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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Melanie Manchot

London,
UK

Melanie Manchot (born Germany) lives and works in London and Berlin. She studied at New York University and at City University, London, before attending the Royal College of Art, London, where she completed her MA in Fine Arts in 1992. Since then she has held various teaching positions at art colleges across the UK, most recently: Goldsmith College; University of London, England; New York University; London Photography Programme, London, England; London College of Printing, England (MA & BA). She frequently gives papers and artist’s presentations at conferences internationally. These have included a talk on her approach to portraiture through performative strategies at Tate Modern: Photography Now: The Portait, 2006. In 2005 she contributed to two Tate conferences: Performance, Gender + Identity at Tate Modern and Photography in the 90s. Manchot has been the recipient of a number of grants and awards, for example from The Arts Council of England, The British Council, the German Institute for Foreign Cultural Affairs (ifa). Since finishing her education, Manchot has exhibited widely and internationally. Her work has focused increasingly on investigating extended notions of portraiture through photography and video. Throughout her distinct projects she uses performative strategies to set up scenarios and situations into which her subjects are invited. Manchot has a particular interest in gestures that have the capacity to reveal her subjects subtley and build up a layered portrait that goes beyond the representation of appearances. Manchot’s most recent solo shows include: Security at Goff+Rosenthal, New York (2007). Shave at Galerie m, Bochum, Germany (2007). Moscow Girls at Haus am Waldsee, Berlin, Germany (2006) and Security at FRED (London) Ltd (2006). Her 2007 group shows to date include: My Vision, Reiss Engelhorn Museum, Mannheim, Germany, for which she created a four-channel video installation with Berlin-based teenage bands. Others include A Question of Gesture, Opera Leipzig and Fotohof, Salzburg, Austria; The Naked Portrait, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh touring to Compton Verney, Warwickshire, England. In summer 2007, Manchot presented video installations as part of the first biennial Festival of Visual Art in Zaragossa, Spain. While living in Berlin in 2006, Manchot completed a number of new multi-channel video installations, such as a four-channel work titled Wardrobe, which was premiered at the XIII. Rohkunstbau (Freedom, Rohkunstbau, Castle Gross Leuthen, Berlin-Brandenburg, Germany). In 2012, she received the Oriel Davies award.

Feminist Artist Statement

Making work through photography, film and video I consider my practice an ongoing investigation into extended notions of portraiture and the relationship of portraiture to representations of subjectivity. Increasingly, the work employs performative strategies to chart gestures, moments of transformation or personal rituals through which my subjects collaborate. Gender issues, the body as a site of subjectivity and cultural constructions of identity have been recurring themes. In my early investigations I was specifically concerned with the representation of women and the ongoing trouble with notions of beauty, both as a theoretical or philosophical ‘quality’ and its demands on women’s sense of self. In that context a range of feminist writers have been and remain important points of reference. Throughout my practice my relationship to the various waves of feminism has kept changing and evolving. My work responds strongly to the cultures and the societies I live within - or am invited into - in both a diagnostic and analytical way. What concerns me most is to investigate visual languages as a critical tool within a socially engaged practice and as a woman artist that will include an ongoing awareness of and hopefully contribution to feminist discourses. In my most recent video installations Security and Shave, gendered physicality is observed both as an enactment and as a process of transformation. For Security, I worked with 7 Ibiza nightclub doormen, whom I filmed during the day in front of the clubs where they work each night. The work consists of 7 flat monitors showing loops of these men in real time guarding their door and 1 projection of the same men taking turns to undress until naked. For Shave I worked with a longterm collaborator, who over the course of 75 minutes is wet shaved by a professional barber. The piece is a two channel synchronised video installation for one monitor and one projection, shown unedited, leaving the structural unity of the filmed performance intact. These pieces aim to contribute to a critical dialogue around our understandings of gendered subjectivity, representations of power, and the act of portraiture. My personal ideas of how Feminism is central to my own work keep changing, same as I believe that feminist discourse will remain a vibrant and central force for as long as strong work emerges out of its critical possibilities and to the extent that its discourse remains a challenge to prevailing structures.

<p>With blue clouds + laughter</p>

With blue clouds + laughter

‘With blue clouds + laughter’ belongs to a series titled ‘Liminal Portraits’, which consists of 15 large scale color photographs made with my mother during 1999/2000. This series builds on an earlier set of B+W studio portraits (1996-1998) and further develops the collaborative practice of portraying my mother over an prolonged period of time. The work attempts to think through contested notions of beauty and suggests that the process of photographic portraiture can act as a moment of celebration.

With blue clouds + laughter

‘With blue clouds + laughter’ belongs to a series titled ‘Liminal Portraits’, which consists of 15 large scale color photographs made with my mother during 1999/2000. This series builds on an earlier set of B+W studio portraits (1996-1998) and further develops the collaborative practice of portraying my mother over an prolonged period of time. The work attempts to think through contested notions of beauty and suggests that the process of photographic portraiture can act as a moment of celebration.

With Mountains I

‘With Mountains I’ belongs to a series titled ‘Liminal Portraits’, which consists of 15 large scale color photographs made with my mother during 1999/2000. This series builds on an earlier set of B+W studio portraits (1996-1998) and further develops the collaborative practice of portraying my mother over an prolonged period of time. The work attempts to think through contested notions of beauty and suggests that the process of photographic portraiture can act as a moment of celebration.

Emma & Charlie I

‘Emma & Charlie I’ is the first image in a triptych which belongs to the ‘Fontainbleau Series’, consisting of four such triptychs in total. The series takes as its starting point the well known anonymous image in the Louvre of Gabrielle d’Estree and her sister in the bath. Throughout its existence this work has over and again caught people’s curiosity and attention and has recurred as reference for artists across generations.
Drawn to the very ambiguity of the gesture as well as to the contrast between the intimacy of the touch and the blankness of the protagonists expression I set out to work with different sets of women restaging the situation. The invited women have different types of relationships to each other and how this manifests across the three images is a process of discussion, collaboration and experimentation. In each case I ask the two women to first restage the image itself and to then continue to find gestures and moments of touch while remaining constrained within the confines of the bath.

Namita & Zena II

‘Zena & Namita II’ is the second image in a triptych which belongs to the Fontainbleau Series, consisting of four such triptychs in total. The series takes as its starting point the well known anonymous image in the Louvre of Gabrielle d’Estree and her sister in the bath. Throughout its existence this work has over and again caught people’s curiosity and attention and has recurred as reference for artists across generations.
Drawn to the very ambiguity of the gesture as well as to the contrast between the intimacy of the touch and the blankness of the protagonists expression I set out to work with different sets of women restaging the situation. The invited women have different types of relationships to each other and how this manifests across the three images is a process of discussion, collaboration and experimentation. In each case I ask the two women to first restage the image itself and to then continue to find gestures and moments of touch while remaining constrained within the confines of the bath.

Gestures of Demarcation III

‘Gestures of demarcation’ are a set of 6 large scale color photographs, that use performative strategies to playfully explore physical limits and boundaries. While not a performance itself this series refers to 60’s/70’s performance works and particularly those of feminist artists from that period. The images describe an act, in which various anonymous protagonists are asked to violate the borderline between people that is demarcated on the body by the skin. Instructed to extend the skin of the artist’s upper body as far as possible, it is left to each participant in this experimental set up to choose how and where to do so. The gesture hovers between aggression, power yet also a certain sense of trust and complicity. The contrast between the clothed participants and the naked artist further complicates the play of active and passive.

Olga, from Moscow Girls

‘Moscow Girls’ examines the relationship between representation and subjectivity through a set of portrait photographs of nine young women and their recorded stories. Images and sound are presented independently with the connection between stories and portraits deliberately left open.

These young women have lived through the recent turn in Russian history in the early nineties, the demise of yet another ideology, when they were teenagers. Hence at the time, their personal lives were vulnerable and their identities in turmoil as they were challenged to construct their new life and sense of self. Many of these young women have an intense desire for beauty, their own and that of the material goods they choose to adorn themselves with. By contrast their stories range from shocking accounts of loss and crisis to poignant tales of both dreams and misadventures.

Through the formal strategies of the work, as through the content, Manchot aims to investigate possible conjunctures between photographic portraiture and narratives, shaped equally by personal storytelling and larger historical/political perspectives. At the core of this work is an examination of the space between the documentary and the fictional, the observed and the constructed. Like a film stripped down to its individual components, the work aims to present protagonists, narratives, locations and time. The relationship between these elements is left for the viewer to decide.

Masha, from Moscow Girls

‘Moscow Girls’ examines the relationship between representation and subjectivity through a set of portrait photographs of nine young women and their recorded stories. Images and sound are presented independently with the connection between stories and portraits deliberately left open.

These young women have lived through the recent turn in Russian history in the early nineties, the demise of yet another ideology, when they were teenagers. Hence at the time, their personal lives were vulnerable and their identities in turmoil as they were challenged to construct their new life and sense of self. Many of these young women have an intense desire for beauty, their own and that of the material goods they choose to adorn themselves with. By contrast their stories range from shocking accounts of loss and crisis to poignant tales of both dreams and misadventures.

Through the formal strategies of the work, as through the content, Manchot aims to investigate possible conjunctures between photographic portraiture and narratives, shaped equally by personal storytelling and larger historical/political perspectives. At the core of this work is an examination of the space between the documentary and the fictional, the observed and the constructed. Like a film stripped down to its individual components, the work aims to present protagonists, narratives, locations and time. The relationship between these elements is left for the viewer to decide.

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