Time Travelers: MANDEM at Waterloo Arts
The dark paintings of MANDEM have an almost cinematic power, combining traditional and digital techniques in seamless layers to create personae that bleed across emotional and historical frontiers. Beginning in earnest more than a decade ago the tightly knit group made up by Maize Arendsee and Moco Steinman-Arendsee, (joined after a few years by their younger cohort Kitsuko) have evolved an increasingly complex, culturally resonant body of work. Strengthened by extensive international exhibition and production experience, and fine-tuned within a sophisticated framework of cultural theory, they earned a Florida University Studio Arts MFA degree in 2013.
MANDEM often works in extended series, fusing widely separated visual/psychological territories. Neurological quiddity and medical procedures blur into concepts of sanctity or taboo; queer theory and comparative religion inflect the secular parameters of Xbox gaming. Numinous images, feverish with hope or fear, flicker in the deep mirrors of literature and history. Paintings from these series recently captured the attention of art viewers at Waterloo Arts Juried Exhibition, and Lakeland College’s increasingly distinguished annual May Show. Another related work was also included in this year’s Erie Art Museum Spring Show.
At Lakeland MANDEM’s inclusion won the 2019 Best in Show award. Titled Medical Trials of the Saints: Artemis and Althea, the painting shows two very pale children, with plague-like black markings spreading across their limbs and cheeks. They stare directly at the viewer with unfathomable, tragic eyes, travelers between lost worlds. Renaissance/classical robes coil biblically around their disease-marked bodies, as if conceived by Artemisia Gentileschi, with a little help from the costume designer for Victor Mature in The Robe.
Another of MANDEM’s mid-sized oil paintings on canvas was awarded the NEOH Artist CAN Journal Prize at this summer’s Waterloo Arts Juried Exhibition. Titled The Trials of St Sebastian: Paion, the work shows the nude torso of a young man with wrists bound and arms raised. Behind him curve thick red tubes, while smaller conduits pierce his right armpit and both sides of his chest, penetrating black, gangrenous wounds. Whether this alien apparatus is being used to heal or harm is impossible to tell. As with the painting of Artemis and Althea, the figure inhabits a twilight realm between the quick and the dead, emblematic equally of incarnation and oblivion.
In answer to our queries, MANDEM writes, “Our St. Sebastian paintings in particular are tied to this deep queer (homoerotic but also genderbending) history that goes all the way back before Christianity…so to paint a modern (and somewhat futuristic, since we’re using medical imagery from science fiction, albeit to discuss real medical trauma) Sebastian is to create a stitch in time that reaches back and ties that ancestry into today’s dialog. To quote a song we listened to while painting it: “this is a step toward forgetting.”
Be that as it may, MANDEM’s paintings are, plainly, hard to forget. We hope to encounter their work in many more venues in coming seasons.