INTERVIEW WITH MELANIE MENARD BY MILLY ZIETHEN
Melanie Menard adds to our list of renowned international artists who are represented during Curatorspace’s Digital Art Exhibition at Leeds Digital Festival. Originally from Rouen, France, Menard moved to the UK in 2005. The artist works across photography, video and added digital to her portfolio in 2007. She got her MA in Visual Arts in 2011. Last year, Menard branched into performance art, with one of her recent projects involving a travelling exhibition on the Transnational Queer Underground, which was shown across Europe, including in Germany, Bulgaria and Montenegro. Alongside numerous exhibitions across the UK, she has also exhibited and performed in France, India and the Netherlands.
In her work Menard highlights and questions the tensions between the individual and the place and circumstances they inhabit, and the human mind in conflict with itself.
We were fortunate to catch up with Menard for Leeds Digital Festival for an insider take on her work.
What is your inspiration for a new project? What inspired you to start with art in general?
As a child, I spent all my time reading, drawing and making paper cut-out characters from my favourite books and staging plays with them. But being from a lower middle class background, I sort of self-selected out of studying art as a teenager and opted for the ‘financially safe’ option of software engineering. I remained passionate about Art though, and slowly grew the guts of making art, first as a self taught artist, until I studied for a MA at Camberwell College of Art in 2009-2011 via part time distance learning, while keeping my commercial software job.
I’m an intuitive and visual thinker, so Art is very much ‘practical philosophy’ for me: I will work on a project to make sense of social, political or philosophical issues that obsess me, where more literary-minded people would write about the subject.
What do you want to express with your artwork?
My work explores the tensions between the individual and the place and circumstances they inhabit, and the human mind in conflict with itself. In visual media, I design an aesthetic representing an individual’s thought processes, using a precisely crafted audio-visual mood and rhythm to trap the audience into their subjective experience. In performance, I mix popular alt-drag cabaret, ‘dark cabaret’ singing and live-art aesthetics to question gender identities, and portray individuals fighting restrictive social norms. I aim to gently coax the viewer into questioning norms and assumptions they may feel more comfortable ignoring, without presenting ready made answers, leaving a degree of ambiguity and interpretation.
What do you think about the transgender conflict in our society?
I believe that each individual’s perception of their gender identity and relationship with their body is unique, that nobody else has any right to pry into it and coerce them, and that nothing progressive ever comes in the long term from attempting to impose artificial simplifications over the endless complexity and fluidity of the human experience. So human beings need to resist pressures to ‘fit into narrow predefined roles’ that wreck their mental health, whether they come from mainstream society or more insidiously from within ‘alternative’ communities. That another individual’s experience differs from yours does not invalidate your own experience in any way, it’s just another one amongst endless natural variations. As Audrey Lorde said: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Talking about your artwork “Tricyclic Transform”, which will be shown during Leeds Digital Festival. What was your inspiration to to theatricalizes the experience of being
I’m interested in social control and repression, both the overt and violent kind, but also the subtle, more insidious cultural or peer pressure that an individual may end up internalizing. Being genderqueer, I experience a degree of detachment and critical distance from both feminine and masculine gender norms, and I leverage it to portray the psychological consequences of rigid, enforced gender roles on individuals, something that both trans* and cis people can relate to. Tricyclic Transform follows the inner journey of a person, who ‘thrust into being’ and presented with gender archetypes from popular culture, mimics them to ‘try them on’, only to discover none quite fit the complexity of their thoughts and experience. Their psychological journey is cyclical, though a gender spectrum of female, androgynous, male, with no fixed resolution.
If you couldn’t be an artist, what would it be?
I don’t make art full-time, I have a commercial software job at the side. It’s important for me to be upfront about it because it’s so difficult to make a living solely from your art, and very few artists actually do, that if you maintain an ‘artistic blur’ about how you pay your bills, possibly for ‘personal branding’ reasons, then you contribute to the vicious circle of aspiring artists who can’t rely on family money or financial support from a partner possibly giving up because they believe they can’t make it work. I know dedicated creative people who do all kinds of commercial work at the side to support themselves and their practice.
Are there any projects planned in the future?
I’m working on a digital video installation simulating the collective creation of a shared queer identity through the assemblage and reinterpretation of fragments of a hidden history. Videos sequences document places associated with queer artists and thinkers, relating the former inhabitants’ experience of space, place and identity to the experience of contemporary queer people who drew inspiration from them. It requires coding as well as video-art, so of direct relevance to a Digital Festival!
If you want to see more of Menard’s work and how she works with the human mind in conflict with itself visit her website here.