Saturday, October 06, 2007

Art Space Talk: Mark Melvin

Mark Melvin is one of four artists who will be featured in Saatchi's 4 New Sensations exhibit-- a Channel 4 Prize for STUART 2007 graduates. The four were chosen from a selection of twenty finalists. Mark Melvin is currently based in London where he experiments with various cycles and levels of repetition, be it a discussion of the habitual and routine, investigations into recollection and memory or appropriation from popular culture. These loops and repetitions are always fractured by a series of interruptions and reworkings, so that although the pieces are often cycles of appropriated songs, films or words in their entirety, a linear narrative or harmony is always broken, which arrests overlooking the passing of time.

Same Again (A sign from Cyndi)

Brian Sherwin: Mark, you have been chosen as one of Saatchi's 4 New Sensations. How did you feel upon learning that you had been selected? Also, can you tell us anything about the project you plan to create for Channel 4?

Mark Melvin: I was really quite surprised initially to hear I was selected for the final twenty let alone the final four. It’s really quite flattering and unexpected. With regards to the project, I hope to create a new neon work around the themes of the competition itself and continue what is a relatively new way of working for me.
Performance for wallbanger and solo percussion

BS: Mark, can you tell our readers about your background. When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? Where did you study? Who were your mentors and early influences?

MM: From an early age I knew I wanted to be an artist and it was something that I was good at at school. I knew I should pursue this interest and studied from foundation level to MA at Leeds College of Art and Design (UK), Glasgow School of Art (UK), Maryland Institute College of Art and Design (US), Konsthogskolan Valand (Sweden) and then now Central saint Martins College of Art and Design (UK). I think that a real turning point for my practice was during my BA at the Glasgow School of Art where I was taught by many influential people, David Harding, Ross Birrell, Stephanie Smith, Bryndis Snaesbjornsdottir and Peter McCaughey to name a few.
Peter introduced me to the music of Steve Reich during my first year; a composer whose music is concerned with the loop, synchronicity and the changing same. Reading about and around his music laid the foundations for the sculptural, video, collaborative and curatorial work that I have been making to date and my interest in repetition.
My brother, composer Adam Melvin, has also influenced my practice and I have worked on numerous site-specific, cross-disciplinary projects with him and hope to continue our interest in pairing music and visual art. In terms of contemporary artists I think that Pierre Huygue, Martin Arnold, and Christian Marclay, are definitely artists that I find interesting.

BS: Mark, you often experiment with various cycles and levels of repetition-- stating that, "Repetition is the key to an understanding of my practice". With this theme you focus on aspects of habit and routine-- you also investigate recollection and memory. Can you go into further detail about the use of repetition within the context of your work? How would you describe your work to someone who is not familiar with it?

MM: Sure. What I feel can be seen in my pieces through out is a preoccupation with the work as process, and in turn looping, sequence and rhythmic iteration have been prominent in their construction. Repetition is important to my practice and I often experiment with various cycles and levels of repetition. American Minimalist music has especially influenced my approach to video and performance and I have adopted similar cyclical and repetitive compositional tactics to provide structure for the processes in my work.

With my most recent video work I have ventured into the world of cinema both reconstructing and appropriating sections of film. This can be seen as a natural progression from the use of music in my work as I moved to an exploration of the musical as a film genre, amongst others. In pieces like Von Trapped 2005 and Tomorrow Remember Yesterday 2006 my practice has moved towards the familiar territory of popular cinema. Within the last ten years alone, film as a found object for manipulation or recreation has become a prominent genre in contemporary art: from Stan Douglas’s looped re-creation of a scene from Marnie (Subject To a Film: Marnie 1989) to Pierre Huyghe’s shot-by-shot remake of Rear Window (Remake 1995) or in the majority of Douglas Gordon’s work. But, in contrast to those re-enactments of film in contemporary art or cinematic samplings of artists such as Candice Breitz, Martin Arnold or Christian Marclay, I am less interested in narrative or representation than I am in cadence and gesture.
Von Trapped

In my sculptural work I have been exploring the language and formal aspects of signs, editing and accentuating elements in a performative manner. With Applause 2006, I began dealing with the written word and particularly wordplay in relation to signs. The sign is viewed in place of the thing itself, the "thing" existing in the present and simply being referred to by the sign. The sign therefore represents the present in its absence by replacing it. It is essentially a signifier for when we cannot fully experience the thing in the present.
The sign in a sense, could be perceived as a deferred presence. The circulation and distribution of signs defers the moment in which we can encounter the thing itself and interact with it. Whether we look at the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that exist before the linguistic system itself, but only conceptual and phonic differences issued from it. With this in mind I have developed my sculptural ideas to explore what occurs when the sign becomes itself the "thing" and where language is deliberately constructed to make it difficult for us to encounter the signifier in the absence of the thing; where are initial interpretation is halted by a delay and where the subject of language becomes self referential. This idea of the sign as object is something that is prominent in the works of artists like Bruce Nauman and something I have tried to explore in sculptural works like Stop Making Sense 2007 and Stammer 2007 for example.

Another aspect of my practice is my collaborative practice. Over the last few years I have been working with International musicians and composers on projects, continuing with my interest in combining musical performance and video/installation both in traditional and non-traditional art settings. With these projects we concentrate on the idea of creating cross-disciplinary and often site-specific projects combining music both elements in a manner where no one element musical or visual gains overall prominence. Examples include: 4/4 2003, Speak 2004 and Three Glimpses 2006.

BS: Mark, you often work in collaboration with your brother, composer Adam Melvin. Can you discuss some of the projects you've worked on together? Also, Minimalist music has influenced your approach to video and performance-- would you say that your brother is part of this inspiration?

MM: Well. As I said before, Adam is an influence. Its very hard for us not to influence each other when you work so closely in tandem on these projects. Our projects have been quite prolific working with Juice Vocal Trio and Duo X on recent occasions. I suppose two good examples which show the diversity of our practice are 4/4 2003 and Speak 2004. 4/4 was a site - specific project at the Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh Museum.
The project designed and curated by myself used the space as both its venue and inspiration, acting as both subject and site for the development of an evolving process. 4/4 was intended to open up the possibilities for musicians and contemporary visual artists to respond to each other, investigating the inspiration for the construction of music and video and attempting to articulate how the two can operate together, where neither is subsidiary to the other.
In constructing a process whereby architecture fed music, music fed video, and video inspired live musical improvisation, the aim of 4/4 was to expose and become the product of the separate stages of its own development. A four minute compositions was made, four artists asked to respond to it in the form of four silent video works and four musicians asked to improvise to the four videos in four performances. The project was a work in itself, dealing with the cyclical and very characteristic of my approach to my solo practice.

Speak 2004 is a multi-media piece which uses video and music in a uniquely intimate way, focusing on and exploring the ways in which the two art forms can be manipulated in close relation to one another. It is something of a theatrical piece in essence, the video element takes the form of a performer in much the same way as each of the musical performers do, working in close dialogue with the singer in particular.
The visual animation assumes the role of a silent performer, complementary yet integral to the performance structure of the piece. The narrative of this video projection comes from and influences that of the musical performance and composition, constructed in the manner of a musical part. The character projected is choreographed to move in and out of sync with both the live vocal performance and musical material at different stages, echoing and mimicking what the audience will see and hear. I think it is quite successful and in a sense influenced my use of language in my new neon works.

BS: Mark, you have noted an interest in Nietzsche’s concept of ‘eternal recurrence’, in Freud’s speculations on the repetition compulsion and the death drive, in Derrida’s discussions of ‘iterability’ and in Deleuze’s theories on repetition and difference. Tell me... what is your personal philosophy in regards to your art?

MM: Yes it is the writings of these philosophers on the subject of repetition that is of interest.
I feel that a temporal category, like repetition, is a subject that can be found in much of contemporary theory. What can be seen from these philosophers is that the question of repetition imposes itself once the idealistic system of thought exhausts its resources and becomes blocked.
In Nietzches theorizing on eternal recurrence, he suggests that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur in the exact same self-similar form an incomprehensible and unfathomable number of times. This theory deals with the idea that we are destined to repeat the same actions, mistakes, etc. again and again and only through clear communication and learning can we possibly create hurdles for inevitability. With this in mind, I have tried to explore the cyclical and repetitive in my practice. In doing so Derrida has also brought up ideas for exploration.
Derrida’s differ(a)nce, for example, a word which belongs neither to the voice nor to writing in the usual sense, and which could be even understood as being located in a space between. The verb differer in French has two meanings, which are quite different. Firstly it can mean to defer and secondly to differ. The double meaning occurs simultaneously so I think it is important to try and understand and explore how differ(a)nce as temporization and differ(a)nce as spacing might be brought together. I suppose I have tried to react to these theories by moving my practice on incrementally with knowledge that each new work should complement my whole body of work so far.

BS: Aside from music and philosophy... what else inspires you?

MM: Film, writing, theatre. I often appropriate texts and films reinterpreting moments from past works.

BS: Mark, this year you were awarded the Nationwide Mercury Prize Art Prize with your piece "Applause". Can you tell us more about this prize and how you felt upon learning that you had been chosen?

MM: The prize is a competition for student artists and you applied online. The winners work was shown on this years Nationwide Mercury Music Prize album. It was an incredible success and again unexpected. It seemed to be a music related competition and therefore something that I should apply for with the nature of my practice. I felt the selected work, worked well as a kinetic light piece and in documentation for the cover. Its amazing to think that your work will ever appear on the front cover of an album. I walk in music shops now and keep seeing it in multiple. It somehow seems fitting to see it again and again repeated across the shelves.

BS: Mark, I'm certain that you have been very busy lately. Have you found it difficult to find balance between your recent success and remaining devoted to your artistic process?

MM: It has been a successful year for me and it has also been busy. But I believe this success had enabled me to develop my work. I am a driven person and am only trying to keep the momentum so that I can continue to practice as an artist. Its difficult but its what I want to do. The two residencies I carried out during my degree (one in Traverse Theatre Edinburgh and one at CESTA, Tabor, Czech republic) were tough to balance with the degree commitments but I accepted them because they would inform and develop my practice on all levels, which I feel they have.
As soon as I finished my degree I went to Gallery Uhoda in Belgium to work on a new group exhibition with colleagues from University. I have just got back and am full of new ideas for work. I think that these experiences have fueled me to make new work and experiment more. That’s what you hope for as an artist I would have thought. I am thrilled to be given the support to keep going.

BS: Mark, can you tell us about any projects you are planning for the future? Where will your work take you next?

MM: Its hard to say really. Duo X, Adam and I are planning to work on developing a project combining neon and music where the buzz of neon contributes to and intersperses with musical material. This is one of many collaborative ideas Adam and I have been developing.

The show at Uhoda has also spurred Lia, Mike, Marcin and I to seek out spaces to continue our ideas for exhibition. The show worked well and the pieces were complementary to one another. We will certainly be working towards exhibiting together again soon. Ultimately I just hope that people continue to be interested in my practice so that I can continue experimenting with ideas.
Muted Score no. 1

BS: Mark, how do you start a piece? Do you draw up plans? Do you write it out? Tell us†a little about the process itself.

MM: It really depends on the idea and medium. With my video works I often begin with a moment from film, music or text and obsess over it until I find a process to begin production. With my more sculptural works they start life as drawings.

BS: What kind of mediums do you use?

MM: I work predominantly in video, with musical instruments, and neon. I have been known to use other mediums from turntables to mobile phones. I don’t want to restrict myself. My ideas often dictate the appropriate medium to use.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the art world?

MM: I am not sure what else to say really. I have only touched on a few of my works. I could talk for hours about the work but for now its probably time to stop.
You can learn more about Mark Melvin by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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