Dr. Lieselotte Sauer-Kaulbach, Neuwied
Christoph Mancke's works are not of the sort that viewers spontaneously grasp. Rather, at a cursory glance at any rate, they are just as reserved as the person who created them. The person and his oeuvre appear to be in complete harmony with each other. So let us focus on these works and attempt to induce them to speak. If we are to succeed, we must give ourselves completely over to their own idiom, try to imagine and understand its morphemes, rules, vocabulary and syntax. What is immediately striking is that all the sculptures are made of iron, to be precise cast iron. For a number of years, Mancke has shown a remarkable rigor in creating sculptures solely using this particular material _ in earlier periods he also worked with stone or bronze. After all, iron is a material with very specific qualities, and also conjures up very specific associations. It was the discovery and use precisely of materials such as iron that constituted an extraordinary step forward in human development and history. Moreover, iron is linked with terms such as hardness, weight, strength, with the technical and functional coolness in the broadest sense. At first glance, at least, there seems to be little of the aesthetic about it.
Iron is not something gleaming and smooth, like bronze. It is not something natural, with a clear character of its own, like stone. And yet it plays a crucial role in the effect of Mancke's sculptures. Iron is quite simply a material which can be molded to a certain extent almost randomly, like bronze. But unlike bronze, it quickly develops its own expressive skin, a patina which, when the material has been used for technical or practical purposes, we do not really appreciate and refer to simply as "rust". However, in Mancke's work precisely this rust acquires an important aesthetic significance, with its lovely, natural, velvety hues, ranging from dark brown to a bright, glowing red. For the things that it covers are forms which, for their part, have a somehow natural, completely self-evident effect despite, or perhaps because of, all the reduction and abstraction innate in them. Anthropomorphic aspects undoubtedly also play a role, for Christoph Mancke initially took the human figure as the point of departure for his sculpting. But he has meanwhile moved so far away from this initial stance that it is instead interpreters who continue to try and show how his interpretations must stem from this human element.
Anthropomorphic traces are perhaps still to be seen most clearly in a number of older sculptures which could, if this is absolutely necessary, be termed "torsos". As torsos of reclining figures. But the attribute "reclining" is far too static an expression to describe accurately the tension these sculptures reveal, for by rotations and shifts these figures become imbued with an irresistible dynamism. There is hardly a truly smooth surface, a truly straight line or edge among them. Everything geometric, a category which we so desperately try to attribute to comparatively austere works, is dissolved. Everything is in flux, in motion, is oscillating, and this motion, oscillation and flux is further accentuated by the cracked, porous structure of the iron. Not to mention by the rusty patina, which quite naturally does not spread evenly over the entire work, instead forming a thicker layer over the flat areas and lets the edges and contours shine through, thus highlighting them. These works must be "grasped" in the most literal sense of the word, they must be experienced haptically in order to detect all the fine nuances made possible through the interplay of form and material. Only then are you more likely to admit that it is not absolutely necessary to fall back on helpful anthropological forms as a crutch, that these sculptures rest in themselves. What first appears so monolithically massive, so block-like in its closed world, is actually not that way at all. Mancke cracks open the closed form. Elements that you assume are solid cast iron turn out to be hollow, their inner life appears raw, archaic, as if they had grown naturally. This is true for works consisting of a single element, and even more so for multi-part sculptures. Christoph Mancke is opening doors in the most literal sense.
The process is quite obvious if one looks at Mancke's pictures and drawings which, as is the case with so many sculptors, offer an excellent opportunity to observe how his ideas emerge, the step-by-step process by which his sculptures emerge. For in these sketches, the "doors" become clearer still, and there are drawings among them which are exemplary in that they rehearse the repeated, rhythmically layered opening of a form that is in principle straightforward and block-like. It is also remarkable here that the artist shows a clear preference for the brown tones, darkened almost to the point of blackness.
Is this a sign that Christoph Mancke is beginning to distance himself from completely reduced form? No doubt, as, after all, this distance has been manifest in his sculptures for quite some time. Forms broken open and the element of motion are taking on increasing importance. This trend can again be easily recognized in his drawings, some of which are merely sketches of his ideas, while others are drafts for actual constructions. Perhaps this trend is also the basis for his preference for multi- partite works in which opening a form leads to an actual split, as it were. Here, in addition to the above- mentioned tensions in the works, there are unmistakable tensions between the "partners". These partners are often linked in unstable balance how unlike the purported weight, the solidity of the material! They touch and lean against each other, partners mutually supporting and holding one another, often a unit suspended between the vertical and horizontal. Incidentally, this sort of "inclination" is also to be encountered in the Representative Offices of the State of Rhineland- Palatinate in Bonn (Ill. 03). It was produced for a competition for art in building, which Christoph Mancke won in 1989; two years later he won a similar competition at Trier University. This sculpture (Ill. 09) consists again of more than one piece, whereby the individual parts distance themselves from one another, impacting with all the more force on the room or the landscape, and expressly avoid appearing like a hermetically closed work of art.
Equally, the pieces of the smaller multi-partite sculptures often do not really touch; they are instead separated or should we say, linked to one another? by the portal or gate-like openings. If you insist, you can interpret these partners as the respectively feminine or masculine. However, it makes more sense to dispense with reading things into them and instead begin with what is truly intrinsic to the sculpture.
This is just as true for other works, where, by contrast, the partners merge, truly flow into one another the way convex and concave forms do. And for exactly this reason, they function as counterpoints to each other. The other variant would then be one in which both pieces repeat a theme homophonically, only allowing slight and extremely harmonic variations. But one thing is certain: anyone viewing Christoph Mancke's work more intensively will find countless other variations, and, to return to our original metaphor, will recognize that the vocabulary of these sculptures is far richer than superficial observation might suggest. Indeed, the system of rules is far more complex and complicated than meets the eye. But this is exactly what makes examining these works, studying their language, so exciting and stimulating.