Not just a gallery space, Peckham Platform is also a creative and educational charity with a strong community ethos. The character of the organisation, and their participating contemporary visual artists, is to engage with the locality as a way to inform and shape artistic endeavours. Melanie Manchot’s ‘Twelve’, despite its wider national reach, exemplifies this social and visual practice. Commissioned by Mark Prest (founder of the non-profit arts and education charity, Portraits of Recovery), ‘Twelve’ depicts the recollections of lives affected by addiction. Over two years, Manchot worked in dialogue with twelve individuals involved in rehabilitation programmes across Britain. Manchot has used photography, film and installation throughout her career as part of a performative and participatory practice. The multi-channel video installation in the main gallery and the annex next door, explores their personal testimonies, and dramatically stages some of the rituals and ruptures that they have experienced during everyday situations or activities.
Manchot puts the individual at the centre of the work. The emphasis on their voice, their story and their self-representation mirrors the aims of recovery and acceptance. One striking work, ‘Lost Weekend’, is screened on a double monitor. The doubling remains a consistent theme. One character, one location. Two channels, two personalities. The response to alcohol is what separates the two. One side is elevated, confident, on top of the world, the other is depressed, nervous, alienated. This technique of dramatic duplicity reappears in ‘Bronson Monologue’; the same character enacts two ways of reacting to the same situation. The suffocating effects of alcohol addiction are also exemplified in ‘The Letter’. A woman reads aloud in the company of another. However, as a spectator, we also become privy to this private moment, and perhaps part of her rehabilitation process. Alcohol is the desired recipient of the letter, personified from the outset as a ‘secret friend’, and finally damned as one’s ‘worst enemy in disguise’.
In contrast, ‘Blackboard’ removes the face of the individual from the frame; instead they are represented by adjectives. Confessions are written on a blackboard by anonymous hands. The audio replicates this pattern, a monotone male voice announces how he felt when waking up. The negatives outweigh the occasional positive. The monitor on the floor in the centre of the room screens an endlessly looping video of a floor tile being scrubbed feverishly. The need for control is palpable. The cloth never goes over the lines of the singular tile. The obsessive cleaning is repeated in ‘Triptych’, a three-channel film which is screened separately in the annexe next door. In ‘Triptych’, remembered incidents and states of mind are seamlessly merged. In reference to iconic scenes from the films of Gus van Sant or Chantal Akerman, Manchot shoots single sequences as continuous takes. While audio confessions play, we see a woman leaning over the side of a ferry as it travels across the Mersey, or daisy heads on a patch of a grass being cut by scissors. Scenes of inertia prevail - driving through a car wash, making a paper aeroplane, fish swimming listlessly through a tank. Through the slow takes, the darkness, the pauses, we are reminded that this is real life. Recovery is a form of transformation, one that is still in flux.