The hyper-mediated work of Christopher P. McManus is a barrage of visual information. Paper mache puppets, hand-drawn animations, live action video and computer-generated filters are interwoven into short narrative or interactive pieces; the cumulative effect heightened by the characteristically saturated palette of 8 bit graphics. His over-the-top approach to art reveals a Do-It-Yourself mentality without the ‘homespun’ connotations. Melding technology with materials at hand, McManus is a visual hacker of sorts – a bricoleur of the digital age.
A balance of high-tech computer visualizations and low-tech puppetry, Christopher P. McManus’s work offers us messy glimpses into the human condition – often quite literally. In ‘Love Letter,’ a man delivers Post-it note entreaties to his stomach. In sculptures like ‘Alien Decapitation’, a morbid trophy of an extraterrestrial kill is nonchalantly on display. The abject appeal of the imagery has a nostalgic tinge, conjuring up the cute ‘grossness’ of Garbage Pail Kids. But the contrast between the physicality of McManus’s handmade constructions and their digital backdrop also points towards a quintessential post-modern ‘alienation’, a separation between the tangible body and the over-stimulated mind.
His characters –like ‘Joan’, an imperceptively animated gif, or ‘Slime Model’ a flippant clay figure – are post-human. Usually employed for spectacular cinematic effects, here CG and Claymation are used to render the mundane (or inane.) The awkward characters are ambiguous and anticlimactic by default; they negate the very idea of hype. In this way, McManus uses the tools of illusion to reveal its tricks, but in lifting the curtain, he also invites the viewer to glimpse the man behind the images. These crude creations speak to a very human ‘maker.’
In McManus’s 2010 interactive project, ‘Suburban Warlock,’ the eponymous hero, Reggie, is on a quest is to save an abandoned strip-mall. In order to play the projected video, a sculptural staff has to be repetitively shaken by a gallery visitor. There is no skill involved in the act, just a commitment to continued movement. If the staff stops moving, the video resets to the beginning. The technologically frustrating set-up makes viewers complicit in the unfolding act of resurrection. In the process, they instigate the ritual sacrifice of a small creature. Their reward is the metastacized growth of big box stores repopulating the defunct mall. The visceral slaughter of the hairy creature is a seemingly small price to pay for the sanitized convenience of Kohls, BestBuy, JCPenney, and Applebees.
Although referencing global consumerism, Christopher P. McManus’s work is strikingly American in its over-the-top work ethic and maximal aesthetic approach. The combined effect is the inverse of a fun house mirror reflection, revealing existing distortions within contemporary perception of the real. It is a fitting critique of the dominant brand of culture that the US exports. At the same time, it revels in an inalienable freedom, finding individualized voice amid the homogeneity of the corporate state.