Singularity by Vito Manfredi
Watercolour on paper, 30 x 21cm
Framed in light timber frame and off white mat.
Framed size 46cm high x 38cm wide.(Framing is shown on other drawings by Vito, please check his shop page to see framing).
Delirium Catalogue Essay
Vito Manfredi lives in a strange world indeed. Hands, scrotums, nipples and mouths morph and drip. Mountains scream and flesh moans. There is only one thing to be certain of with these works – expect the unexpected.
At first these works cause a shudder of repulsion; their fleshy forms are so unlikely. But his deft, lyrical line-work also contains an element of humour and seduction. While the forms may be initially unnerving, his gentle wash of colour is beguiling. Opting for pale blue and pinks, Manfredi utilises the colours of a children’s nursery, restful and serene.
These works are not unlike illustrations for a children’s book from another dimension. These are worlds akin to Dr. Suess and Lewis Carroll linked decisively to Freud’s notion of the uncanny.
In Siblings we encounter a Rorschach test from a gynecologists nightmare. A bulbous figure, bulging with fatty tissue, is giving birth to two ghost-like forms. The truncated nature of Manfredi’s framing gives pause to wonder what the rest of this ‘mother’ figure must look like.
But these foetus-like urchins must be fed and in Liquid one of them is about to delightfully absorb succor from its mother. A form that is immediately teats, nipples, testicle and finger emerges from a cloud of ectoplasm. What drips towards the hungry infant could be spermatozoa mixed with blood. The grinning infant, already sprouting fuzzy hairs, is clearly a human thumb anticipating the touch of the feminine finger-nipple.
In Manfredi’s world a hand has a carbuncle-like spine and webbed fingers. In Formation it drapes elegantly in a gesture of repose, the digits tinged with blue in the brisk cold air of its Spartan environs. In Twobirds and expression he reveals that, not content with one phallus, this creature sports two avian-headed flaccid cocks and ejaculates and/or urinates steam.
Not content to keep these works one dimensional, they creep from the walls to take on full form. Manfredi has always dabbled with sculpture, and as with his previous works on paper his earlier sculptures suggested an element of the slapstick. With his new works, both sculptural and on paper, there is a new subtlety – they are less overt. They could be mysterious deep-sea growths or a strange fungi in the damp environs of the basement.
These works are the poetry of the bizarre. They contain elements of what Sigmund Freud discussed in his 1919 essay, The Uncanny.
“The subject of the ‘uncanny’… is undoubtedly related to what is frightening — to what arouses dread and horror; equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general. Yet we may expect that a special core of feeling is present which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One is curious to know what this common core is which allows us to distinguish as ‘uncanny’; certain things which lie within the field of what is frightening. …”
In essence Freud describes the Uncanny as something we do not recognise, that is frightening because we cannot easily classify the object or situation around us. Freud uses the German word unheimlich which is clearly the opposite of heimlich (homely): “the opposite of what is familiar; and we are tempted to conclude that what is ‘uncanny’ is frightening precisely because it is not known and familiar.”
But in a strange way Manfredi has found an approach that seems to balance the unheimlich with the heimlich. In part this is the gentle palette he utilises, the cosy and gentle nursery room blues and pinks. And while they may be uncanny in their distinctly alien nature, we can simultaneously recognise their component parts – a finger, a breast, a face.
In many ways Manfredi is creating an entire world here. His work slots into a strange other-worldly aesthetic that is emerging in Melbourne which embraces the ghost-like forms of Rhys Lee, the grotesqueries of Nick Mangan and the peculiar semi-organic structures of Benjamin Armstrong. But Manfredi’s gently undulating planet is very much his own.
In many ways this body of work resolves many of the bodily issues raised in Manfredi’s last exhibition at Jenny Port Gallery. Conference, in 2007, was in some ways a more playful affair, hinting at a rather nightmarish version of Bananas in Pajamas before veering off into strange mutated amalgams. Here the conference has turned to pure delirium, an element of pure mayhem has entered. But what makes this so wonderful is the ‘softness’ of the mutations. Manfredi’s beautifully crafted creatures hint at family, nurture and reproduction and, finally, a sense of redemption. His critters and the strange world in which they live may be different, they may even in some eyes be hideously deformed. But at the end of the day they want the same things we all want – your compassion.
Catalogue essay by Ashley Crawford