Interview with Nicholas Mangan for his forthcoming catalogue ‘Limits to Growth’

Nicholas Mangan, ‘Ancient Lights’ (2015). Installation views, Chisenhale Gallery, 2015. Co-commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery, London and Artspace, Sydney. Courtesy the artist; Labor Mexico; Sutton Gallery, Melbourne; and Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland. Photo: Andy Keate.

We have just wrapped-up an interview with Melbourne-based artist Nicholas Mangan to be published by Sternberg Press as the catalogue of his forthcoming solo exhibition ‘Limits to Growth’, co-produced by Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), Melbourne (opening July 20) and Institute of Modern Art (IMA), Brisbane (where it will be on view from October 29), it will later travel to Kunst-Werke Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin (summer 2017)

The five-part interview weaves together a discussion of his recent works ‘Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World’ (2009), ‘A World Undone’ (2012), ‘Progress in action’ (2013), ‘Ancient Lights’ (2015) and his newest piece ‘Limits to Growth’ (2016), to be premiered at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA). Part of an ongoing dialogue with Mangan, it developed from a public conversation event that took place at Chisenhale Gallery, London on 7 July 2015. 

‘Limits to Growth’ references a 1972 report commissioned by the Club of Rome that analysed a computer simulation of the Earth and human systems: the consequences of exponential economic and population growth given finite resource supplies. The overlapping themes and flows of energies in the five of Mangan’s projects discussed in the interview might be read as an echo of the modelling and systems dynamics used by the simulation in order to try and better understand the limits of the world’s ecosystems. 

Mangan is presenting Ancient Lights’ (2015) at his Mexico City gallery LABOR on April 22, a work co-commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery in London and Artspace in Sydney.

In conversation between Latitudes and Nicholas Mangan, Chisenhale Gallery, 7 July 2015. Photos: Manuela Barczewski.

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Graphic communication of the exhibition 'José Antonio Hernández-Díez. I Will Fear No Evil' at MACBA

Exhibition announcement sent via email.

The invitation for the solo exhibition "I Will Fear No Evil" by José Antonio Hernández-Díez has been created by the Barcelona-Newark-Paris-San Francisco-New York graphic design studio Mucho, responsible for the visual communication of this and other exhibitions at MACBA

Departing from the religious and technological references included in Hernández-Díez's exhibition, the cross appears like a distorted televisual aparition.

The design was later applied on the large glass vitrine that frames the entrance to the Convent dels Àngels, respecting the presence of two video pieces also on display in this space: 'La caja' (1991) and 'Vas pa'l cielo y vas llorando' (1992), videoprojections that remain lit until midnight.
 
 (Above) Draft design and (following) tests on the windows, vinyls being applied and final look of the entrance to the exhibition space at Plaça dels Àngels.

 (Above) Façade by day and façade by night (below, photo by Miquel Coll, MACBA).
 Finally, a smaller vinyl is also applied at c/ dels Àngels, easily viewed when visitors come from c/ Elisabets.

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The story behind José Antonio Hernández-Díez's 'San Guinefort' (1991)

 Pages with the story behind Plaça dels Àngels.

When giving a presentation or tour of an exhibition or project we have worked on, we are often asked how the project emerged – if there was a particular trigger or point of origin. In the case of José Antonio Hernández-Díezs exhibition currently on view at MACBA (until June 26, 2016), our approach was a familiar one to us we started by both delving in-depth in researching the artists previous works while at the same time looking into the history of the venue where the exhibition was going to take place. 

We are very fond of a book that has been in our library for many years – 'Histories and legends of Barcelona' by Joan Amades (Edicions 62). This two-volume tome gathers some of the myths behind Barcelona place names and includes the tales behind both familiar and obscure buildings, streets and monuments in the city. The story that most captivated us concerned the chapel of the Convent dels Àngels, and it is recounted in the essay we wrote to accompany the exhibition (published as the Quaderns Portàtils #32 pdfs available in Spanish and English and epub in Spanish only). It goes as follows:

(...) "Outside the doorway of the deconsecrated sixteenth-century church that formed part of Barcelona’s Convent dels Àngels there once stood the stone figure of a dog, standing upright on its hind legs. Two separate legends account for its existence, as recorded by ethnologist and folklorist Joan Amades in the 1950s. A boorish man would routinely interrupt the services and torment the church congregation, it is said. He was punished by being turned into a dog. The other version states that the canine figure commemorates the thwarting of a robbery. The church once displayed an image of Saint Roch, the patron saint of dogs, accompanied by a hound. It is said that the prospective thieves were frightened away as the image miraculously began to bark. (The supernatural mythology of the chapel does not cease there – in 1627 an image of Christ began to sweat blood profusely.) 

Sculpture of a dog once stood in front of La Capella dels Àngels, church of the Convent dels Àngels.
 
Parallel to this, we started looking at Hernández-Díezs earliest works and investigating his pieces in MACBAs collection. We found that the museum had his 1991 work San Guinefort on long-term loan in their collection, but it had never been exhibited. As narrated in our essay: 

(...) "that José Antonio Hernández-Díez (Caracas, Venezuela, 1964) had already been dealing with Catholic belief and superstition in his art – and moreover, specifically addressing canine veneration – is much more than an uncanny coincidence for his exhibition at MACBA’s Convent dels Àngels in 2016."  

The legend behind Saint Guinefort is one of the more obscure intersections of Catholic history and folk tradition:

(...) "Writing around 1260, the Inquisitor and Dominican friar Étienne de Bourbon related his investigation into the veneration of Saint Guinefort in the Dombes region of France. He discovered that this supposed Saint was, in fact, a dog. The account he disclosed was that a knight and his wife had one day left their greyhound Guinefort to guard their baby. When they returned to the castle they found the cradle empty and Guinefort covered in blood. Assuming it had murdered the baby, the knight hastily killed the dog, only later realising his error. Guinefort had in fact fought off a snake in order to save the child, who was found unharmed. Guinefort was buried unceremoniously in the forest outside the castle walls. Hearing of the martyred dog, local people began to believe in its power to protect children and began to bring their sick infants to the grave. Étienne de Bourbon was horrified to discover the strength of the superstition that had taken root. Children were being left overnight by Guinefort’s grave in the belief that he would rid them of spirits, and several babies had died as a consequence. Defending the orthodoxy of the church, the friar had the heretical remains of the greyhound dug up and destroyed, razed the forest and outlawed the canine cult, yet there is evidence of its persistence into the nineteenth century. The episode is worth recounting in detail, as previous accounts of it in relation to Hernández-Díez’s work have been misleading."


Coinciding with our research period, in August 2014 we happened to be travelling near Lyon, France, and took the opportunity to visit to the Bois de Saint Guinefort in the Dombes region, where the story of Saint Guinefort emerged (and where the dog-saint may still be venerated every 22nd August, despite the regional tourism office assuring us the festival day was no longer celebrated). 

Somewhere on the road between Villars-les-Dombes and Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne one can, with the help of a tagged flickr photo and GPS, find a sign, as seen below, which briefly narrates these peculiar events from the 13th Century



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