Towner Art Gallery, Devonshire Park, College Road, Eastbourne BN21 4JJ

Melanie Manchot: People Places Propositions

Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

16 April - 10 July 2016

Review by Cassie Davies

‘People Places Propositions’, the latest exhibition of work by London-based artist Melanie Manchot currently on show at Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, draws together three distinct bodies of work by the artist: ‘11/18’ (2015), ‘Twelve’ (2015) and ‘Out of Bounds’ (2016). Manchot is fascinated with notions of subjectivity and the impact of social structures on the singular and collective individual. Through photography, video and film, Manchot sets up dialogues with people and places, exploring the ways in which we might construct personhood through the camera lens.

‘11/18’ is composed of nine monitors arranged on a platform island, all facing the same direction, an arrangement which encourages the viewer to watch the monitors from a distance and at a certain perspective. The set-up in the gallery space is not dissimilar to that of the footage. For the installation, Manchot took inspiration from Warhol’s ‘Screen Tests’, collecting footage of her daughter filmed over seven years - once a month for the duration of one minute. The format never alters, following a strict, face-on framework, capturing her daughter’s countenance between the ages of eleven and eighteen. We notice the changes in presence of the girl in front of the camera, the subtle shifts in her relationship with the lens. ‘11/18’ presents the artist’s complicated relationship with portraiture, raising questions of self-representation and construction, and how notions of the individual ‘self’ evolve through time.

In contrast to the presentation of ‘11/18’, the ten screens that make up ‘Twelve’ are arranged across two adjoining rooms, inviting the viewer to move around and explore its various elements. In one room ‘Twelve (Trilogy)’ is presented - a video triptych that merges scenes like a collection of short stories - in the next, a circular structure is divided into four rooms, each with a separate screen and story, a contributor telling – or ‘performing’ – their monologue. The project, which Manchot has been developing over the past four years, addresses drug misuse, alcoholism, addiction and recovery. The scenes depict the personal experiences and stories of twelve people in recovery from substance misuse. Manchot met the contributors in rehabilitation centres in Liverpool, Oxford and London, making ‘Twelve’ within their first few weeks of treatment. “I was intrigued to work with a set of people who would have to go through a radical redefinition of their life, their intentions, their belief system, their vision of themselves,” Manchot explains in an interview with exhibition Curator Brian Cass. The stories that make up ‘Twelve’ are presented in varying forms: oral and written testimonies, fictionalised narratives and performances.

The final body of work in the show is the premiere of ‘Out of Bounds’, a two-part installation filmed in the high alpine valley of Engelberg in Switzerland. The location is signification to Manchot’s practice: over the past five years she has produced work that responds to the mountainous environment and its community. ‘Out of Bounds’ is composed of two large projections spread across two spaces; a viewing structure snakes around the rooms, guiding the viewer through the installation. For the project, Manchot followed teams of mountain workers in their hidden labour: the first projection shows edited footage of a team of PistenBully drivers, flattening the mountain during the night in preparation for the day’s skiers; the second, filmed in a single observational shot, overlooks a team that goes up early in the morning to detonate controlled avalanches. Manchot takes the notion of the Romantic sublime and translates it into moving image. The result is a cinematic, choreographed experience, the sounds – foreboding and eerie – guiding the viewer’s experience of landscape, filled with both beauty and terror.

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