“The more realistic the product becomes the better,” says Aria McManus on a recent visit to her Lower East Side studio and home. On the table before us are a series of office tools that the artist has modified to imbue each with extra health benefits. There is an edible tear sheet calendar laced with daily vitamins, an acupressure stapler and a nameplate-meets Vitamin-D lamp for “those long winter hours at the office.” Each object is cheeky but undeniably functional, this is the humorous paradox that McManus embraces to push back upon distinctions between art and utility especially as they apply to the placebo effect.
“In design, functionality becomes this limitation,” the artist says unraveling the cord of her Personal Growth Lamp. “When I was in school, I always felt like the assignments was to design a chair, I wanted to invent one.” To illustrate her point, McManus pulls out a large notebook filled with designs. There are sketches for objects she’s fabricated, like a birth control dispensing snap bracelet and butter stick candle, but there are hundreds that I don’t recognize. “I’ve shown the drawings a couple of times before but for me it’s more interesting to create objects,” McManus says. “I want to see them operate in the real world.”
At “Relieviation Works,” McManus’ first West Coast solo show at AA|LA, her inventions won’t inhabit the reality of the gallery space but instead a faux office set-up. The artist intends to use a series of cubicles as a pedestal for her inventions and their respective infomercials. I screen the trailer for Vitacal (2017), which features McManus and friends chomping into her calendars. What do the pages taste like? “Communion wafers.”
It is important to McManus that each piece operates not only conceptually or aesthetically, but also functionally. “The process of fabrication is different every time,” McManus says. “Take for example the stapler, I had to do quite a bit of research and then work with an acupuncturist to map the right pressure points onto the grip. Figuring out how to make each thing is half the fun.”
One of the reasons McManus invests so heavily in the manufacturing and presentation of her designs is because when a collector purchases on of her objects, the artist uses part of the sale to initiate the patenting process. “If you collect the work, I like the idea that you contribute to its value,” McManus says. “When you buy the work, it becomes eve more real as a functional object.”
In addition to her conceptual design practice, McManus flexes her skills as a part of the Bellport, NY based curatorial collective, Auto Body. This summer, McManus and her crew outfitted the roadways of the Hamptons with poetic one-liners that drew attention to the history of the area. The humor of the project harkens back to McManus’ work and hints at the public scale the artist hopes to one day achieve on her own. “My dream would be to have a solo show at MoMA while simultaneously releasing a line at Bed, Bath and Beyond and a commercial on Adult Swim.”