MANKO & Vacuum [#2]

Aston Revola
October 5th 2010

I should tell you the story of how Manko lost a leg. You need to know about this incident to understand his recent works. So please forgive me, I first have to go back to that unfortunate day, before I continuing where we left off last month.

Manko was 23 years old, and studied sculpture at the time. He was quite impulsive and loved to do things differently than others, just for the sake of it. An example: one day he threw himself through the window of a bus stop, just to know what that would be like, but also because he would know that he had done something than none of his friends would ever do. And he did not do it for them either. He did it to feel special. The consequence of having to pick a hundred tiny splinters of glass from his face only made it more memorable.

Not only was he reckless, he was also restless. The more odd things he did, the more feelings of something missing in his life sprung up. He would soon really understand what it feels like to miss something.

The story of how he lost his leg was very odd. One Wednesday morning Manko left the house to go for a swim. Even though he was more of a night person, he had promised himself to get fitter and swimming before school hours meant getting up very early. So, still drowsy from sleep he arrived at the swimming pool and found it closed. He had not realized that this day was a public holiday.

So he retreated in his step, crossing the parking lot, which was completely vacant. Suddenly an electric wheelchair came racing at him, with an old lady screaming her head off. These things were designed for an average of three miles an hour, but this one must have been a new model as it went at the speed of a car. That's the last thing Manko remembers.

We'll never know exactly what happened, but when they found Manko many hours later, he had almost bled to death with his right leg almost completely twisted off at the knee. The old lady was found in the nearby bushes. She had died of a heart attack just after she had been launched from her chair. Manko later explained that he had tried to help the lady and stop the machine that was clearly out of control, by blocking its way. They say that when you sacrifice your life for someone else and it works out well, you're a hero. When it fails, you're a fool. Manko did not become a hero. Fortunately he was not held responsible for the old lady's death.

In hospital they had to cut off the lower part of the right leg. It was too late to save it.

It's quite ironic that a machine that was invented to help people that cannot walk, would in the end create it's own client, as if looking for a new owner. It's creepy when machines seem to start to come to life by themselves, becoming almost sentient.

Like anybody else who loses a leg, Manko went through the stages of denial and anger. But in the end he had to accept it. When he came back to the Academy he stated that from now on he would regard his missing leg - this newly created vacuum - as a space for art. He started his first experiments while he was still learning to walk on a regular fake leg.

At the Range Gallery downtown, a typical empty white cube, he did a one-off performance for his few friends and bystanders. It was called 'Vacuum'. He replaced his fake leg with a custom-made vacuum cleaner device and started removing grey flakes of dust from the white space. The event lasted 35 minutes and Manko tried to do it as slow and theatrical as possible, almost like a monk raking a Zen garden. Eventually the statement was clear: the room became empty and the vacuum became full.

The second show was proof that even Manko could not help being frustrated with practical limitations. He became very annoyed with the fact that the two pedestrian crossings in the street where he lived were so far apart. He hated that he could not simply cross the road in front of his house as he had been used to.

The forthcoming public intervention was called 'Zebra'. Manko attached an industrial paint roller to his leg and painted ten and a half pedestrian crossings on the two hundred meter road. At that moment he ran out of paint and when he got back with new supplies he was arrested by a local police officer.

Due to the use of industrial paint these zebras could not be cleared the next day and now he and his neighbors crossed the street wherever they liked, taking the piss out of drivers who were obliged to stop at each crossing.

'Zebra 2' was a more minimalistic work. Not in the least because he did not want to get fined again. It was a one-bar pedestrian crossing in a very small street. The idea was that two bars may be regarded as the minimum amount of lines for a crossing (one line is just one line) and therefore people would be confused about whether or not this was a pedestrian crossing. A crossing does not solely consist of this one bar, yet comes to existence by our own mind linking one sidewalk to another. Another interpretation would be that there really are two bars. But they're black, just like on a piano. This crossing proved less safe but marked a point in Manko’s career as one of his first abstract projects.

I think these events will certainly help in understanding the works that we'll discuss next month, when Manko uses not only his personal vacuum as a place for mediation, but starts using other empty spaces as well. I'll round off this review with a more humourous example of this.

For those of us lucky enough to live in New York, I would like to point out his ongoing project in the public library of New York. Manko started to make it his special hobby to rip the last pages out of novels in the library, leaving a note and his phone number written on the inside of the back cover. It noted that, to know the ending of the book, they could call his number and he would read out the last page to them over the phone.

Rumor has it he now has a collection of over 500 last pages. Of course those desperate persons (not able to sleep until they know the ending) were not sure they were being read the actual text. As Manko once confided to his friend: 'it depends on the person calling. If they ask me nicely, I will read them the actual ending. If people are aggressive or annoying, I will perform an unhappy ending.'

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Should men be able to give birth to children?


Koert van Mensvoort: Is the artificial womb frankenstein-like symbol of (male) engineers trying to steal the magical womb from women? Or… is it a feminist project and needed to reach through equality between the sexes? I personally lean towards the latter. To me it feels like progress if a girl can tell a guy to carry the womb for a change.

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