Biennale of Sydney 2012: Canadian artist Erin Manning on Folds to Infinity

In the last of three articles highlighting individual works at the 2012 Biennale of Sydney, Art Radar talks to Canadian artist Erin Manning about her installation and workshop piece Folds to Infinity.

Though the softly draped fabrics fill the room, in truth they are only half of Erin Manning’s installation Folds to Infinity. The other portion is the artist’s personal workshop; she invites visitors to experiment with the material, a reflection of her practice in relational art.

Installation view of 'Folds to Infinity', Erin Manning, 2007, fabric, magnets, buttons, thread, dimensions variable. Image by Art Radar.

Installation view of 'Folds to Infinity', Erin Manning, 2007, fabric, magnets, buttons, thread, dimensions variable. Image by Art Radar.

 

Other posts in this three part series

 

Part 1: read part one here.
Part 2: read part two here.



Canadian artist Erin Manning practices relational art, an art form that emphasises engagement with the artwork and its social context over the art object itself. The piece she made for the 2012 edition of the Biennale of Sydney is a large installation work of sprawling wires and netting with colourful fabrics hanging all over the space, part of a seven-year ongoing project which explores the relations between fabric, body and the environment and “creates participatory platforms for group experimentation and collective expression“. Folds to Infinity is also an ongoing workshop: visitors are welcome to assemble these fabrics to create clothing by connecting the pieces with attached buttons and magnets.

It all began seven years ago when Manning started to explore the idea of how the body is not static, and that it only passively fits into something that is already composed, for example, clothing. She began to make fabric pieces from random circular cuts and then sew buttons, button holes and magnets on to them, so that these pieces could be connected to become wearable clothing. She did about a thousand pieces herself and accomplished the other thousand pieces with the help of the weekly sewing circle she hosted at her house every Sunday.

I invited people to come to our house and sew buttons and magnets and I served them soup. What I found is that these extraordinarily busy people kept coming back every Sunday, making time for a project that was not about them. People were incredibly generous with their time, given an opportunity to be in a conversation. These weren’t really my friends; these were sometimes people I didn’t know, who came with someone else, the parents of students of mine or the children of friends of mine. So it became really clear to me there was a hunger for this.

People working on the fabrics at the workshop. Erin Manning, 'Folds to Infinity', 2007, fabric, magnets, buttons, thread, dimensions variable. Image by Art Radar.

People working on the fabrics at the workshop. Erin Manning, 'Folds to Infinity', 2007, fabric, magnets, buttons, thread, dimensions variable. Image by Art Radar.

Folds to Infinity also celebrates the sense of giving time. Manning told Art Radar that she would be at the installation and the workshop every day of the week except either Monday or Tuesday until the end of August 2012, because it was important for her to be there to give her time.

For those who come in to really work on the pieces, when they finish, I tag the piece with a wax stamp I made, and then they write their name on the tag and take the piece home. So in that way, they sort of give their time and then receive the time of all of those people over the years. So, for me, it’s not so much about the object, the design they make, but about the sense of how we share time and give time and take time in a different environment.

However, contrary to the most popular views held about relational art, Manning believes that “relation” should not just be interactivity “between two people or between a person and an object”.

In interactive art, often there is a sense of cause and effect, for example, if you touch this, this will happen. What I want in relational art is that relation is not something I can plan in advance. I can only create an environment, an environment that can open ways for different kinds of relations to emerge. So the space was created always in mind of the different ways of entering it. So I created a space that I hope immediately suggests slowing down through the colour, the light and [the] different heights [that] the works are at. That is one way of inviting people to engage with the space.

According to Manning, the fabrics come from China, India, Thailand and Polynesia, a homage to the fact that “different cultures [in Asia] all had a history of garments, touching upon the idea that a garment does not conform to a specific shape”. Manning believes strands of humanity are linked and there is a sense deeper than nationality to the human condition. The role of art is to create the conditions for different relations to arise. “Maybe that is what art can do, to allow that to happen,” Manning says, “Allow art to tell you how to make those connections.”

Other posts in this three part series

 

Part 1: read part one here.
Part 2: read part two here.

 

Erin Manning in front of her installation work at Cockatoo Island in the 18th Sydney Biennale. 'Folds to Infinity', 2007, fabric, magnets, buttons, thread, dimensions variable. Image by Art Radar

Erin Manning in front of her installation work at Cockatoo Island in the 18th Sydney Biennale. 'Folds to Infinity', 2007, fabric, magnets, buttons, thread, dimensions variable. Image by Art Radar

About Erin Manning

Erin Manning is a Canadian cultural theorist and political philosopher who has undertaken extensive research and studio practice in relational art. She is also the director of The Sense Lab, a laboratory that explores the intersections between art practice and philosophy.

In her practice, she works with painting, fabric and sculpture. Her current project Folds to Infinity is an experimental fabric collection composed of cuts that connect in an infinity of ways, folding in to create clothing and out to create environmental architecture. She currently teaches in the Fine Arts Faculty of Concordia University.

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Related Topics: Canadian artistsSydney art happeningsbiennales and biennials, participatory art, textile art

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