MANIERA 12 & 13: Christ & Gantenbein and Bojan Šarčević
April 17–June 3, 2017
27–28, Place de la Justice
Large windows open onto the street, plants are juxtaposed on their sills. A tilted couch placed towards the corner of the room offers street views. A car ashtray in fake burl lies on a small stool, while a fridge and a “La Pavoni” espresso machine stand close-by. The centre is occupied by a table and a chair. Situated against a white wall, a sculptural tower stands in silence. The setting of MANIERA 12 and 13 blurs the boundaries between the gallery space and the domestic environment. As such, it continues—in an inverted manner—the exploration of interiors set out by previous shows: MANIERA 09 presented Jonathan Muecke in the brutalist Van Wassenhove House by architect Juliaan Lampens, MANIERA 03 exhibited Richard Venlet and 6A in Hôtel Wolfers, a modernist town house by Henry Van de Velde kept in a certain state of decay, and MANIERA 01 displayed the work of Office kgdvs and Anne Holtrop in the private sphere of the MANIERA founders’ own home.
This domesticated and somewhat uncanny setting is proposed by the Bosnian-French sculptor Bojan Šarčević. For MANIERA, Šarčević developed “Slampadato,” a couch that is both appealing and revolting. Referring to Gerard Saddier’s sensual and suave 1938 canapé made of silk satin, Šarčević combined a brushed stainless steel surface and a mohair dossier and frame. As such, he plays deliberately with the paradoxical nature of the two incongruous materials. The result is a strangely familiar object, setting off a certain cognitive dissonance: while the seating space is hard and cold, the surrounding frame and dossier are bodily human, soft and cushiony. As such, the sofa-sculpture builds on Šarčević’s previous works and expresses his undeniable obsession with objects that question their own genre. Be it through their size, materiality, fragility or name, his architectonic sculptures represent spaces and at the same time question them. “Slampadato”—Italian for a person addicted to using UV tanning-beds—questions architectural certainties. What you see is not (always) what you get.
The fine line between furniture design and sculptural ventures is also explored by the Swiss architectural practice Christ & Gantenbein. Their work for MANIERA, entitled “Athens Series,” proposes a family of objects: a table, a stool and a side table. Interested in the apparent banality of the objet trouvé, Christ & Gantenbein imagined “architecture out of architecture.” They started from the traditional cutting block “as found” in Athens’s fish market, treating it as a piece of architecture. “While trying to understand it, we discovered a purely tectonic object. It pointed to a system in which single elements can be assembled and eventually become a table, a stool or even a series.” Through a process of interpretation, misinterpretation, translation and transformation, Christ & Gantenbein turned this anonymous architecture into a series of objects that simultaneously suggest and exceed their frame of reference. As such, “Athens Series” is “not the expression of a personal, intimate idea, feeling, or obsession, but rather a statement that tries to challenge the question of authorship.” Moreover, it is the exploration of elementary tectonics. The tabletop and seating surface of all the objects are made of tulip tree blocks held together by cylindrical elements in a Japanese lock, giving the whole its robustness and singularity. Covered with white plaster, the objects still show evidence of their tectonics while gaining a certain autonomy. As such, “Athens series” proposes lessons in postmodernism’s adage of “both/and”: both furniture and sculptural element, both surprisingly robust and remarkably refined, both formally unpretentious and technically ingenious.
If MANIERA is investigating the different degrees of functionality of furniture objects, both Bojan Šarčević and Christ & Gantenbein add an interesting layer to this exploration. While the first offers—through the material tensions proposed—a certain estrangement, the latter creates objects that through their tectonics try to apprehend furniture as if they were architectural monuments.