Christopher Manzione works with a number of mediums: sculpture, video, performance, drawing, digital rendering, mobile- and web-based applications, digital imaging, and 3D rendering. Across this plethora of forms, Manzione explores the perceived and actual divisions and overlaps between notions of digital vs. analog and organic vs. inorganic, as well as combinations of these two sets.
Manzione strives to unite two distant poles without placing a material or intellectual value upon either, preferring to create and exploit palpable aesthetic and material tensions. In his 2011 series Excavatum (2011)—comprising sculpture, installation, and 3D prints installed together in a gallery—Manzione experimented with the gallery space in exciting ways that loop back to questions of whether artworks are, or should be, born in a gallery, or what that idea could even mean. Excavatum is composed of three works, Like Minded (2011), What Could Go On Forever (2011), and Inner Spaces (2011)—respectively a sculpture, an installation, and three 3D lenticular prints.
The three works all come together to engage positive and negative space as their central subject matter, and the artist’s website notes: “This series of work, Excavatum, specifically references the interplay between positive and negative sculptural shapes in space. Challenging sculptural tradition by using new materials and techniques.” His working materials and methods are inventive and cross-disciplinary, as he works almost as an architect or designer, working with digital modeling, three-dimensional scanning, computer numerically controlled milling, and rapid prototyping to manufacture each of the objects on display. The list of processes the artist uses is a mouthful, but it is important that this take center stage, as much of Manzione’s work is about inventing and exploring new and alternative processes of producing and rendering forms. However, there is a great deal more to analyze in Excavatum and its component parts than the interplay of positive and negative space and the processes of production. Particularly striking is what the work implies about artworks as embedded in, and born of, the very nature of an art gallery or exhibition space.
The small, dark, cavernous, and precisely shaped void in the gallery wall, What Could Go On Forever, appears to be the negative space left behind when the amorphous, metallic green-and-yellow form, Like Minded, was removed, or removed itself, from the gallery wall, almost as if it outgrew its place and sought more space on the gallery floor. This series evokes thoughts of a kind of site-specificity in which the gallery space becomes a petri dish where an artist grows an artwork and an idea. Essentially, the gallery can and does become a space for growth and change, and for examining, over time, the past, present, and potential futures of both a space and the objects in it. Through his sculptural forms Manzione’s project renders the intellectual and sculptural process as a living, breathing, membranous creature, literally seeming to grow from the wall.
In A Brief History of Curating, noted curator Johannes Cladders says: “Although the institution itself does not make works, it takes on the role of the viewer, eventually making social consent possible and thus making works of art.”[i] What happens when the space becomes the site of a work? Cladder’s idea acknowledges the influence of a particular institution or gallery on how and why artworks are both created and received. While Manzione’s pieces weren’t literally grown in the gallery, or even made there, their form and display strategies suggest the possibility for the gallery as an organic space for physical artistic production. The notion that ideas are at times formulated or hatched in galleries and museum spaces is nothing new, but I’ve never seen it done quite so literally, even if Manzione doesn’t exactly articulate this as part of how he sees this work functioning.
Manzione notes that this project is more about the relationship between the inorganic and the organic, growth and decay, but this raises another interesting implication for the gallery. Do spaces of exhibition include only things that are the byproduct of life; are artworks somehow decay embodied? Plucking an artwork from a gallery (in the case of Manzione’s work, a rooted state within a wall) and then leaving it in the space creates a dramatic connection between the space and the object as metaphor for the processes of idea and object formation.
Christopher Manzione earned his MFA from Rutgers University in 2009. He is founder and director of the Virtual Public Art Project (2010), an organization that uses mobile augmented reality to produce original artist works in public space. Manzione most recently has received a 2014 Franconia Sculpture Park Fellowship, and he was a 2013 Fellow for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, artist-in-residence at William Paterson University’s Center for Computer Art and Animation (2011), Socrates Sculpture Park (Emerging Artist Fellowship, 2010), Vermont Studio Center (Full Fellowship, 2009), Anderson Ranch Arts Center (2009). He has shown nationally and internationally at the ICA Boston, Abington Arts Center, Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, the Surry Hills Festival in Melbourne, and Gurzenich Koln Museum in Cologne.
[i] Obrist, Hans-Ulrich, and Lionel Bovier, A Brief History of Curating (Zurich: JRP/Ringier, 2008), 59.