Manual ~ is a life-size sculpture made of mixture of colourful paper–maché and plaster. The sculpture is identifiable because of its unusual pose, which generate an uncomfortable feeling by some of its’ viewers. At first glance it looks like an ordinary man who is taking a shower, and has sank in deep thoughts. But if the eye drops further, one discovers the alienating fact: his hand-palms are coming forward, in a very unnatural way, at the place and in the place of the genitals.
Androgynous ~ It is unclear whether Manual is a man or a woman. One could name him a feminine man’. It may be claimed that Manual is a man who is also at the same time a woman. Androgynous is the name of a phenomenon when an organism has both male and female sex organs. This phenomenon is also known as “Hermaphrodite”. In animals it exists, even as an important characteristic of the species; for examples in snails that do not have a gender (sex), they can switch from one to another.
The myth of the feminine man ~ Ovid wrote a story that describes the origin of this phenomenon of the Hermaphrodite. He tells about the water nymph Salmacis. She got exited and fell in love with the attractive boy Hermaphroditus (the son of Hermes and Aphrodite). The nymph Salamis could not control her own desire and she tried to rape Hermaphroditus while he swims in the lake. But to her misfortune, because of her female organs, she couldn’t rape the young Hermaphroditus; he simply didn’t want her… Out of frustration, Salmacis asks the gods to help her to be united with Hermaphroditus in another way. The Gods makes them into one being, who is simultaneously a man and a woman. (Metamorphoses Book IV 285-388 book XV 319).
Being handy ~ the title of the sculpture Manual means “guidebook” or instruction book. It originates from the word “Manus ” in Latin, which means: hand. The word ‘man’ is, of course, also hiding in the letters of the word Manual. It is often expected and seeing as a positive trait characterized by men when they are ‘useful’ or ‘handy’ in and around the house. Manual is “useful” in a different way.
Superstition ~ There is a (female) folk superstition that says that the size of the fingers (length and thickness) of a man corresponding to the shape (length and thickness) of his genitals. Other superstitious women look first to the size of the nose of a man to estimate his genitals size. But nowadays a serious research has been done to proof this relationship… see example article on: http://healthland.time.com/2011/07/06/penis-size-it-may-be-written-in-the-length-of-his-fingers/
Motif ~ Hands are a recurring/repeating motif in the work of the sculptress. That is not so strange because a sculptor working off courses all his life with his hands. Already as a child she used to draw figurines with flowers instead of hand palms (see child’s drawing). She did it because she always thought hands are so beautiful part of the body; she felt her hands were the most beautiful part of her body. It is a known fact that hands are very difficult to be paint or sculpt. In former times, if you had commissioned a portrait, you had to pay more money for it, if you wanted a visible hand in the portrait.
The sensitive man ~ Manual seems to embody the idea of “the sensitive man”. He is not a man who imposes himself, but rather someone who carefully asks. He is not an aggressive man, with this position of his hands, asking like this, he certainly cannot beat. He cannot force his desires. It is a very different sort of man, with a different kind of mind-set than for example Mediterranean men who walk around the streets shout and whisper to the passing-by women. Even if the women do not want or ask any attention from them. Manual is so different; he is careful and subtle with his behaviour.
Venus Capitoline ~ also known as modest or shy Venus. This classic group of sculptures is characterized by a specific gesture, which the female genitals are covered with hands. The sculpture Manual reminds this kind of classical Venus sculptures, with one big difference: Manual ‘coverings hands’ don’t cover the genitals; they became the genitals themselves. Venus (Latin) or Aphrodite (Greek) is known as the goddess of love and sexuality. She is usually depicted in paintings and statues as a reserved and a bit shy woman. These images of her are also called Venus Pudica; Pudica means literally ‘shy’. Venus posture is like a question mark; winding/binding like a snake as if she says: “Do not touch me”. She is usually portrayed with one hand that hiding her breast, and with her other hand and her long hair she hides her pubic area. It is the embodiment of all the cliché of female sexuality: a woman is expected to be cautious/conservative, keep her desires under control, and in this way seduce the man to ‘dis’cover’ the secrets of her feminine sexuality.
Melancholy and water ~ in the facial expression of the Manual one can recognize melancholic feelings. In Europe, you can often see corroded sculptures because they were standing for years outside in the rain. The pouring water has left its marks on the sculptures; just like the dung of pigeons and other birds. It seems as if these sculptures were always crying. Manual seems to be shaped as an old classical sculpture, broken, wrongly mounted (or glued together) and gloomy. Manual looks like a figure of all times, as if he had always been there, an archetype of the sensitive man (see also: the myth of the feminine man).
Art History reflection ~ Manual also recall to memory the statue the Flemish sculptor George Minne (Ghent 1866-1941) The fountain of kneeling: a fountain with five identical male figures, men who are actually boys, or teenagers, with small genitals, muscle-free and very skinny as if they have just returned from a war. They embrace themselves like to give comfort, as if there is nobody else in the world that can hug them. Their hands are like the hands of the other/of somebody else. It is an overly melodramatic image without perspective of hope, irony or self-deprecation. Manual also seems to be in such of introverted mood, totally unaware of his surroundings, sink in self-pity. Manual is also a figure between a grown man and a boy. He has a smooth hairless chest, his head is bowed, he stands as an adolescent who has just discovered his sexuality and is ashamed of himself.
Beggary ~ the hands of Manual ask for something as if he is begging. Someone who asks for something, like a favour, can sometimes feel humiliated and small. You’re always in a disadvantage position when you ask for help. You have to give away the power from your own hands and put it in someone else’s hands. Sometimes it may be necessary to beg in order to survive. But also a beggar, who asks for example for food or warm clothes, can feel ashamed of his deeds.
Theology ~ Maybe Manual is feeling ashamed of his (male) urges/instincts and needs. At very early stage in our life, at school, at home or in the Bible we learn that physical needs are not always holy and even blameful. Eve’s desire for intimacy with Adam’s is consider to be the first sin on earth. One can feels guilt because of something one wants or something one desires. The desire is blocked by the thought that one should not have it, for example, because he does not deserves it. Unfulfilled desires can cause severe pain.
Longing for freedom ~ Manual position reminds this of a prisoner, like someone with handcuffed hands behind his back. Yet his spirit, the desire for freedom is stronger than the bonds. His hands find a way out. He lets his hands penetrate through his body. It’s a strange impossible movement, which is also very painful. At the place of his genitals, the place of desire, his hands are coming out, trying to make himself loose. It looks like the desire Manual makes him a prisoner of himself. (A prisoner in himself.)