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creating a nexus between activism and the arts. Melanie Manos in Conversation with Deb King.


Melanie Manos' performance work has romped on the tightrope between absurdity and solemnity since the late 1990s, giving a view into the tension between the individual and the exigencies of modern society. Whether through the Beckettian work of unending circularity with MBC partner Sarah Buckius, physically demanding minimalist body sculptures or the recent narrative-based work performed at Marygrove College in Detroit, Manos reminds me that performance is at its core political. Her work is a direct statement to and about the world around us, defining her space and speaking to ours. After following Melanie's work for over 10 years, it was a great pleasure to conduct an interview with her.

dk: I first became aware of your work around 2002 when you returned to from CA via the Banff Center. The first piece I saw was at the Detroit Artists Market, you were in an appliance (not a refrigerator ... then there was a great series of photos of in a bathtub and folded on shelves, after that was the refrigerator piece at Tangent Gallery. These pieces were all striking examples of (your description) 'containment.' My personal reading of the events also included a sense of threatened singularity, the expression of a fragility and defense. They were in some ways very funny, but also really heart-wrenching. That said, could you talk about these early works, the impetus behind them and what drew you to the concept of containment?

mm: Really, containment came from observing my own mental processes. For several years prior to coming to Detroit my thoughts and corresponding actions became increasingly obsessive compulsive; and even though I became aware of the obsessive nature of the thoughts and actions, I couldn’t necessarily stop them. It felt like a mental box. There is also a connection to the idea of the body as container, and at the time my body was failing me - I had about a year and a half of severe digestive problems, kind of like an ongoing stomach flu. My boyfriend at the time and I both had it, and we thought maybe there was - this is gross - pigeon feces in the water tank on the roof of the building where the loft was in downtown Los Angeles. We used bottled water, but inevitably ingested water from brushing teeth, etc. At any rate, I lost weight and was feeling quite vulnerable; it is so interesting that you picked up on the fragility in the photos. I think there was a need to feel ensconced - I want to say “en-wombed” but it isn’t really a word. At the same time the “wombs” in this case are hard surfaces from the built environment, which I think is where the humor comes in...sort of the absurdity of trying to find comfort where it likely won’t exist. Visually I began experimenting with large format print and the first images were not high res, so the color and clarity is blotchy, but in a painterly way as opposed to a pixelated one. I’m also drawn to a certain formalist sensibility in the composition of the photographs.

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Melanie Manos
Deb King
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