Ne me retiens pas (EN)


Inès Mélia creates in the various art forms of sculpture, painting, photography and music and her compositions often focus on trivial motifs which she playfully and cleverly displaces. Following her series La vie domestique, in which she assembled everyday objects (books, tableware, etc.), she continues to work on the issues of intimacy, gender prejudice and beyond that, on what home as a microcosm reveals of our relationship to the world.

For her first solo exhibition at the 75 Faubourg gallery, Inès Mélia presents her latest series of paintings in parallel with her book sculptures which centre around La Prisonnière, the fifth volume of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Whether enclosed in totems or spread out on canvasses, the text is present throughout the exhibition, as a formal motif and a narrative material.

The artist plays upon the mistranslation in the Gospel according to Saint John in which Jesus, resurrected, adresses Mary Magdalene and says “Noli me tangere”, which was translated by “do not hold me back” rather than by “do not touch me”.  The exhibition questions these notions of loss and fading traces which always go hand in hand with the desire to hold back. Inès Mélia is less interested in the sentimental spiritualism of this biblical excerpt than in the metaphor of the tension present in any narrative. When she flattens the pages which she reworks into large painted compositions as much as when she opts for the sculptural gesture of accumulating books in the form of totems, she sets out to free the words and reveal this tension.  

The text tells the story of the Proustian narrator and his lover Albertine, a woman with whom he is obsessed and whom he insidiously keeps under his control. The artist integrated this classic text and altered the manuscript by means of painting and assemblage. She transformed it in order to dislocate it into space in the form of paintings and sculptures. “My aim is to make ‘visible the door to the invisible’, to create a space where word, form and colour can meet”. The two mediums, resulting from the artist’s multi-faceted practice and chosen for this exhibition, both oppose and complement each other. The paintings are a means to set the text free, to make it resurface, while the sculptures reveal the entrapment of the words which are taut, captured, prisoners of the books in which they are enclosed.

This experiment of uniting painting and literature is part of a personal story, a founding mythology for the artist which is only the starting point of a gesture that goes well beyond her own story.  “When I was in school, my literature teacher commissioned me to do a painting. This was my very first commission. As payment, she had put together for me a veritable library made up of all her favourite books (Van Gogh’s Letters, Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Saint John Perse’s poetry, Georges Perec’s A Void…) “. The artist associates the stories told, memories, emotions, as well as styles, sounds, forms and colours to the books she was given.

This synaesthetic relationship to the book gives rise to a poetry of the ordinary and of encounters. With a touch of parody, her work develops from the general history of forms while maintaining a deep connection to the contents it deploys. Borrowing from the formal, radical and revolutionary Lettrism of Isidore Isou as well as from the more concrete and committed practice of Tim Rollins within the group K.O.S. (Kids of Survival, a collective founded in the 1980s), Inès Mélia composes with lines, paragraphs and pages, but never completely separates the sign from the meaning. By shifting traditional mental organisation patterns to reach a free, even random, exploration and arrangement of the text, she perpetuates the ideal of the latter and remains faithful to his socio-political approach to education and art, “designated as a collaborative process in which individual creativity is dedicated to a project for social transformation”. To Rikrit Tiravanija’s radical political punchlines on newsprint and their intention of seizing the world and shaking it, Inès Mélia offers a poetic and introspective counterpart which is always at the root of change.

Between scholarship and spontaneity, she sets the object and its content free by isolating them from their bourgeois or elitist context. The book, which has become an item of bourgeois decoration and which is condemned to seclusion in a library, is here redesigned as a stroll-through display. When it is broken down into fragments in this way, the particularly monumental text of Proust’s A la Recherche du temps perdu avoids the moralizing demand of an exhaustive reading. In keeping with Tim Rollins’ legacy, the tender humour which is characteristic of Inès Mélia’s work is not so much based on criticism as on the suggested experience of a concrete language which would place greater emphasis on the poetic in its original meaning.

Inès Mélia considers the book/object and its content as an indivisible whole. The book, once browsed and arranged in a certain way, is a vector and a metaphor for a mental organisation, a specific arrangement which informs a way of thinking. “For me, the book is a graphic, minimal and reassuring medium which allows me to organise and sort out my inner world”. By means of this specific organisation, Inès attempts to get the words out of the structures which enclose them. The creation of compositions and formal combinations such as sequences, space, void, and ellipsis, leads to new contents induced by the attention and the life experience of each person.

The Greek word poïesis (from the verb Poïen, to make, to produce, and to act) refers to the action of making, the creation or the production. Here, it has the more literal meaning of “putting out of” or “leading towards”.  In contrast with the linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure or Noam Chomsky as grammar, that is to say a perfect system of signs too often fetishized, Inès Mélia proposes a flexible language which is able to embrace imperfections and pitfalls. The correlations between writing systems (language and signs), their materiality (scroll, book, digital file) and systems of thought are a question of mutual influence and transformation. In this sense, Inès Mélia invites us to enhance our common vision of the world by embracing the diverse mental representations informed by language.

The response to this deliberate liberation of language by means of paintings lies in what we might call the totems of boredom, composed of an assemblage of closed books placed one on top of the other in a precarious balance – or so it seems. They are kept closed by the structure which contains them and which they form. Much as Proust’s La Prisonnière, the bonds which keep the books closed and the stories they contain are invisible, psychological rather than material. The subject of Albertine, the Proustian heroine confronted with the narrator who does not want her to leave the appartment, has not been chosen by chance. The questions of domesticity and the role of women in society, latent in Inès Mélia’s work, represents only the surface of a thought on everyone’s domestic condition, initiated in the Domestic Life project.

In L’invention du quotidien. Volume 1 Arts de faire, the philosopher Michel de Certeau focuses special attention on the tricks of idleness by which the common man manages to tame the routine of everyday life and turn it into an opportunity for creativity. For Michel de Certeau, man re-invents everyday life thanks to the arts de faire, these subtle stratagems, these resistance strategies by which he re-purposes objects and codes, to make space and the use of things his own.  There is something similar in Inès Mélia’s approach. In her work, idleness never ceases to invent stratagems to make use of one’s close environment: a strong desire to patch things together, to invent poetic devices which allow one to escape from daily life routine or to liven it up. In this sense, she is part of a thousand-year-old formal continuum. She looks at the history of forms and visual culture with irony and lucidity, in contrast with the romantic vision of the avant-garde of modern art in search of novelty. While Inès Mélia is well aware that forms do not arise ex nihilo anymore, she also knows that all forms can be reinvented and transformed at any time. She reminds us that art and creation are, by definition, an endless chain made of already existing things, and that there is no creation without re-creation.

From this history of forms, she also borrows the poetry of Constantin Brancusi’s works. Her book totems are indeed reminiscent of Brancusi’s Endless Column. These totems evoke or rather invoke the book in a spiritual, almost mystical relationship, becoming pagan prayers for material and spiritual liberation. As a tribute to the useful but formally powerful forms of the designer Ettore Sottsass, the simple and organic forms of Inès Mélia’s painted and sculpted compositions echo the work of the Italian artist who said that his creations referred: “to the great cosmic revolutions of which human life is a fragment” and that his use of colour was intended to “release positive, vital and even therapeutic energies”.

With a tolerance for impurities, Inès Mélia’s Candlecheese, ceramic sculptures of cheese – the ultimate matter subject to mould – are perhaps the metaphor of our own scheduled decay. While these sculptures depended on the contingencies of the ceramic kiln firing, the pages of the book sculptures opened at random, their ephemeral and flexible nature due to the pages which can turn easily and can perhaps even be torn, recalls the fragility of the world. Consequently, the dichotomy which divides the outside and the inside, the world and the home as two distinct entities is inevitably shattered. At a time when contemporary images are abundant and seductive, the artist reminds us that everything essential is happening first and foremost on a human scale: that of the home, of intimacy, of language and thought.

In between emancipation and confinement, Inès Mélia reveals an ambiguity inherent in reading: the liberating intimacy of the book, similar to a journey, allowing for a global outlook, sometimes even leading to the only possible escape from a forced or suffered isolation. By underlining this paradox, she also questions the role of the artist, a role which also implies withdrawing from the world, taking time for contemplation and a voluntary and necessary retreat from worldly affairs. To be an artist is to assert one’s freedom.

Inès Mélia highlights how domestic space and the things it contains can support creative activity, and become a powerful narrative resource, an endless range of forms. Her work is also linked to the history of art and to the history of the artist in his day-to-day life. This is a way of saying that artists also work on the fringes of social life, within the familiar space of their studio, which is often also their living space, but more than that, it says that artistic activity is a daily task taking on the dimension of a whole life. If artists are confined by essence, if they switch between phases of openness to the world and creative withdrawal, the experience of creation and the contact with art alone are free of the unbearable weight of reality.

“Don’t hold me back” could in the end be translated by other expressions: Let me go, leave me alone. This injunction does not condemn the artist or anyone else to seclusion outside of the world but is rather an invitation to leave the world in order to be stronger when you return to it. To be an artist is to assert one’s freedom, to come and go as one pleases. Don’t hold me back, I will be right back, I may come back, I will never come back.

Jérôme Sans, March, 2022