The experience of time pervades the work of Manon de Boer. This is an extended experience of time, firmly anchored in the conditions of creation that incessantly produces a present and presence and resists a normative, functional and productive concept of time, like that imposed in all spheres of life – an all-encompassing time, governed by work and the production of value. Manon investigates the possibility of the interrupting of normative time and seeks to give an answer – or an image – to the moment at which creativity interrupts and manifests itself, in a suspended, free time, when nothing can turn into something, anything; a fragile state of passage based on discontinuity and fragmentation, which affirms or recovers the radical nature of boredom and the urgency of leisure.
The time of creation – or the assertion of another time as a condition of creation – would here be thought of and experienced as a plastic, organic, unstable material, a state of reverie marked by the random, in openness and freedom from the limitations of purpose. Seeing or being with Manon’s works requires us to have a relationship with the time that passes, making present an internal time, an unarmed vulnerability, of which the hands of the clock don’t mark the rhythm. A suspension of time (or the emergence of a time-potency) that, here too, is that of our poetic relationship with the images, both the images we see (which are given to us by the works) and the images we produce inside ourselves, anchored in the memories of experiences and fantasies, without distinction.
In her works – whether through capturing an action already carried out or an action that manifests itself in real time in front of the camera – Manon proposes a moment that establishes a bridge between the inside and the outside, between the interior (the unconscious, internal rhythm of the body, the inhabited spaces) and the exterior (the conscious, outside the body, or outside the architectural structures that shelter us).
In 2016, in the film An Experiment in Leisure (2016-2019), Manon created a work-essay on the experience of leisure, or nothing time. The camera focuses on a Norwegian coastal landscape, a deserted scene crossed only by the passing time, perceptible in the atmospheric variations and the breathing of the elements: the sound of the wind and the snow falling, the cries of birds out of shot. We see the same in the repetition, the interruption, which places us, as spectators, face-to-face with the long duration of the images, challenging our capacity for concentration and commitment. Voices interrupt at times, speaking the lines of an essay by the artist and psychoanalyst Marion Milner about leisure (nothing) as a freeing act.
Also dating from 2016, the film The Untroubled Mind is placed side by side in the exhibition with the trilogy From Nothing to Something to Something Else, as if Manon wanted to anchor here her first gesture in the search for that moment/time in which, from nothing, something happens, as if here nothing were already full of something. But the time of childhood also comes up in The Untroubled Mind, extended in the trilogy to adolescence. Childhood and adolescence mark a time of psychic and bodily development that comes before the regulated and externalised time of the adult age, subordinated by work, punctuated by the precise rhythm of the clock and the calendar, but also by the hierarchical organisation of writing, learnt and internalised at school. The title of the work comes from an excerpt of the book Painting, Writings, Remembrances, by Agnes Martin, in which the artist ponders inspiration and its relationship with a calm, unworried state of mind, identifying childhood as a time when tranquillity and the development of sensitivity and, as a result, of inspiration, are more present. The film shows a series of construction games – such as sculptures or drawings of shapes and colours in the interior space of the house – created by the artist’s son, who juxtaposes, superimposes and crosses over objects. These constructions form variable, repeated and unexpected structures, that test and try out compositions and equilibriums, recorded by the fixed camera, also focusing on the elusive time of childhood, a lost time. The making of the film, like the making of the constructions, carries on unconcernedly (and with time) the inventory of these forms that fleetingly inhabit the space of the house.
In the trilogy From Nothing to Something to Something Else (parts 1, 2 and 3), the bodies appear in an indoor space, always with a glimpse of ‘the outside’: a seaside landscape in Cornwall, the cities of Lisbon and Brussels. In each moment of the trilogy, Manon invites teenagers to a game of internal (de)construction and discovery, proposing improvised exercises in which they test the possibilities of creativity in the informal context of the creation of sounds with musical instruments (Bella, Maia and Nick, 2018), the creation of movements linked to dance (Caco, João, Mava and Rebecca, 2019), or the deconstructed context of improvisation of ‘anything’ based on the relationship of a teenager with some objects and with the space (Oumi, 2019). Being and staying in a place, in a time that is free from direction or obvious expectation, brings about in these ‘essays’ a near dissolving of the bodies in the space – lying, leaning, sitting – with the surface of the body coming into contact with the surface of the floor and with the walls, particularly in the second and third parts of the trilogy. And the bodies breathe, they makes themselves heard from inside, without words, with no other narrative than their own existence in those places, in the world. These are eight portraits of teenagers in a time that is also elusive, here revealed and fixed by the camera. There is something minimal, a reduction of presence and potency, almost a ‘before’ the action followed by the action that finally takes place, in the interval between times of rest and inaction.
This text was written by Rita Fabiana (Gulbekian Foundation), who co-curated with Susana Gomes Da Silva the exhibition Manon de Boer: Downtime at Calouste Gulbekian Museum, Lisbon.