from the programme of the 32. Kassel Dokfest, November 2015

Dresden 2014 / video projector, HD player, amplifier, 2 speakers, subwoofer, object (37 min.)

This hiking tour seems to have no end and yet the hiker presents himself with a steady flow of power in his forward thrust, which leads him through this forest, through green meadows, along river courses or through swamps with dead branches and over rough rocks. He remains to pursue his path with determination. Neither effort nor hardship can be sensed, nor an optimistic mood or fatigue. This is why we – while following him cinematically – cannot predict how long he has been en route, let alone how long he will be able or willing to continue this way. After some time, one notices that the landscapes begin to repeat themselves and one begins to suspect that the hiker is moving in circles. And indeed, this work is an experiment with the video loop as a cinematic structure. What seems like a repetition is a sequence of singular films, which have been shot at the same location but are cut together from different sources of film material. The consequence of scenes and therefore the landscapes of the seven five-minute films are the same, the shots and details vary. The question arises, how long we would we watch a film before noticing that the replay actually is not a replay and what it means when – after seven films – the actual repetition starts; when the film is really looped in its presentation as an installation. The hiker himself and his presence seem to fall a bit out of time. A vest and a striped shirt, a backpack and a wandering stick are far from today’s functional wear and so he seems much more like a contemporary of Caspar David Friedrich than of our days. Therein lies a desired image, which has existed for a long time in our culture. The longing for a simple life in harmony with nature already existed in antiquity in the imagination of a rural Arcadia. Other examples are the idea of the great hike in Johann Gottfried Seume’s book “Spaziergang nach Syrakus” (“Walk to Syracuse”, 1803) or the imagination of a retreat to the woodlands in Henry David Thoreau`s cult book “Walden” (1854). All of these images are also images of masculinity; blue prints, which today are interchangeable and available as one identity among many. In his work Manuel Frolik stages such spaces and images, myths of male freedom and self-determination; for example as a sailor, as a mechanic or as the cool friend of Dash Snow or Kurt Cobain. But this does not happen without ironic distance: his sailor is a corpse, and Dash Snow as well as Kurt Cobain are also already dead, therefore “cool” per se. The hiker undertakes his hike as a projection in a forest worker’s hut. The image appears as a kind of slide picturing longings, like a photo-wallpaper presses the dream of a far away world onto the domestic walls. Frolik adds objects to this room, which make it seem like a life-size doll house or like rooms of the past frozen into big dioramas, which one can come across in local history museums.

Holger Birkholz


SPFX, or: Nature after Nature.

Opinion statement regarding Manuel Frolik’s silicone studies by Prof. Dr. Dietmar Rübel, Chair of Art History Academy of Fine Arts Munich, 2018.

Two years ago, Manuel Frolik completed a series of seven silicone sculptures shaped like chunks of wood and roots. The intricate studies are presented on dark wooden bases with curved legs, whereby at first glance the artefacts seem like bonsai trees or particularly opulent cacti.

Yet viewers are quickly filled with astonishment and react with a shudder. For on closer inspection it becomes clear that human and animal hair protrudes from these plant- and wood-shaped forms, and the objects’ peculiar shades of colour have the appearance of unhealthy skin tones, or evoke an incarnation of something deathly ill or no longer human. What grips viewers emanates from the special effects, or SPFX for short, which permeate the sculptures, making the impossible – such as person-wood-animal-hybrids – possible, while simultaneously revealing and reflecting upon the underlying methods of the artistic practice. The sculptures seem like found objects from a former film set: ‘As-If objects’ that come from horror or science fiction films and radiate the distinct characteristics of creepiness. And the artist does indeed use the materials and techniques of make-up artists, or works closely with them. Using expensive materials and laborious craftsmanship, the seemingly natural horrors emerge in irritating realism – even though these absurdities are completely artificially produced.

In this work, Manuel Frolik examines spellbinding questions around aesthetics and the materiality of the (post-)modern, and particularly around the present debates about ‘nature after nature’ and ‘Dark Ecology’. Indeed, the effect of his two materials – hair and rubber – is closely linked to debates that began around the year 1800 about the materiality of the arts. The real hair he implants into the silicon forms brings to mind one of the foundational texts of modern sculpture: Johann Gottfried Herder’s 1778 book Plastik: Einige Wahrnehmungen über Form und Gestalt aus Pygmalions bildendem Traume (Sculpture: Some observations on shape and form from Pygmalion’s creative dream), and the passage which describes the aesthetic horror – or from today’s point of view ‘the subversive potential’ – which the poet experienced from seeing hair on sculptures. There it states: “The little individual hairs send shudders through us. Like a chip out of a knife blade, they are just something that impairs the form, and that does not belong there”. This also indicates the extent to which modern art is tied to its materials, and how experimentation with new materials and substances has emancipated itself from form – to which Herder believed materiality did not ‘belong’.

A special place in the history and theory of the arts, in addition to cast iron and steel, is held by rubber. In everyday speech, rubber refers to a heterogeneous group of natural and man-made materials resembling India rubber, and which can be moulded, pressed, cut, bonded, sewn or foam-formed. Thereby it remains very flexible and thus, when touched or lightly shaken, Manuel Frolik’s sculptures begin to vibrate and wobble in an eerie fashion. Due to the flexibility of natural rubber, there are applications for it in almost every area of our daily lives. Natural rubber manufactured from latex – the milky sap of various tropical plants – was employed in Africa and in Central- and South America as early as two thousand years ago. Unstable raw rubber reached Europe around 1750, but it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that it could be made more durable through vulcanisation, making this elastic, pliable material suitable for industrial production.

After 1909, rubber was also produced synthetically. Silicone rubber has been available for use since 1945. Its molecular chain is no longer made of carbon, but of alternating silicone and oxygen atoms instead. This astounding material is the main component of the silicone series of works, and even today its aesthetic effect is baffling – certainly comparable to early descriptions that came out of the first Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. As Gottfried Semper noted in 1860, in the first volume of his principle theoretical work Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten oder praktische Ästhetik (Style in the technical and tectonic arts; or, Practical aesthetics): “Only recently has an important natural material brought forth a type of revolution in the most diverse fields of industry, and this is due to its remarkable malleability, with which it yields and lends itself to all purposes. I speak of gummi elasticum, or caoutchouc (...) the stylistic range of which is the broadest imaginable, since its almost unlimited sphere of application is that of imitation. This material is, as it were, the mimic among useful materials”.

The giddiness caused by this versatile material and its endless possibilities led to rubber being used in arts and crafts during the ‘long nineteenth century’ to imitate other natural materials.

And this quality also comes to the fore in Manuel Frolik’s series when he produces deceptively real replicas of chunks of wood and roots that he collected earlier on long hikes. These surrogates are thus based on actual natural forms from which the artist makes laborious moulds, then producing casts which he paints with an airbrush. Besides the specific material properties which the artist uses extremely skilfully, the final stage – the coloured version of the work – adds another dimension, and one which has been in particular demand when working with rubber in twentieth century fine art. The fact that synthetic latex milk or silicon rubber constitutes an amorphous material with skin-like qualities makes it particularly suitable for depicting alternate concepts of corporeality due to its mimetic malleability.

In their body-related art, many artists – from Marcel Duchamp and Louise Bourgeois through Eva Hesse and Hannah Wilke to Matthew Barney and Nathaniel Mellors – make use of the notion that slumbers in rubber of a corporeality with no clear boundaries. In Manual Frolik’s work this anthropomorphic materiality gives rise to hybrid creatures, in which the human body has almost completely united with animal and vegetable components. Only the individual hairs sprouting on the flesh-coloured found objects of his silicone series evoke human figures in these absurd forms – although in fact only two of the sculptures feature real human hair: the rest is from animals. We are seeing the last traces or phases of a mutation in a post-human world, and they can also appear as thing-forms or organic vestiges. Manual Frolik leaves the endeavour of humanity behind as a hairy problem.

In all of this, something is created that may constitute a speculative romanticism – but it is logically executed as Nature after Nature. For it is clear that the series of silicone sculptures is also about departing from the romantic concept of nature that has characterised European aesthetics since around the year 1800.

In precisely the spirit of theoreticians such as Timothy Morton or Bruno Latour, everything that surrounds living creatures is understood as nature here – whether that be synthetic materials, everyday objects or complex machines. In visualising a so-called “Dark Ecology”, the world should be viewed from a non-human perspective, thus also from the viewpoint of animals or plants – which could account for the sculptures’ uncanny allure.

However, there is no “back to nature” in these theories – and this is the greatest horror that Manuel Frolik’s sculptures elicit.

For there is no more ‘nature’. Finished. Gone. It is a matter of no longer understanding that which was once nature as the antithesis of culture, and instead seeing the achievements of humanity, but also of animals and plants, as a part of today’s environment – as a complex network of hybrids.

Thus, Manuel Frolik’s series is initially bewildering because of its eerie materiality and its manifestation as human-wood-animal hybrids. With its speculative romanticism based on special effects but also on an initial orientation on inevitability, it possibly offers a rethinking of Nature after Nature


Phytophilia Dresdense, 2017

from: remembering the future, exhibition catalog

Manuel Frolik´s process-based work is known for its artistically appropriation and alienation of ´found footage´ or detailed reproductions of hyper realistic or amorphous sculptural figures and objects. He questions authenticity and authorship and plays with our ideas of fake and original.

For “remembering the future“ Frolik worked together with the collection Herbarium Dresdense and the Botanical Garden of the Technical University of Dresden. About dealing with the typological appearance of herbarium vouchers, some of which go back to the 18th century, Frolik made scans of new plant material from the Botanical Garden, that recur on the historical evidence, and have an independent pictorial transformation of the material.

Gwendolin Kremer, 2017

Jessica Buskirk: Interview with Manuel Frolik

Jessica Buskirk: How would you describe your work for Remembering the Future?

Manuel Frolik: It’s a photographic work inspired by Herbarium Dresdense, focusing on exotic plants from the Botanical Garden in Dresden. Originally I had a different idea. I was in the hebarium looking for material for sculptural works, but I decided to work on a photographic project because I was so interested in the way that botanists handle their plant material.

Jessica Buskirk: Can you be more specific? What’s remarkable about their approach?

Manuel Frolik: I don’t think the botanists are even aware of it, since it’s part of their daily work, and they’re used to it. But for me as an outsider it was interesting to see even just how the plants in the herbarium are displayed and how people interact with them. Since the plants for the herbarium are dried, their shape is drastically different compared to their original appearance or living plants. For botanists, certain characteristics of the plants are significant and have to be presented in the herbarium. The plants are dried, they’re dead, their stems and stalks are severely bent if they’re too long, etc. That was actually the first thing I noticed in the herbarium. I asked the scientists about the reasons for this and the resulting changes. They said they are so aggressive in order to make it clear that it is a human intervention. That means a plant is severely bent so that it is obvious that it didn’t grow that way, but rather was “brutally” forced into this unnatural shape. It should look as if a human has had a hand in its shape for the display.

Jessica Buskirk: It surprised you because it is so unaesthetic?

Manuel Frolik: I wouldn’t say unaesthetic. It has a totally different aesthetic quality. That’s what interests me. Jessica Buskirk: You’ve described how the botanists’ approach inspired your work. Do you see your photography as a continuation of that or more as a counterpoint to it?

Manuel Frolik: No, I’m really trying to do exactly what I saw the botanists do. The difference between my work and the images in historic herbariums, some of which are 200 years old, is that I try to leave out the visible historic traces. That means I don’t use yellowed paper, old handwriting, etc., which play a big part in the experience when we view an old herbarium today. I’m going to use high-resolution scans under an acrylic sheet so that the presentation has a cooler feeling and a high-tech look. I try to exclude the historic aspects and concentrate on how the plants are presented in this format. That’s why it’s so important to me to start with the actual processes used in herbariums.

Jessica Buskirk: Which has impressed you the most?Manuel Frolik: I was looking for peculiarities. I looked at a total of 1000 sheets or more in the herbarium. I found two of them simply breathtaking. These two displays really opened up a new viewing experience for me. The others were more within the realm of the familiar, the expected. And so I try to hone in on these special cases in my work.

Jessica Buskirk: Can you speak a little more about the scanning process, its concrete steps and how your pictures will look in the end?

Manuel Frolik: It was lucky that there was a good scanner on site at the herbarium. I had already had the idea of scanning the displays beforehand. With scanning you can get a certain depth of focus. That’s why a scan always looks cleaner overall than a photograph, which is sharper in the middle than at the edges. There are now scanning processes that make a larger depth of focus possible, allowing for a depth of focus of about 2 centimeters, so that the parts of the plant that don’t lie flat are still reproduced well.

Jessica Buskirk: Is the process more important than the product for you, or is that totally not the case? You’re working now in the herbarium, but as an artist...?

Manuel Frolik: For me the main thing is how the ideas materialize. That means the photographs that end up hanging on the wall are the focus. Of course, how they were created plays a significant role, but the resulting work is what’s important.