Melanie Manchot

(Witten, 1966)  

Visual artist Melanie Manchot was born in the German city of Witten, although she currently works and lives in London. She began her studies at New York University in 1988, continuing them at City University in London and finally at the Royal College of Art. Her firsts series already enjoyed great prestige. In Look at you loving me (1998-2000) we observe her interest in the search for identity and her relationship with the body through the image of her mother, and in Liminal Portraits (1999-2000) she is again the protagonist: the artist’s mother is photographed in different situations and public contexts, analyzing the role of the one who photographs and the one who is photographed, as well as her public exhibition. Her work has been incorporating performance, film and has increasingly acquired a participatory character, where she also questions the art of public space in series such as Cornered Star (2008). Melanie Manchot has continued to work on both individual and collective identity, on the politics of the body, on questioning the concept of the private and the public, and on reflecting on community relations.

Melanie Manchot’s contribution to the Confinement Archive is a video called The Hall that she began recording in 2014 and has been re-edited and completed during the confinement in 2020, as well as a text that develops the purpose and history of this work. In The Hall, the artist analyzes the value of public and shared space, such as the building where everything takes place, called Memorial Hall; a place where three groups of people from different generations use it to carry out different activities. The idea of memory will be crucial for this work, whose value is increased by having been completed in a historical moment, such as the present.

The Hall, 2020

This video work observes three different groups of people as they occupy one village community hall, all repurposing it for their respective activities, from line dancing to short lane bowling and band rehearsal. Yet rather than documenting their practices as such, the work is composed of fragmented close-ups and extended portraits of individuals in super slow-motion. In this concentration on gestures the film echoes the intent of earlier documentary filmmakers such as Humphrey Jennings, in films such as Spare Time (1939), to use the formal capacities of the camera to bring to the surface the overlooked magic of activities often deemed ordinary.

Here it is the agency of the moving camera which frames and reveals the very gestures which connect these temporary groups and communities as they bring a private intimacy and pleasure to a shared public space. In that sense, the community hall functions as a container and a stage for these varied endeavours, always activated and acted upon in different and specific ways.

Filmed in Landulph, a hamlet in the river Tamar region, Cornwall in 2014. (Re-) edited and completed in London lockdown in May 2020.

Walking through my East London neighbourhood and seeing all buildings designed for communal activity temporarily closed precipitated a re-engagement with this material. What is a community hall when no community uses it? It seemed like a good time to turn the footage filmed six years ago into a work and to finalise it, perhaps to speak about our desires to sing, dance and bowl together, alongside each other, in person and in physical spaces.

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