With Dog Eye the Kunsthalle Munster is presenting the first solo exhibition in a German institution of the artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, currently living in Brazil. His works—comprising installations, films, soundbased works, photographs, drawings, holograms and sculptures—are marked by a poetic approach of overlapping geometric and abstract forms with organic elements: branches, leaves, insects and recently also dogs serve as integral components of Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s works. He combines and intertwines these to create an overall structure that subtly brings us to question our own position in the world, and thus also our attitude toward our environment. We are called upon to rethink the prevailing western perception based on binary thinking, in terms of subject and object, nature and culture.
Dog Eye—taking the place of an introduction to the show is the eye of a dog that has undergone a metamorphosis: it has transformed into a geometric form of indistinct origin. The animal’s intensive gaze escapes us. Through the artist’s intervention it withdraws itself from comprehension, is broken up and scattered in all directions—giving the animal’s presence an almost ghostly appearance.
The exhibition at the Kunsthalle Munster assembles more recent and older works by Daniel Steegmann Mangrané. Centred around the two films, Fog Dog (2019/2020) and Phasmides (2012), arises a network of artworks involving a wide range of media. Fog Dog is Steegmann Mangrane’s first narrative film, with the Institute of Fine Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh serving as its set. The film documents the daily life at the school, including the coexistence of human and nonhuman inhabitants—the people teaching, learning and working there, and a considerable number of stray dogs. The building was designed in the early 1950s by the architect Muzharul Islam (1923-2012), who was considered as a pioneer of Bangladeshi modernism. Characterized by its open structure and geometric shapes, boundaries between the interior and exterior seem fluid. Hence, not only dogs have found their way into the building, but also an ambient soundscape composed of the tropical surroundings and urban noises intermingles with the stories of the “inner” part of the school. In which way the past shapes the present and the future is evidenced in a conversation between two women on the continued effects of Bangladesh’s colonial past. Another narrative excursion appears in the form of a television report on the consequences of climate change, watched by the school’s night guard after dusk. The film thus illustrates the simultaneity of all kinds of events and stories capable of overcoming temporal and spatial confines. The nighttime also reveals who else is present in the building; the school is frequented by a phantom—scaring the guardian and haunting him even after the break of day.
There is also something uncanny about the film Phasmides, whose protagonists are a number of stick insects, also known as ghost insects. The insects are shown in both an organic and a geometric environment, emphasizing the continually changing relationships they have with their surroundings: it is a play with camouflage and exposure, visibility and invisibility. In the context of Daniel Steegmann Mangrane’s work, they therefore appear as a kind of allegory of his thought.
This play with visibility and invisibility is continued in a series of holograms (2013) distributed throughout the exhibition space. Some of the holograms feature a stick insect between geometric shapes, others show branches. It is through the viewer’s movement that they become visible for the latter; one has to interact with the works in order to see them. Set in contrast to this are the two Rotating Tables / Speculative Devices (2016, 2018), slowly spinning, mirroring discs on which lies a delicately split branch. Steegmann Mangrane, in different variations, performs acts of animation. By integrating aspects of movement, he creates a cinematic element—and thereby a formal play with animism. If in one work it is the movements of the viewers, in the other work a machine takes over the movement. Then again, the mural Morphogenesis / Cripsis (2019)—a geometric structure with discretely integrated sticks—quite immediately makes reference to the defence strategy of crypsis, by means of which animals try to evade their predators. Yet it likewise reveals its failure, as analysed by the French sociologist and philosopher Roger Caillois (1913-1978) in his essay on mimicry, for even though the sticks resemble their environment, they do not actually merge with it.
The geometric structures surrounding the insect in the film Phasmides or in the holograms, and appearing as recurrent elements in the collage Dog Eye (2020), are also key features of the artist’s two largescale glass works Systemic Grid 17 (Window 2) (2015) and Systemic Grid 124 (Window) (2019). They consist of handblown glass panes, meticulously cut and translated into a complex geometrical grid. The bodies and the space behind them appear distorted—a result of the artist’s direct intervention into the space, by which, like in a kaleidoscope, a static image is disrupted.
Significant to Steegmann Mangrane’s artistic practice is, among others, the philosophy of the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (born 1951), who is known, in addition to the idea of “the decolonization of thought”, for his concept of multinaturalist perspectivism, based on the indigenous peoples of America’s belief that everything is either human or animistic. The artist is concerned with finding a visual mode of expression for these thoughts, and this survey exhibition serves to illustrate his interest in versatile forms of perception.
It is in the exhibition’s intricate network of relations in which Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s universe is manifested. In addition to placing great importance on the format of the exhibition, his approach is influenced by the neoconcrete movement emerging in Brazil between the late 1950s and early 1960s. Its representatives had integrated the recipients’ physical experience directly into their works and thus triggered a process of democratization in the experience of art. Accordingly, the physical involvement of the audience also plays a vital role in Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s work: “I want all the attention, all the commitment, all the body and all the thinking of the viewer. I want him or her to be totally taken by the work or by the exhibition. I think deeply about how I can enhance the experience, and how I can steal the maximum amount of time and attention. […] You think with your body and with your movement, and the mind is a muscle. So by changing the conditions of the viewer’s body, you can change his state of mind, the way one acts or interacts, your perception of space and scale. Being capable of such transformation is what makes the medium of the exhibition so deeply rich.”
Daniel Steegmann Mangrané
curated by: Merle Radtke
Kunsthalle Munster, Munster
September 13 – January 10, 2021