fascinations with the real and surreal. In her oeuvre she unites the strength of drawing and sculpting, and moves between the second and third dimensions. She sees the autonomy of the work as essential, and her unmistakable hand as the author is always recognisable. In her installations she often composes peculiar yet familiar stages, which nonetheless insinuate spaces to appropriate, or to live in. Some recognisable, practical objects such as stools, pedestals and curtains are combined with evocative, dreamy drawings or paintings, sometimes also integrating collages of everyday images. The spectator’s senses are awakened by the highly individual, fascinating world she opens through her work. Keeping drawings and sculptures at the centre of her work, Mannaerts explores different materials, ranging from traditional clay to modern concrete, from bronze to laminate, from paper to curtain, from pencil to yarn. In addition to visual and tactile perceptions, she also involves sound by naming her works with words whose enunciation she likes, as in the case of Arbalette. Mannaerts invented this word from the almost forgotten French description of a crossbow. It is no coincidence that she derives her own title from this intricate, traditional object with its connotations of tension and movement.

Arbalette consists of two creations: a drawing to be worn and a sculpture to be used. Both pieces reflect Mannaerts’ artistic practice, which has recently also been engaged in the field of applied arts, through her collaboration with architects. When invited by MANIERA, the artist was working on a curtain as a space divider for the cafe at the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels. The movement and the folding of the fabric by which the architectural space can be changed, or even folded, were intriguing aspects of this work. However, for MANIERA she intended to create an object that would involve these aspects yet remain independent of the space it is installed in and have a more personal connection with the user. The inspiration for the piece came from the Japanese kimono and the traditional holder it is hung on when the garment is not being worn. In combination with the rack she has designed, Mannaerts uses the kimono as a wearable space divider. As an autonomous piece, the elegant garment offers a variety of options: it cloaks the body, it is pictorial because of the patterns on the fabric, and it becomes sculptural when worn and hung. For the latter, the rack is an essential part of the work, since Mannaerts is deeply occupied with the concept of display and exhibition-making. The structure of the kimono holder is made out of metal profiles painted matt black, which hold the wooden bar to hang the garment on. This bar is treated with black-tinted oil, whose transparency does not hide the grain. The bar rests on two forks on top of the structure and can be taken off to hang or take off the kimono. The rack is elegant in its own right and is mobile on its carefully chosen, chrome-plated metal wheels. In its simplicity it also resembles the standard clothes hangers used in markets, shops or households. However, details which originate from Mannaerts’ drawing idiom make it into a quite unique object. The forks carrying the wooden bar and the feet connected to the wheels are curvaceous, robust profiles with a sculptural quality. They remain visible when the kimono is hanging on the rack. The combination of the fabric and the metal and wooden structure effortlessly creates a room divider, similar to a folding screen in its dimensions.

The symmetrical, rigid and characteristic view of the hanging kimono is further reinforced by Mannaerts’ elaborate drawings, which become glamorous, exuberant tableaux in any space where they are exhibited. Though printed on silk, these drawings do not appear as repetitive patterns. They are different on the outside and inside of the kimono and both are sumptuous, pictorial compositions. The outer side of the garment is adorned with a drawing that suggests dense feathers of a black bird or the thick fur of a wild animal, or perhaps light leaves laying on the ground. The association is left free to our imagination, though Mannaerts controls the feeling of being covered, protected and enveloped. Some of the feathers are accentuated so that the drawing gains an additional texture. Inside the kimono there is a more complex drawing. It evokes the interior of the body and the organs it contains. More recognisable elements such as hands and a pedestal that the – possible – organs seem to be tied to are also part of this rich composition. The slight sheen of the silk surface intimates a certain glamour in addition to an aura of lightness, comfort and cosiness. These features indicate that the core of the work is the moment of spatial change, both physical and mental. The artist primarily focuses on the private space that the garment makes possible by being worn. Once the kimono envelops the body, the outside world is left behind and the owner’s intimate, personal, interior space can unfold. Therefore it is evident that the piece is to be custom-made for each user’s physique. Framed in these conceptual notions, the kimono itself might not be directly describable as a ‘piece of furniture’. Yet it furnishes the space of the human body, of the mind, of the immediate surroundings, of the room. Accompanied by these reflections, Mannaerts invites us to wear a piece of space and explores the limits of what furniture can be.

In the other object she makes for MANIERA she takes her reflections further. MANIERA’s invitations to artists involve asking makers whose priorities do not lie in creating functional objects. By sculpting pots out of clay, Mannaerts plays with the ambiguity of this question. In its autonomy as a piece, the clay pot is both an artwork that is functional and a functional work that is artistic. Mannaerts made an edition of six pieces, which she seals in their functionality. Each of them comes with a plant and cannot be interpreted other than as a container for soil and plant. The plant as a growing structure implies an inevitable change for the space it will be installed in. The totem-like appearance of the plant alludes to a quality to be found in Mannaerts’ oeuvre. The man-made, fluent form of the pots, on the other hand, is the result of Mannaerts’ hands sculpting the object. The artist applied a glaze to the clay surface and kept the natural colour of this earthy material. Resting on a plate that she also made by hand out of clay, the pot immediately creates a setting of its own. The rim of the plate is partly enhanced by a braid, which turns the object into a kind of low pedestal and a piece on its own right.

As part of MANIERA10, the pots also make a good companion to the kimono piece. The two creations share the notion of embracing living organisms; the kimono by enveloping the human body, the clay pot by containing the plant. Installed together in a space, they generate a warm, coherent atmosphere to which one can retreat in confidence. Being wrapped in the padded silk kimono and watching a plant growing every day recall the comfort, privacy, intimacy found in a trusted environment as in ‘a room of one’s own’, and the ultimate pleasure deriving from these feelings. Each object that forms part of Arbalette literally carries the traces of Mannaerts’ hands and body, which draw and sculpt and create. In their conception and execution they are obvious relatives of her previous and subsequent artistic production. And eventually their tactility will make them part of the architectural space they belong in.

Text by Asli Ciçek – Images by Maxime Prananto