Tuesday, 24 April 2012

FAD Interview: Jan Manski for Onania at The Rochelle School

Photo by Laura Bushell

(Originally published on FAD)

Welcome to Onania, a world unlike anything you’ve seen outside of a David Cronenberg film. Artist Jan Manski envisions the most narcissistic character traits of our society as a disfiguring force, propelling us into a self-destructive future of unattainable pleasure and perfection.

Trained at Central St Martins, the Polish born artist works in 2D, 3D and film and has been fashioning his alternative universe over roughly two and a half years with a meticulous sense of detail and feeling for the grotesque.

The launch pad for the exhibition is his film, The Onanizer: Your Ultimate Masturbation Experience, which uses a seductive voiceover and pristine visuals to sell viewers the ultimate pleasure product, with a sense of the absurd, humorous and downright disturbing running the whole way through it.

But inevitably there’s no pleasure without pain, and what follows in Manski’s fictional world is a state of gradual disfiguration and destruction brought on by this experience of ultimate bliss. Such is the price to pay for our vanity.

Manski took FAD on a tour of his solo show, which includes the whole of Onania along with documentation of its creation along with an earlier work, Posessia. Onania runs until Saturday 5 May at the Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, E2 7ES. See http://www.breeselittle.com/

Where does Onania come from?

The roots of Onania are beauty magazines and also vintage magazines, fashion and design items that I’d selected when I was trying to find a style of the project. I was trying to get inspiration from some fetishistic and narcissistic level of fashion. It all begins from The Onanizer it’s the start. It’s supposed to give us happiness but in fact it mutates us.

Is it a warning against over-indulging?

I don’t know if it’s a warning. It’s not a statement, it’s a vision. Josie [Breese, the show’s co-curator] wrote very smartly that it’s a parody of consumerism, that it’s the ultimate product. All products have claims to improve your situation on certain levels, like confidence or looks, so it’s based on the idea of narcissism. It shows danger in the disguise of something very aesthetic, an ultra-beauty, but it also shows how it looks in reality.

It’s very slickly filmed.

I’m quite a perfectionist in technique so I use cameras and mediums that make it as close to perfection, like the way that commercials are made. To make it almost so you can’t resist it, it’s so attractive somehow.

Which filmmakers do you admire?

I just love Stanley Kubrick. I think the symmetry is something that can be read as an influence.

The second film, Orthosis. is quite different in tone from The Onanzier, it’s more sinister.

With The Onanizer we were presenting a product that’s supposed to give you happiness and fulfillment, so you may read Orthosis as the parallel meaning of the Onanizer, with more cruelty and violence. In both of these videos we have an item that is somehow connected to the body. This item is almost orthopedic, it’s supposed to improve your posture but it’s clearly damaging your body in an act of violence.

Is it the same man?

Yes. The actor that I hired for Onania was my friend, but first we did a casting and saw close to a hundred men that were supposed to be an ideal human being, also futuristic. I love the film THX, the very early George Lucas film, and this was my inspiration – the baldness, androgynous style of this man in the main role.

There’s a very particular shade of pink prevalent throughout the show, why did you choose it?

I tried to find a colour which is like the essence of aesthetics and also of innocence and femininity. It’s pleasant but it’s also a reference to plastic surgery, that is very important.

You actually use plastic mannequin heads in Aetiology Unknown.

These heads are made using very high quality mannequins and one element that was very important to me was their eyes. They’re very realistic eyes although the rest of the head is covered with vinyl and we have piece of fur and smashed bones inside, I put it into a new construction. The story is that a deformation occurred and we cut off the head and now we have it like a trophy of what the Onanizer did.

Upstairs there are pieces from an earlier project, Posessia, can you tell us about that?

This was started before and it’s more of a private world. It’s more connected to my roots, my childhood and the part of Europe I came from. So the cruelty here is very raw and the materials are very raw. This is more visceral and I think less intellectual.

The materials are much more earthy, and older.

Some are taken from my family archive because my parents were fascinated with collecting antiques and going to vintage markets to find very interesting pieces. So since childhood I remember this huge basement with a lot of stored pieces and over time there was an interesting layer of dust and dirt growing on them, so they weren’t clean, some were bought from the people who’d dug them up form the ground. So this inspired me to go into this kind of surface and structure in the materials of the piece. It’s consumed by time.

Whereas Onania is very clean.

Onania was made as a contrast to this, more aesthetic, whereas in this there is more danger. Somebody wrote that Posessia is like a classic apocalypse, with roots in medieval art, something very primal like shamanistic ritual; then Onania is a future apocalypse. So we have the future and the past, a big difference in times and aesthetics.

But did you have similar artistic influences for both?

This is actually true. In Warsaw we have a museum of medieval art, all those pictures of sin and punishment are I think influence for both.

There is a certain shock factor in both too, but in Onania more of a sense of humour.

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…

Text and photo by Laura Bushell

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