Erin Manning

Article Bio Works Projects www
body, identity, motion, philosophy
Visual Arts (mixed media, New Media, painting, performance, sculpture)
America, North
created on:
June 10, 2008
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Movements of the Body

´Walking is the constraint. When you walk, you keep one foot on the ground, always. Two feet off the ground and you’re jumping. With one foot on the ground you can move in three directions: forward, backward, sideways. If you move sideways in the “wrong” direction, you move across. That´s walking: one foot at a time.“ From this everyday experience the Canadian artist and theorist Erin Manning goes on, in her new book ´Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy´, to think about the movement of the body, which has scope enough to be able to create relationships and meaning.
"There comes a step to one side, then another movement, quicker, as if one had to get through a crowd to reach a bus. Shorter steps follow, since someone is in the way, then a gap is seen and filled in, being just big enough for one person. And the first experience of walking leads to another, to the experience that there is no walking alone. Walking in and with the world is the only way of walking. From this realization it is only a small step to a form of walking which creates a relationship. Till then one has hardly noticed that in crossing a crowd to get to a bus, and in then using a gap to enable one to move forward, one is suddenly next to someone. When being next to someone changes into being with someone, walking is ´more than taking a step: it creates a movement´." It is easy to imagine how such a movement can acquire other qualities in thinking of dancing. In her tango-project, Manning explores how, from an alternation of guiding and being guided, when no one is still sure who is doing which, there is a swapping of individualities, whose external relations are space and time. This already has a political dimension, as is described in her book ´Touch, Sense, Movement, Sovereignty´ (2006).
But Erin Manning´s artistic activities are many. She paints, works with new media, creates sculptures, designs clothes and develops performances from pieces of clothing. In all these activities a central role is played by movements of the body meant to create relationships and meaning. Thus she created the collection ´Folds to Infinity´ (from 2006 on), which is made up of hundreds of prefabricated pieces of cloth held together by bottons, buttonholes, magnets, hooks and eyes etc. In the most varied way clothes can be made out of these pieces. This enables the usual relationship between clothes and body-size to be reversed. The body no longer has to make do with standardized wares but can itself determine the wares´ size. Moreover Manning developed a performance, ´Slow Clothes´ (2008), as an experiment in movement on the basis of this collection. Participants were invited to put their clothes together out of the single pieces of cloth, then to move around, eat and drink and thus become a changeable mobile architecture. Clothing became something actively put together and not something to which wearers passively adapted, and this performance can be further developed in the above-mentioned sense of a dance in its relationship with the surrounding space.
Another of Erin Manning´s key projects is ´The Sense Lab´. Together with other artists and theorists like the Canadian philosopher Brian Massumi, this interdisciplinary laboratory explores the relationship between artistic creativity and theoretical research. The main thing is once more the body´s movement and the relationships and meanings which it engenders. It is no coincidence that the director of the ´Sense Lab´ is Manning herself, since her own artistic work is accompanied and inspired by theoretical reflections and her activities as a lecturer at the Concordia University in Montreal. Both at the Institute for Film and at the Studio of the Arts she holds courses on themes like ´Flesh and Form: the process of research and artistic creation´ (2008), cinema in Canada and Quebec, film theory, movement in contemporary art, themes related to the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and so on. Erin Manning focuses on things like the body, movement, meaning, identity and territory, and moves from political theories to Canadian films and contemporary art in theory and practice.
Erin Manning is one of those rare artists for whom artistic practice and philosophical reflection are no contradictions but rather two sides of the same coin.
Author: Dietrich Sagert


This Canadian artist and philosopher, with a doctorate in political theory from the University of Hawaii, teaches at Concordia University in Montreal. She has worked at painting, sculpture, dancing and fashion design; she has received a prize for research in the fields of the arts, the humanities and social sciences; and she has worked with Brian Massumi, for instance in ´The Sense Lab´, which she directs at Concordia University.


Works (Selected)

Exhibition / Installation
Mixed Medias: Organs, 2005 Sculptures: Creatures, 2008 Textiles: Folds to Infinity - the collection (2006-) Performance: Slow Clothes, Society for Arts and Technologie, Montreal, 2008 Events with the Sense Lab: Bodies-Bits/// Corps Données, 2004; Technologies of Lived Abstraction Event Series, 2005; Genealogy of Biopolitics (conference), 2005; Dancing the Virtual, 2006; Housing the Body, Dressing The Environment, 2007; Into the Folds, 2008

Publications (Selected)

Published Written
Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press (in press) Politics of Touch: Sense Movement, Sovereignity. Minneapolis, Minnesota UP, 2006 Ephemeral Territories: Representing Nation, Home and Identity in Canada. Minneapolis, Minnesota UP, 2003 (Ed. with B. Massumi), Technologies of Lived Abstraction, MIT Press (Ed.), Inflexions: A Journal for Research-Creation,


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.


Singularities | Einmaligkeiten

(11 June 08 - 21 June 08)