Christopher E. Manning , b. 1983, New York, has a MFA from SUNY New Paltz and a BFA from Manhattanville College. Manning is the Exhibitions Coordinator at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, as well as a Professor of Visual Art at Manhattanville College. He has also taught at the College of New Rochelle, and has been a visiting critic at the Wassaic Project and SUNY New Paltz MFA and BFA programs.
The artist lives and works in Yorktown Heights, NY.
I started using Polaroid film just because it was around. Being an 80’s kid in the US, Polaroids were always something that were just there, ever present so to say. I’d grab my parent’s camera and take endless pictures of my soccer trophies, action figures, my tuxedo cat Stripey, all facets of my youthful life. I used the camera as a way to document and consequently cement the inhabitants of time around me. This process has followed me throughout my life and work.
Having obsessive-compulsive disorder, the repetitive and immediate nature of the instant photograph appeals to me. It’s a ritual, to save a memory, a period of life, just a habitual moment logged into the Dewey decimal system of the collective unconscious.
I began to see these instants as fragments of tangible memory, a portrait of what has, will, and always form us. But often looking back on a Polaroid, that moment was just the surface. There were feelings, expressions and images that needed to be revealed or reflected upon with additional commentary. Consequently the process led to excavating the exteriors of time, covering a vulnerability/moment needing to be forgotten or amending memory with footnotes.
My work deals with a largely autobiographical excavation of the self, with interest in duality and fragmental storytelling through visual representation. The Polaroids convey a sense of contemplation and nostalgia allowing the viewer to connect on both a personal and aesthetic level. Set in a state of flux, each work presents a teetering of truths and lies, light versus dark, and all passages between life, death and rebirth. The cumulative narrative comes to represent a portrait of what shapes us, while embodying the deluge of all that was forgotten or surplus to existence.
This is achieved through the literal physical excavation of an image, which often includes cutting through caustic layers to reveal what is hidden beneath the surface. This consists of source material found in and collaged from my collection of vintage art history textbooks, 1970’s Playboy Magazines, botany handbooks, The New York Times, fashion magazines, National Geographic (1970’s — early 90’s for the best saturation), 1800’s etiquette guides and quite often more Polaroid/photographic images I’ve taken but the list is endless. These images come to represent the undercurrents of what exists in the subterranean self.
When covering an image, the process is different while the range of media/mediums are similar. Thread is used to bind, carefully mending/stitching while obscuring. Acrylic paint or ink covers a landscape to make a once clear view opaque, while bonding the internal world with external. Often I’ll draw atop portraits or moments adding a gestural energy or hand written text to the work using oil based inks in a process similar to inking drypoint plate when printmaking.
Works are constantly manipulated. What was once excavated or covered will down the road (sometimes years later) be completely changed. Fluctuating between successful utilizable material to seemingly useless failed works. The simple fact is if it weren’t for errors within my process, I doubt progress would be possible. I thrive on it. In that manner, process mirrors life. Without falter, I doubt we would get very far or learn very much. I aim to show these aspects of life concurrently, successes, failures and that grey area in between.
” Art is a communicative undercurrent that runs parallel in life to language which renders our condensed internal to become expanded tangible experiences.
These works become a journey/pilgrimage, they become religious, they become frivolous, they become precious, they get lost and resurface within us, they forever evolve as the viewer evolves. Therefore art is always different yet the same. Time remains a constant and memories are logged accordingly, just as a time clock being punched in the collective unconscious, in a seemingly stagnant state. But to truly progress, an excavation must occur, revisiting, questioning and probing those moments logged in time. Personally that is exactly what art does, it excavates our inner and external worlds. It exposes more surface area, to unearth what was once covered and destroy the defined threshold in favor of said interruption. Art keeps me moving, a progressive tumble-dry-low setting on our lives, challenging what is comfortably and superficially set in stone.
I understand life better because of art. I question more. “
Photographs and text courtesy of the artist.