This autumn Brighton’s Fabrica gallery has presented new work by Melanie Manchot. Iris Veysey talks to Fabrica and Manchot about Gathering, its relevance to recent social unrest, the place of photography and film in galleries, and perhaps most importantly in these dark economic times, where the money is coming from.
Melanie Manchot’s films and photographs offer unexpected views of people and their relationships to one another. From Look at me loving you (2000), a series of nude portraits of her elderly mother, to For a Moment Between Strangers (2001) in which Manchot roamed the streets asking strangers for a kiss, Manchot’s work is steeped in themes of intimacy and community.
It was this preoccupation with community which led Fabrica to exhibit Manchot. Residing in an unconverted chapel in the centre of Brighton, Fabrica frequently highlights the communal nature of its building, and is a key player in Brighton’s community and cultural events including White Night, Brighton Festival and Brighton Photo Biennale.
With this in mind, we began by asking Fabrica why they had chosen Manchot to exhibit:
Fabrica takes the nature of its space […] as the starting point for all the works that it presents. Artists and the curatorial team work directly with the building’s architectural qualities, its ecclesiastical history, and its wider associations as a community building. For example, our programme frequently highlights the dialogue between society and the individual.
Gathering presents two of Manchot’s works. Each, in different ways seeks to examine our collective identities and how we behave in public space.
Melanie Manchot’s 2010 film Celebration (Cyprus Street) is a portrait of an East End neighbourhood, with Manchot working closely with local residents to create a street party, which she filmed. Her more recent work Walk (Square) invites young participants to walk together and undertake basic choreographed movements.
Gathering comprises two films. What themes do these films share?
Melanie Manchot answers: Both Celebration and Walk investigate a position between individual and collective experience, and aim to do so through group portraiture. In these works I set up an event with participants who are, on the whole, strangers to me and to each other, and who come together through the processes of the work.
Celebration and Walk are both based on very real events, ‘real life’ so to speak: in one case on historic street parties and the social function they embodied and the other on the recent surge of demonstrations, marches, protests both in the UK and around the world. But rather than being political as such, in the case of both works it is the making of art, of a moving image project, that brings people onto the streets. And public space, the streets and squares we share as social space are another theme that runs through these works as well as through much of my practice.
In Manchot’s view the camera is not merely a gadget which passively records what lies before it, but instead it plays a role in what it captures. She explains how the camera affects her subject:
The camera plays an important role in these works as an organising structure. In Celebration it is the fact of making the film that becomes the occasion for the street party. And like in the original archive group portraits of street parties, it is the camera that brings people together for the group portrait.
In Walk there are two cameras, one that observes from high above and one at the very centre of the square which the children encircle and which is the centre point of the performative action. Hence the camera for me is not just a device that produces the images but an essential component in setting up the very situation it records.
There is still reluctance in some quarters to accept lens based media as an art form, and it was only two years ago that the Tate appointed its first curator of photography. What does Fabrica foresee for the future of lens based work in the gallery?
Lens based work has been an annual feature in Fabrica’s exhibition programme since the mid-nineties. Photography, film, and digital film are a few of the many tools available to artists. As long as artists continue to use these media, and increasingly, they are, Fabrica and other galleries will continue to exhibit them.
Finally, various institutions and funding bodies have played a role in supporting these films, could you tell us more about this?
Celebration was commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and supported by Arts Council England. Funded by Film London and the UK Film Council Digital Archive Film Fund and supported by the National Lottery. Walk was commissioned by Museum Deichtorhallen und Kulturforum21, Hamburg for the exhibition ‘Wunder/Wonder’, Deichtorhallen. Walk received additional funding from Film and Video Umbrella. The activities connected to the exhibition are also supported by Brighton & Hove Council, and Interreg, a European Union funding programme aimed at dialogue between neighbouring European countries.