Peter Liaunig – Rede Menage - 2020

Manfred Wakolbinger’s gaze since his childhood has been directed outward and upward. He was fascinated by the first satellite Sputnik and wanted and still wants to know how far the human influence reaches. Manfred is first and foremost a self-educated sculptor. He gained his first experience in tool machining and tool making and even though he evolved his artistic ideas and sculptures in the 1980ies, he never resigned from the technical component. His entities are precisely constructed, are built. Thus he is a sculptor who creates his sculptures from his favorite material. In the beginning, they were monolithic sculptures that were almost hermetically sealed with their rough, concrete-like surface.

Right from the start the pedestal-topic becomes clearly visible, which in the art history of the 20th century was celebrated by Rodin and continued by Brancusi until artists like Giacometti reduced the pedestal to the plinth or dissolved it in the figure.

In the second half of the 20th century, artists were reluctant or dismissive on the subject of pedestals and left the field to galleries and museums. The art, the works had to be able to exist without the elevation.

However, Manfred Wakolbinger made the pedestal-theme his own from the very beginning. Thus, the first works from the later 1980s formed concrete forms whose outer shells were both, pedestal and sculpture. These copper figures stand on specifically shaped concrete bodies and form a unity.

Manfred Wakolbinger’s next step leads him to let his copper sculptures sink into the pedestal. Inside, these blocks then developed space that, in contrast to the rather repellent outer shell, are varigated with warm, red-orange copper sheeting. This can be interpreted as an intellectual concept, but from my point of view it is more. The deeper the copper sculptures slide into the base, the more the perspective is reversed and the viewer is prompted to inspect the inside. This inner world is mostly more organic, playful and confusing than the sober exterior. Manfred Wakolbinger turns the tables and converts the outward view into an intrinsic insight.

While many of the early copper works were very neatly and precisely soldered, from around 2005 onwards the traces of work are often left visible. They become part of the sculptures, which are increasingly transformed from geometric bodies into figures. These figures get a representativeness through their design and also through the individual traces of work. They leave their pedestals and glass housings and become independent personalities. Manfred Wakolbinger no longer calls them after their building materials concrete, glass, copper, but they are located as PLACEMENTS in real and partly in virtual spaces. As TRAVELLER they get legs, become big, partly huge aliens and go as outdoor stainless steel-figures into all directions, just like their creator, who starts diving in the year 2000 and opens up a new world for himself.

Space may still be too far away for our generation, but the oceans lie before us and represent a barely explored dimension. Manfred Wakolbinger discovers for him as a sculptor the sea and its depth as a completely new dimension, with an equally new sense of space. Breathing in and out as the most essential element in diving suddenly becomes conscious in the depths. Invisible things like the air we breathe suddenly take on a three-dimensional form of bubbles and streaks of air. Diving to greater depths forces one to decompress, where the nitrogen in the blood must be continuously exhaled again. Manfred Wakolbinger takes advantage of these decompression phases and discovers the beauty of the rising bubbles, which he captures as organic formations with his camera. The floating and gliding is thus also found in his work and presumably the head formations in the large sculptures, which Manfred Wakolbinger calls FORCES from 2012 and which sometimes look like snakes, can also be traced back to these underwater impressions. Furthermore, while night diving off the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, Manfred Wakolbinger discovers the world of the salps, a glassy subgroup of the cordate animals, creatures with backbones, just like us humans. The body of these nearly transparent animals is a horseshoe-shaped or ring-shaped band of muscles called the gill bowel. By contracting the gill bowel, these animals, which rise at night from depths of several hundred meters, filter plankton and move forward in a pulsating motion. These creatures also fascinate Manfred Wakolbinger and they are captured in miraculous photographs. In 2016, he invited us to see his interpretation of this newly discovered world with an installation in the Artbox at the Museumsquartier. The Artbox is a huge glass cube, an oversized aquarium, in which a delicate, line-like structure made of copper floats in front of a huge picture of rising bubbles. Through the window we were able to inspect a world normally hidden from us humans.

As already with the copper works sunk into the glass base, glass body, Wakolbinger presents a line and sign-like fragile copper structure that floats freely in space. One such example can be seen here in the exhibition entitled GALAXIES. Similar works are called CIRCULATIONS, which can be traced back to his preoccupation with blood vessels. It is not the view into space but into the inner of the sea, animals and humans that leads Manfred Wakolbinger to new works.

And Manfred Wakolbinger knows how to use digital tools. He applies the underwater pictures of the salps and coverts them into something new, which he calls REVERSALS. Some examples of which can be seen in this exhibition, such as the incredible motion pictures he generates with pulsating galaxies and expanding worlds. Wakolbinger virtually makes his childhood dream come true – the gaze into space. By decreasing the photos, through erasing their seductive color. What remains are only the black-and-white structures of the photographed creatures.