16 Tons
17 Tons: Memory as practice
17 Tons: Memory as practice
2012 Architects & Refunc
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EN / nl

Durán, Manuel

b. 1930, Córdoba, Spain; lives and works in Fleurus, Belgium

At the age of 13, Manuel Durán followed in his father’s footsteps, descending into the mines of Andalusia. A precocious discoverer of the mining world – the difficult working conditions, the constant danger of an accident – Durán also experienced the difficulty, very early, of blending into the microcosm of workers where he felt like a foreigner, a sentiment found in other worker-artists, especially Constant Malva (Un mineur vous parle; Ma nuit au jour le jour, etc.). In 1961, he left his native Spain to work in a coal mine in Germany. His professional career subsequently took him to the black country of Charleroi, where, beginning in 1962, he worked in the coal mines of Mambourg, then Nord du Gilly and finally, at Caterpillar. Manuel Durán’s path is marked by the irrepressible desire to escape from his surroundings and to express himself. It is through sculpture in particular that he would find his way. Completely self-taught, he produced his first Tête de mineur (Miner’s head), carved out of a block of coal, in 1964. This sculpture, exhibited at the Château de la Paix in Fleurus, is one of the few works of his from this period that has been preserved. His attraction to miners and the miner that he himself was led him to explore raw, trivial, or ‘mundane’ materials, such as the potato. It allows him to carve the features of a miner without having to work from a previous sketch, as his subject’s physiognomy will be transformed through a natural drying process: young people grow old with accentuated wrinkles after two weeks, yielding so many anonymous heads that serve as universal portraits of miners. “I am the tool,” Durán said in an interview with the author of this text (January 2012), “the tool that brings out the nobility of the miner that I saw in the tragedy.” KH