Espèces de Formes (En)

Species of Forms

Inès Mélia seems to make her own this statement of André Breton, in preface of the Surrealist Revolution: “Any discovery changing the nature, the destination, of an object or a phenomenon constitutes a surrealist fact.” Her synesthetic approach to music and art has led her to mix different forms of expression with great dexterity—sculpture, photography, painting, ceramics—which constantly cross and reinvent themselves in a fertile dialogue. In Domestic Life, a heterogeneous collection of ephemeral works made from everyday objects—embroidered tissues, stacked dishes, cheeses, flowers, seeds, candles, or curved books—she reveals the poetry of the ordinary. Her work develops, with a certain parody, from the general history of forms. It testifies to the complexity of being part of art history, in the era of the digital world when anything can be reused, when absolute novelty becomes an extinct species.

The first months of confinement, this time of forced inactivity, inspired the Candlecheeses series. Ceramic candlesticks in the form of incongruous totems made of various cheeses found in her fridge were immortalized in clay to reveal subtle shapes, patterns and textures. Here, she revives the pictorial tradition of Vanitas, focusing on the motif of the meal and food, through a variation of a theater of the absurd from the French cheese repertoire, the emblem of the national “gastronomic” feast. Through a series of playlets, she assembles them in unstable and absurd stacks. Lately, she proposes a new iteration of this series through a photographic work freezing in images these strange food sculptures entitled Espèces de Formes, in reference to Espèces d’Espaces by George Perec.

“The space of our lives is neither continuous, nor infinite, nor homogeneous or isotropic. But do we know exactly where it breaks off, where it curves, where it disconnects and comes together? We confusedly experience cracks, gaps and points of friction, sometimes vaguely aware that something is stuck, that it breaks loose or collides. Though we seldom seek to learn more about it and more often than not, wander from one spot to another, from one space to another, without measuring, without taking into account or considering the course of space. The issue is not to invent space and certainly not to reinvent it (too many well-intentioned individuals are already there to reflect upon our environment…), the problem is rather to question space, or more exactly, to read space; for what we call everydayness is not the obvious, but opacity: a kind of blindness, or deafness, a sort of anesthesia”, wrote Perec. In the same manner, Inès Mélia always transfigures and transmutes objects and forms, and through them, reality itself. The extreme banality of living, organic or malleable forms—here, cheese and candle wax—is thus unveiled in compositional games that can take on all imaginable configurations. Like a cadavre exquis (Exquisite Corpse), without beginning or end, this succession of photographs is based on the free and casual juxtaposition of heterogeneous elements, where strangeness arises from unusual connections. Fully aware of the hyper-saturation and seduction operated by the world’s images, Inès Mélia explores the capacity to produce new forms, new images, something different or dissonant from an existing repertory. After the formal vocabulary and artistic possibilities have been reappropriated to the point of exhaustion, she chooses to reveal the eloquence of banal forms. From the most ordinary reality springs a feeling of “Worrying strangeness” conducive to changing our view of familiar things, to deconstructing our convictions and our preconceptions, to detecting these unexpected myriads of particles that intrude daily into our lives.

In this sense, she is part of a thousand-year-old formal continuum. She observes the history of forms and visual culture with irony and lucidity, in contrast to the romantic fantasy of the avant-gardes for modernity, the search for novelty. Inès Mélia is aware that no form can anymore be created ex nihilo, but that all of them can be reimagined and transformed at any time. She reminds us that art and creation are by principle, an endless chain of already existing things, and that there is no creation without recreation. From the immemorial night of forms to our days, shapes distort and reform themselves unceasingly. Any creation nowadays can only be part of a genealogy through which forms are entangled and reunited in a kind of “species”.

In Espèces de Formes, forms are embodied differently through photography which captures the acceleration of degradations and deformations. Halfway between a Muybridge or a Man Ray, it is a question of stopping the time of a body, of a thing in movement, before it erodes, deforms, disintegrates or melts, and in return subjecting it to an arsenal of hazards proper to the photographic process. This medium, which is supposed to be objective in the face of reality, is rendered malleable and imperfect, thanks to a range of processes of deformation, low resolution, distortion and movement, which introduce a certain degree of abstraction and unpredictability into the image. Inès Mélia brings to light what constitutes the narrativity and plasticity of the forms themselves, which she subjects to different effects of distortion and doubling to reveal other possible states of the visible. In this regard, she cultivates a degree of imperfection, even the possibility of a failure, by diverting the codes of photography, by lowering or blurring the resolution of the image to take it to the territories of abstraction. The objects, while strongly anchored in the ordinariness of everyday life, are for Inès Mélia the vectors of a new poetry. She aims at reinventing the act of creation through the prism of the absurd, of dreams, of the unconscious, and thus summoning another experience of reality. Following André Breton’s footsteps, she seems to convince us that objects and things are like beings in perpetual transformation: “They are being objects (or object beings?) characterized by the fact that they are in the grip of a continuous transformation and […] which express the perpetuity of the struggle between the aggregating and disintegrating powers which compete for the true reality of life.”

Inès Mélia is playing with the comforting, emotional, almost regressive character of these cheeses. The round, soft and gentle shapes of these mimolettes and goat cheeses, displayed in a amusing way in her images, offer the possibility of creating a world from almost nothing. To this extent, there is a common spirit with Fischli & Weiss’s photographic bricolages of foodstuffs, such as the Sausage Series: Fashion Show (1979) or The Way Things Go (1987). This experimental film documents a long causal chain composed of everyday objects and industrial materials under the influence of a slow combustion. Whether it is natural objects, food products, manufactured objects, durable or perishable, found or reinterpreted, Inès Mélia revives the history of the Duchampian ready-made, to which she grafts other trends in the history of art: that of a Man Ray catching the incongruous image of a “dust breeding” on the Large Glass, or the taste of a Salvador Dali or a Claus Oldenburg for the softness and the incongruousness of forms and objects or of an Erwin Wurm for the philosophy of the absurd. Her work could also evoke Michel Blazy’s ephemeral, ephemeral, perishable forms in a state of advanced decay.

A new relationship to idleness and contemplative life, this experience of lack of activity brought upon by the pandemic, is also at play in Inès Mélia’s work. In Chez soi, Une Odyssée de la vie domestique (At Home, An Odyssey of Domestic Life), writer Mona Chollet expresses the wisdom of “the casaniers (the domesticated), unjustly denigrated” in the praise of domesticity. “To like to stay at home, she writes, is to singularize oneself, to defect. It is to free oneself from one’s gaze and social control.” The days, all alike, with only the narrow walls of one’s own domestic and familiar sphere as a horizon, open up to new and unexpected encounters with objects, immobile journeys… One’s home is a refuge to recharge one’s batteries, to withdraw introspective wanderings.

Inès Mélia plays with her feminine condition and attests to the possibility of realizing oneself at home, in one’s own domestic and creative space. She also affirms that being an artist also implies this withdrawal, this time of contemplation and retirement from worldly affairs. In reality, there is no life that is not domestic. Inès Mélia highlights how domestic space and the things that inhabit it can support creative activity, and constitute a powerful narrative spring, an inexhaustible formal repertoire in a dialectic that runs counter to the categorizations between men and women, particularly through the relationship to food. Her work is tied to art history and to the daily experience of the artist. It is a way of saying that artists also work on the margins of social life, within the intimate sphere of their studio, which is often also their living space, but more than that, that artistic activity is a daily work taking on the dimension of a whole life. Artists are confined by essence, even if they alternate phases of openness to the world and creative withdrawal.

In L’invention du quotidien. Tome 1 Arts de faire (The invention of the everyday. Volume 1 The Arts of Making) philosopher Michel de Certeau focuses his attention on the tricks of idleness by which common man manages to tame the everyday and make it a source of creativity. For de Certeau, people invent everyday life thanks to the arts of making, these clever ruses, these tactics of resistance by which they divert objects and codes, to recover the use of space and things in their own way. There is something of that in Ines Mélia’s attitude. With her, idleness does not cease to invent stratagems to use her immediate environment: a certain will to tinker, to invent poetic devices which make it possible to escape from the everyday life or to brighten it up. In Domestic Life, Inès Mélia reveals a form of daily, informal, and free creativity, through a flattening of the astonishing and inexhaustible plasticity of the forms themselves… These forms, which under her lens, reactivate the dream and poetry that would be solidified in the most ordinary objects.

Jérôme Sans, May 2021