Manuel Poitras

Manuel Poitras: Material Agency

How might objects redirect approaches to crisis? Focusing on the climate crisis and reflecting on feelings of existential anxiety, Manuel turns to the material form in an attempt to re-assess action. Stemming from NeoMaterialist thinking (a thought that explores how ‘the commodity has become the historical subject’) Manuel’s practice seeks to develop an object-centred conversation, where the object becomes the catalyst to discussion. Now, he is part of the 49th round of PILOTENKUECHE’s international residence program.

A New Hierarchy

In Leipzig’s Flea Markets, Manuel finds his materials. Sports clothing, trainers, bicycle wheels and an inflatable kayak are invited into Manuel’s studio, awaiting their next role. Manuel interacts with these found objects through a cycle of care. The objects are collected, cleaned, repaired. Eventually, they are returned back into the world. These nurturing acts contrast from the object’s previous experiences of fast-paced consumption. Instead, the acts promote a sensitivity towards the object that allows it to have ‘agency’. Similarly, we begin to see the object in a different light. What can the object become when it is not trained to serve the ego?

Through Manuel’s eyes, the ego within capitalist life exists beyonds its means. It has become too present. With this knowledge, we might understand why Manuel uses natural elements such as water within his work. Water is an element that has little bounds, it cannot be manipulated easily. We also know of its ability to cause relentless damage throughout the world. So, when working with a material such as water, Manuel’s own control is reduced. Water flows throughout Manuel’s object installations, generating scenes that are active and sometimes, foreboding. These microhappenings reflect larger scale matters such as flooding- a natural disaster that is seen to be directly related to the climate crisis.

Pouring, Streaming, Overflowing, Flooding

These thoughts are touched upon in a previous installation Manuel developed named DIY Flooding/ The Reading Room. In this installation, a stream of water travels through a tower of domestic objects. Vases, chairs, baskets and tables become weightless forms that tumble from the ceiling to the floor. Meanwhile, water circulates through the assemblage, uniting the individual objects as one.

Yet, the water plays a menacing role, dampening a pile of books that find themselves stuck in the installation. This is an act of purposeful destruction. The books contain libertarian and neoliberal thought which Manuel wishes to destroy. The flooded texts champion individualism over collective responsibility and action, and as such are seen by Manuel as both the cause of the current environmental crisis and the reason why we can’t seem to face the enormous challenge presented by it. Suddenly, the installation becomes weighted … heavy … drenched. Manuel writes that ‘the act of flooding creates a unique ecosystem of interactions between water and the materiality of each object’. The use of water as a source of damage to historical thought displays a stark visualisation of the uselessness of egocentric views which create divisions between the figure, object and nature.


‘The Futile Ego’

Here, at PILOTENKUECHE, Manuel continues to explore the futility of egocentric systems. This time, through the lens of the sports industry. Perplexed by apocalypse survival camps and flashy gyms, he explores the tragedies of personal bests, pricey protein bars and big muscles when in the face of the natural disaster. Within a larger narrative, he exposes the hopelessness of the ego; preparing itself for the impossible while not engaging with the nature and materials that it shares the world with.

In his studio, we see the sporty objects beginning to come together to form an installation. Sport shoes climb up a spinning bicycle wheel, powered by a stream of water. However, the wheel is harnessed in one position and is unable to travel forward. Again, the water begins to expose the weaknesses of the ego, which cannot help itself in the face of crisis. Manuel’s work appears to quietly examine the tragedy of humanness, through an object-orientated lens. The object allows us to see past the ego, and address existential crisis in a tactile, and sensitive manner.

Written by Kizzie MacNeill

Find out more about what Manuel is up to over on his website and Instagram.

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