Manski's artistic lexicon is one of cruelty spoken by nature. It is not an intellectual journey but rather the eternal return of a madman’s dream that we are invited into in such works as Possesia. There are totem-like sculptures made of bone, and there are various tools and attributes of physical labour, which become treated like fetishised treasures, locked away within glass cabinets. The objects remain there as traces of a deified labour, a force that realises its glory through these artifacts. The portrait of an idol, in which the face is burned down to an anonymous black, shows him in the attire of a timeless blacksmith. And yet, the 'oc-cult' of labour and production, conjuring up traces of the industrial revolution seem to constitute rather a backdrop on top of which the organic forms triumph, swelling up unexpectedly, like meaningless yet telling effects of this whole surge forward.
In an interview for FAD magazine, the artist remarked, "The grotesque is a very important factor. If we were to choose one word to describe Onania, it’s very grotesque. Of course, there’s humour, it’s a joke but it’s very serious, it’s more like a black comedy. More like a black comedy in pink."
In 2007 Manski graduated from the Graphics Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In 2009, Manski left Warsaw for London, where he took up post-graduate studies at the St. Martin’s College of Fine Arts, completing the course with an honours MA degree in 2010. Following his earlier explorations in the technique of linocut and collage, Manski moved on to work in sculpture and installation.
Work on two of his monumental oeuvres, Onania and Possesia began in 2010. While Possesia was started up before Onania, it is still an ongoing project. In it, Manski has employed numerous authentic objects, such as old training equipment, vintage weights, industrial aprons, saddles, picture frames and elements of metal construction while assembling unique sculpture objects with organic elements such as fur, leather, and meticulously detailed totemic fetishes made out of real animal bone.
Onania is both a two and three-dimensional universe, into which we are seduced by an advertising clip. The advertised object of desire is a tool that promises to ensure an ultimate experience of solitary bliss. We then witness sculpted installations in which a beige and pink would-be sweetness, presented by high-quality mannequins and old surgical equipment is invaded by a series of mutilations, created by Manski in his own technique. Animal bone, fur, and what looks like formless fatty residue take over fragments of terryfyingly perfect human-like forms. Manski also presents us with a series of inspirational drawings at the origins of Onania, which include disturbing collages based on beauty and fashion magazines.
The numerous objects that form part of the two pieces are works of art within themselves, but it is the larger structure that delivers their proper weight and meaning. The two are separate and complete visions, yet as one looks into them carefully, they also provide an irresistible context for one another. While the two pieces converge on a variety of key themes, as one attempts to trace the analogous motifs it is also the contrast between them that is significantly potent in its meaning.
Onania draws inspiration from the narcissistically blind implications of contemporary consumerism as well as an ironic juxtaposition of art and fashion, and the imminent cult of the latter. It is described by Manski as a futuristic apocalypse, where the worship of beauty results in a "return of the repressed". Possesia is more of a primal apocalyptic vision of the past, employing organic materials and evoking pagan ritual and the medieval coupling of sin and punishment.
The inspiration behind Possesia is the world of pagan ritual and the occult, as well as the medieval idea of a God-sent plague in which the corporeality of disease can be seen as something that is the dark side of a larger scheme. On an aesthetic level, the materials employed by Manski in Possesia are dark, earthy and organic: fur and leather is assembled together with soil and animal bones. The curious objects created by the artist are glorious and terrifying at the same time.
Onania starts out with a coaxing video advertisement, in which the viewer is presented with a prime offering – the promise of an unadulterated and uninterrupted auto-erotic pleasure. Manski thus touches upon what still seems taboo in contemporary society, namely, masturbation, while also addressing its metaphoric value on the plain of narcissism.This impossibly total vision draws on Nietzsche - a fact which becomes explicitly manifest in a piece where the philosopher’s portrait bears burn-marks and is mounted onto the would-be frame of a voltometer. This conscious manoeuvre hints at the artist’s intention, as he makes the viewer not so much think over but experience the fine line that divides this artistic vision from the lures of Nazism. Jan Manski stops just an inch away from the obscene, when, in a piece entitled Mirror for the Idol, he reveals just a small corner of the reflective surface, choosing to cover the remainder of the looking glass with a leather veil. Yet, we could conversely say, that that little corner of the mirror’s cover has been lifted.
Narcissism is given its very palpable and contemporary form in the Onania universe. This work can be said to have resulted from the encounter of Jan Manski’s visionary sensitivity with the world of fashion in London, which took place upon his move to the UK from Warsaw. In this piece, it is the cruelty of culture offered up to the viewer in an irresistibly attractive packaging that takes over the human world.
THE ONANIZER - Your Ultimate Masturbation Experience (TRAILER) © Jan Manski from JAN MANSKI on Vimeo.
Designed to mould seamlessly to the user’s body, the 'limitless pleasure' machine invites its users to a realm of singular focus on themselves. Sophisticated advertising tricks are played on our atavistic compulsions of fulfilling basic instincts. Such sinister manipulation hovers beneath a seamless pastel veneer, pivoting on our powerlessness and ignorance of Manski’s role as puppet master. The Onanizer reflects the ultimate aim of Onania, which is the most perfect and heightened existence of blissful solitude.
And yet accompanying the advertisement are images of Onania’s inhabitants who are rapidly infected and disfigured, as by a medieval plague, presented in Manski’s glossily ubiquitous, cloying pink. These objects form a series entitled Aetiology Unknown. Skulls, leather, teeth and terrifyingly dated surgical
instruments bulge and surge against each other in these sculptures. Even the machine itself is disfigured by a grotesque seepage, spewing combinations of human fat sourced from liposuction clinics, and synthetic materials, largely vinyl acetate. Natural and manufactured elements are brought into fearfully close proximity and become interchangeable, blurring the secure borders of human recognition and refusing reassurance.
Foundation and cosmetics are employed in the works alongside animal fur. The inhuman perfection of mannequins that are used in the sculptures strongly evoke the ideal of a flawless body. It is no longer certain whether this ghastly presence, a hint of the idealised human, is at the origin or at the impossible goal of the surfacing formless distortions. Manski had stated that the one element that was very important to him in the very high quality mannequins he used in Onania was their eyes. This element, a last possible point that could mark the presence of subjectivity is in fact mute, it is an object. This is evocative of the phrase from French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan wherein he comments the structure of perverse fantasy:
A radical desubjectivisation of the whole structure, at the level of which the subject is nothing more than reduced to the state of an observer, or simply an eye - which is that which is at the last resort characteristic of every kind of object, at the point of an ultimate reduction. It takes less, and a subject is not always required, but at least an eye is necessary to see it, so that it can become a screen upon which the subject is instituted
- Seminar IV, Relation d’objet
In the Foreword of the exhibition of Onania at the Rochelle School hosted by London’s Breese Little gallery, Robert Devereux states:
The work of Jan Manski is striking, even sensational. Manski realises his vision with a perversely visceral language which creates a coherent, highly stylised world with a menacing futuristic edge. It interrogates and parodies our consumerist culture. Manski, through an imaginative act of enormous ingenuity, creates an entirely new world rather than relying on the old trope of 'appropriation'. His world embodies a very particular philosophy of sexual excess and manifest guilt. His futurist pleasure product dramatizes the relationship between our sexual appetites and narcissism, to create a microcosm which is unnervingly familiar but completely alien.
The world into which we are drawn is simultaneously seductive and repellent but it repays scrutiny and its impact is substantial and lasting. This is one of the most original voices that I have come across in recent years.
Following a hugely successful solo exhibition with the Breese Little gallery (which now represents the artist) early in 2012, Jan Manski's Possesia will be presented at the same venue from the last days of February until mid-April 2014.
See the artist's website: janmanski.com
Source: interview with Jan Manski, janmanski.com, FAD magazine, Breese Little gallery press release, J.Lacan Seminar IV Relation d’objet (Paris, Seuil 1966)