Valentin Manz Essay

Valentin Manz Essay

Valentin Manz
Fall 2007 Fellow
During his fall, 2007 residency, Valentin Manz was affectionately described by fellow artists at the Creative Glass Center of America as “the wild man.” Manz is as committed to his work as any resident ever at CGCA; but the aims and strategies of that work are difficult to pin down and Manz himself is averse to delimiting anything he might do now or in the future.

Among glass artists, Manz stands almost alone in the camp of automatic surrealism. In the more familiar dream-like, Dalí-esque type of surrealism, sometimes called “magic realism,” techniques of illusionism are brought to bear on illogical, poetical scenes. Although illusionistic surrealists may use chance to determine some elements of their work, for truly automatic surrealists accidents of material and juxtaposition are primary means of generating often well nigh-opaque imagery.

Manz drips and pours molten glass with stunning casualness. Originally trained as a ceramist by his ceramist father, he well understands the properties of glass, although in his current work he is indifferent to displays of skill. He admires the sand-cast work made by sculptor Hank Adams, Artistic Director of the CGCA, for its expressive and intuited elements. Adams, who is widely admired for his cast large scale portrait heads, generally works with a clear program of action though it allows for accidental effects. Manz goes further. He is unpredictable — no doubt even to himself. Like Adams, Manz often incorporates metal elements like copper into his hot glass. Manz enjoys combining finished glass elements with found metal and other found materials in large, sometimes environmental, sometimes kinetic works.

Believed to have used more glass (probably 4,000 pounds) than any other Resident Fellow in the twenty-four-year CGCA fellowship program, Manz says, “Glass is exciting because it’s hot, and dangerous. You can see through it and it works well with the light.”

Manz has extensive international experience in book arts and performance, puppetry, and films on global and local issues in, among other places, Turkey, India, and Indonesia. He has worked with puppets since childhood and was associated with the Spiral Q activist group in Philadelphia. He realized one of his fellowship goals by mounting an unconventional puppet performance involving glass objects and spoken text. Manz possesses a mysterious charisma that draws others to him and engages their participation in his projects. In addition to the contributions of numerous assistants, interns and volunteers at Wheaton Arts, Manz enlisted the cooperation of his co-Fellows, Leanne Williams and Jim Dennison.

He based the performance on the absurdist play Elizaveta Bam by Russian Danil Charms. At twilight, participants placed glass elements and fires in a small convoy of boats which were poled into sight from around a bend in the stream flowing beneath a pier at Wheaton Arts. There the audience and Leanne Williams, who spoke a dramatic absurdist text extracted from the play, waited, watched and listened. The meaning of the event was unclear but its drama and its unpredictability were. The visual conjunction of water, fire, and glass were memorable.

Manz notes that Charms was labeled “mad” and imprisoned by Stalin. He starved to death in 1943. Manz intends that his use of Charms’ writing will encourage people to question authority. “I like things that are surprising in the moment. Not making sense is very threatening to people who want others not to think. Not making sense makes you think.”

A native of Bavaria, Manz now lives in London (though he has also spent a fair amount of time in the US). Manz works with disadvantaged children in an alternative school setting “run by a private charity. I inspire them; they inspire me and it’s back and forth.” He says he is simultaneously studying Art Psychotherapy part time but Manz seems to convert every moment into an absurdist performance.

Art for him is not about is producing artifacts: objects of monetary value or decorative significance. He stored the glass things he made at CGCA in a commercial storage space, perhaps with the intention of placing them in future installations. Although his performances are documented on film, at this time he does not attempt to market or capitalize on them.

Manz commits one hundred percent to whatever he does. Every CGCA Fellow is a distinctive personality; however, Manz stands out as perhaps the most intense, oblique, and vividly, if mysteriously, engaged.