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Zane Mellupe solo exhibition
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different species
Robert Lee Davis solo show (ifa-YK)
right eye - left leg
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@ Galerie Nathalie Gas & Bernard Guillon (Paris)
in memory of the perfect wife
Zane Mellupe personal exhibition
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in memory of the perfect wife
Zane Mellupe personal exhibition

press release
e-invitation

09 july - 29 august 2011 (extended to 11 september)
vernissage: saturday 09 july 5 to 9 pm


happening: "art detoxification" on 11 september 2011

This new ironic, conceptual and personal exhibition will be showing mixed media photography and installation works.
Zane Mellupe focuses on the observation of visual thinking, distortion of memories, layers of consciousness, and resemblances, shown in the four parts of a recreated home: the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom and the closet (in four rooms of the gallery).

Mellupe, working and living in Shanghai, has an extensive background in photography. Her works have undergone diverse development from documentary photography, found images, self-observation, photo and video integration to installations.

texts
4 years and a perfect knife by Alexis Kouzmine-Karavaïeff, ifa gallery director
In memory of the perfect wife by Zane Mellupe, artist
Zane Zane by Christopher Moore, art critic and editor-in-chief Randian-online
4 years and a perfect knife

First sighting of Zane Mellupe, summer 2007, walking on the edge of a low wall at one of those warehouses converted into a “creative centre”.

30 months later, following many intense experiences in creation and creativity in the contemporary art world in Shanghai, Zane Mellupe is invited to collaborate with ifa gallery, as a curator.

For our second exhibition at 621 Changde Lu, she exhibits her works, one under her own name, several under the names of fictitious artists.

Fifteen months after the beginning of our collaboration, I decide to represent the artist Zane Mellupe, inviting her to the contemporary art fair “Art Paris”. She exhibits her artworks and manages the scenography of the booth.

Summer 2011, four years after our first acquaintance, Zane Mellupe develops an important personal exhibition at ifa gallery, “In Memory of the Perfect Wife”.

Choosing Zane as a major artist for the gallery was as much obvious as difficult. Her creativity and desire to experiment; her vision of the Chinese and Western culture; her perception of herself; her outspokenness and humour permeating the majority of her creative artworks and stories, have all been factors which have encouraged me “to bet on her talent”. An art critic recently concurred, congratulating me on this choice.

 “In Memory of the Perfect Wife” is not a retrospective of the artist; it is a personal interpretation of an ideal, hoped-for or taught, a personal interpretation of her childhood and the beliefs she had known at that time.
The exhibition will be divided into the various rooms of the home: the living room, the kitchen, the cupboard, the bedroom and the dowry room, in memory of the perfect wife.

We are giving you the key.

Alexis Kouzmine-Karavaïeff, ifa gallery director ● 01 july 2011
in memory of the perfect wife

“Sometimes, I wonder whether more damage is caused by a totalitarian regime or a family.”

Well, it was clear from very beginning, the way it started. Her mother was wearing a Soviet suit with a little flag on the chest. She was there next to her, hidden in a large white egg. The egg was much bigger than Mom. Mom was writing her exams while in the egg waiting for the right time. She was not confused about the way she got into the egg; there was a wild sexiness. Not sure how wild it was, since Soviet times were about injecting a prude lifestyle and many got infected. But then, there was an egg.

Only a few years later the “scandalous” newspaper “Zilite” crashed her dream of an egg. It was just before the 5 corner stars were abolished and exchanged for the 8 corner ones, just around the time when the airplanes stopped dropping the ice cream tickets every May 1st. Just around the same time, when grandmother stopped hiding the fact that she had brothers across the sea and sisters still alive, some in the west and some in Latvia. Around the time when grandmother’s friends from an ex-gulag in Siberia stopped sending pine nuts. Around the time when her mom was fighting with grandmother’s “what will people think of me” by inviting the "Soviet Youth" photographer to take a photo of the birth, which would later be published on the cover, changing the structure of a family.  Maybe that’s how it all started.

“The totalitarian regime?”

I wonder, how do people understand each other?*

a few points:

  1. She was told by her grandmother, who was told by her grandmother, that every time one tried something new (something never tried before) one could make a wish. But she needed to be smart about the wish she made, so she thought about it and figured it out. Her wish was: “for all wishes to come true”. So she would keep on making the same wish just to make sure that it really worked.

  2. Each time she bumps her head she recites:
    11x11=121; 12x12=144; 13x13=169; 14x14=196;15x15=225; 16x16=256; 17x17=289; 18x18=624; 19x19=381; 20x20=400.
    So every time you bump into her, you will know she is multiplying.

  3. I don’t know how she got involved with Christianity, though she was baptized at the age of 7. It was just before the Perestroika (the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union) and her godmother no. 1 had become the first female priest in Latvia and the no. 2 godmother was a gynecologist – a good back up plan if divinity ever fails. She was baptized together with her 34 year-old mother, 11 year-old brother and 1-year-old sister. 3 years later, a queue of people was just to be formed behind the doors of the church with the hope to get inside and have the sins of Communism washed away. She always wondered how the true believers from one regime could change so readily to another, denying every bit of the former one despite having previously been more diligent then was expected of them. Maybe it is just a type of self-purification, clearing the road for the Real One / Love / Belief / System.

  4. At the age of 11 she wished to be with her grandmother, so she started living with her. She wanted to become more like her grandmother- she wanted to have all the dancers and singers on TV be her friends.

  5. She would learn to embroider, knit and crochet, and tell stories.

  6. When a grand competition with 3,301,112,087 contestants was announced in 2007, she started to study the book, Golden Rules of a Housewife. In Memory of the Perfect Wife.

* “I was calling from 10,000 kilometers away. My phone was out of service yesterday (bill not paid). I was calling to get some news. You also called every time (I was glad you called), but receiving this kind of unpleasant comment is just wasting my phone bill”- From a friend.
“I think I will die before I reach 50, will that help to make peace?”- To a friend.

Zane Mellupe, artist ● 30 june 2011
Zane Zane

Doublings and transformations are almost commonplace in Russian literature. Think of Akakii Akakievich in Gogol’s ‘The Overcoat’, numerous of Nabokov’s characters, notably Lolita’s Humbert Humbert, and Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’ and also ‘Heart of a Dog’. Not that such magical elements are found only Russian literature; it is common to much Central European literature (think of Kafka) as well as the Magic Realists of Latin America, such as Gabriel García Márquez, and the Indian storytelling tradition as popularised internationally in recent decades, particularly by Salman Rushdie. Linguistic doublings are fundamental elements, too, of Chinese grammar. And ever since Walter Benjamin published his ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ in 1936, we have been awake to the extraordinary doubling-effect of photography, of which Warhol’s droll umpteen explications might be taken as some sort of argumentative re-doubling. And many of these doublings and re-doublings are fascinating precisely because they are so banal. Roland Barthes noted in his famous and famously criticised essay, ‘Camera Lucida’, how the vast majority of photographs look the same, literally billions and billons of photographs of families arranged in exactly the same positions, trillions of ‘portrait’ photographs that attest to the uniqueness of the subject but quickly become indistinguishable from their unknown but equal counterparts. This was the basis for an early series of photo works by Zane Mellupe called ‘Family’. ‘Passport’ photos that she found, on streets, in old cupboards and shops, were blown up to poster size, including all the defects to the photographs, including burns and scratches, united together to form a ‘family’ (but note, not re-united – this effect is purely one of the artist’s categorization and description).

Zane Mellupe was born in 1981, in Latvia, one of the Baltic States and now a member of the European Union. But she grew up in the Soviet Union, which occupied Latvia from 1939-1991. This is important, as transformation as a process visited upon an object or person, rather than as a matter of subjective instigation, consistently figures in her art. After finishing school she studied Chinese, and eventually moved to China, where she continued her studies at the Shanghai Theatre Academy and the Shanghai Teachers University. Later she studied photography in London but China pulled her back. In recent years, she has been curator, gallerist, and creative director. But she has always been an artist.

In her first solo-exhibition, Mellupe presents us with photographs, found objects, sometimes combined, luminescent electrical wire sculptures, and short stories that accompany the various works. She presents herself in her family home in Latvia and settings from her adopted home in Shanghai. The stories and works read as personal histories— “As a child I believed that I used to be a dog in my previous life”— emphasised by the use of the first-person voice. Fragmented impressions have been gathered together and almost sound sincere. But pause a moment. The exhibition is titled ‘In memory of the perfect wife’, which references a memory from a school lesson but also nothing at all, that is, the everyday of everyone and yet no one in particular. We think we know, it seems so familiar, so we profess to already understand. But do we? Perhaps we have just fallen through the mirror (the artist’s Doppelgänger will be ‘performing’ at the opening, so you might ask this ghost for her opinion).

A version of the artist is on show here but how much it is a fiction (a true fiction – remember we are in the realm of literature) is open to interpretation, or better still, to play. Here we are in rooms full of magical pans baring images of themselves being held, ‘corrupt file’ portraits, doors with multiple door-handles and in the shape of door-wedges (for keeping them open, or closed?), and photographs of raw meat where the photographs have been subsequently ‘cooked’ in the method to be used for said meat (a fish, a brain, a steak). Knitting lies unfinished, the needles supporting the electro-luminescent thread, a thread that reappears Fontana-like as stitches in canvases and packing yarn for carefully made ‘canvas’ boxes. The head of a street-lamp found ‘in the street’ is packed into a box – a camera light box. The carved leg of a low table protrudes from a wall, like a tongue, or perhaps something else (more of those ambiguous doubles appear in the photographs, such as Boiled Chicken neck).

The photography is a portrayal of the self rather than self-portraiture, fragments of the artist secreted into familiar and tendentious spaces—crowded bookshelves, a chaotic bedroom. But then there she lies on the dinner table, face covered, served up for a feast (or to feast your curious eyes). And again, in the snow, naked, threatened by a dog (dear reader, did I mention Bulgakov?).

Self-portraiture traditionally makes claim to some authenticity, one that has been rigorously questioned and most rigorously by the American photographer, Cindy Sherman, who has made a career of making photographing herself but in all truth has probably never made a self-portrait. Mellupe charms us with a female humour I find very Slavonic (I am married to a Czech). It is at once innately sardonic but also generous. There is a feeling for magic there too, not in any occult manner but for the sake of charm. It is also cautious and critical—unwise the viewer who makes assumptions about these most unassuming artworks, particularly as to the authenticity of ‘feeling’, the extent to which the artist has exposed her ‘self’.

Other works show ‘pieces’ of the artist photographically reproduced on an old-fashioned set-of weights, the photograph ‘taken’ by her father (speaking to the relationship between subject and object—how it is ‘weighed’), or on a coffee-tabletop, the table a polished steel, modernist mountain peak; the image, the artist foetal and wrapped in plastic, protected, or perhaps stored away. Compare these with a series of images from shanghai where a figure (not the artist) can be glimpsed within the intertwining boughs of an ancient tree, a simple formal relation drawn between human and tree but in the context of a background of green parks and colonial Shanghai villas. Again it is not simply the transformation that is vital but its mundanity: the magical banal. Another instance is the floral photograph ‘The Flower’. The mildly over-saturated colours of the countryside image speak to the artificiality of the still life, its framed beauty. Surprisingly, only slowly do we become aware of the similarly coloured and tumescent organ in the corner of the frame, again raising the theme of transformation, albeit here a latent one; but also camouflaged ordinariness, a domesticated object, like all the others, and part of the dowry.

My favourite work is the fountain meat-grinder, presented at once like the domestic Duchampian-object it is, as well as some venerated relic, but also transformed—‘developed’?—into equipment to develop photographs: no doubt the very ones that have been ‘cooked’, another form of transformation. The reticulated water of the fountain speaks to systems and processes but also to subversion (a most piquant transformation)—let us not forget that Bulgakov’s writing was banned for decades in the Soviet Union, published only in unofficial ‘Samizdat’ editions; though let us avoid the clichéd metaphor of femininity and liquidity (dear reader, I did warn you to be careful—in this magical world, not everything is as it seems, nor as we might expect it to be). The transformations of “In Memory of the Perfect Wife” do not stop at the art works. Mellupe’s games and relics escape their respective places as objects and inhabit the gallery itself, an old colonial villa, the memory rooms inhabiting the real ones, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, even the artist has her double, invading the space, taking over her own constructed character.

The final page of Nabokov’s unfinished and posthumously published novel, The Original of Laura, reads –

“efface [circled]
erase
delete
rub out
[word expunged]
wipe out
obliterate”

Death, of course, is the ultimate transformation, the fascinating infinite jest, wherein every self-portrait is also a Nature Morte. So let us end with a quote from the character—let us call her Zane Zane—specifically from ‘Snow and Dust’:

The bite even more reassured me - dogs felt me - they felt my lies, they felt my fears and pretending, they had noticed I was spying on their treasure places. They knew who I was.

Now, who is the dog and what is the artist? Don’t despair. There is no answer. The double is also oblivion.

Christopher Moore, art critic and editor-in-chief Randian-online ● 03 july 2011