Open Frequency 2008: Anne-Mie Melis selected by Donna Lynas

Open Frequency 2008: Anne-Mie Melis selected by Donna Lynas Anne-Mie Melis, Human Grazing, 2008. Photograph. 21cm x 29cm

Donna Lynas profiles the work of Anne-Mie Melis

The starting point for Anne-Mie Melis' beautiful drawings is an ongoing scientific research into plant development and plant growth mechanisms. Working closely with a biologist, Melis makes technical drawings in the lab of engineered plants. This is high-end research, the sort that aims to recover the ruined parts of our spoiled planet, and to offer solutions for a sustainable future– a wider debate that plant engineering is very much part of.

Back in her studio however, it is the notion of the engineered plant that has itself been reconstructed by human technology that fascinates Melis. Purpose-built organisms to cleanse, survive or produce new compounds which are intrinsically modified, inspire her to use her work as a means for her to redesign botanical organisms. Moreover the possibility that these plants might somehow be able to evolve themselves and develop into something else entirely, beyond the control of any of us, is explored by Melis.

Melis' work is far from dark with sinister prophesies of an apocalyptic future. It is light, full of optimism and relishing in the joy of change and progress. What her work seems to be saying is that transformation at the behest of these new species can be a positive and liberating thing. Melis is extremely effective in how she communicates these possibilities. The lyrical and measured drawings she produces are both exploding with quiet possibility, whilst maintaining a scientific distance. In this way she is both in and outside the research, immersed within the potential of nature but also coolly observing it. The well-known description of the writings of Albert Camus as having 'detached passion' could easily be applied to the work of Melis.1

The subtlety of Melis' work lies in the treatment of the surface of the paper on which she works. Coloured pencil and other media such as Tip-ex are layered one on another and the little cupped indentations where the ball of Melis' hand has been pressed into the surface remain visible. This working of the surface is as much a journey as the narrative patterns they are employed to create. This tension is finely poised, skilfully controlled and a joy to look at- and not simply because the imagery is so compelling.

Melis' drawings take us on a journey in which a new landscape is proposed. Scale is ambiguous and we are never quite sure if we are looking at magnified images, cellular and re-generating (like those well known squirming cells seen through a microscope), or perhaps a batch of new crops ready to burst their over-ripe seeds. Images of ripeness and fecundity are returned to by Melis in much of her work- there is much bursting and popping, spreading and conjoining, but again under the influence of science this is tempered with a steady and controlling hand.

1. 'These are powerful, jolting, thought-provoking parables, told skilfully with detached passion', contemporary Sunday Times review of Albert Camus' Exile and the Kingdom, first published in 1957.

Donna Lynas, December 2008

View Anne-Mie Melis's profile > 

Artist's biography

Melis was born in Belgium, where she completed both her BA and MA in Fine Arts in Antwerp. She exhibited extensively in her home country with a solo show, Closed Circuit (Bernarduscentrum, Antwerp) in 1996 and group shows at Galeri DeGriffioen (Sint-Gillis) and CCrix (Deurne-Antwerp) in 1999. Since moving to the UK in 1999 Melis has continued to establish her practice. She is currently based in Cambridge and has taken part in several group shows in the city this year, including KY Open '08 at Kettle's Yard Gallery and Wysing Inside Out at Wysing Arts Centre.

About Donna Lynas

Donna Lynas has been Director of Wysing Arts Centre - a centre for the visual arts set on the 11 acre site of a former farm 9 miles south west of Cambridge - since April 2005. She has been instrumental in delivering Wysing's £1.7 million capital development project, due to open in January 2008. The project will transform the Centre and provide state-of-the-art artists' studios and 'new media' and educational facilities. Additionally, she has developed new ways for Wysing to work with its 24 studio artists, all of whom now receive professional development support during their five year tenure at the Centre. Alongside supporting studio artists Wysing runs an International Residency Programme and also a Public Programme in which the Centre works predominantly with artists' collectives on different approaches to participation and knowledge exchange.

Previously Donna was Curator at the South London Gallery for six years where she curated a large number of exhibitions and projects. Among others, she worked with artists AK Dolven, Christian Boltanski, Joëlle Tuerlinckx, Henrik Plenge Jacobsen and Keith Tyson on their solo exhibitions at the gallery. She also curated the group exhibitions Perfectly Placed (with Goshka Macuga, Cornford and Cross, Paula Roush, Adam Chodzko and Janette Parris) and Independence (a show to commemorate the gallery's new independent status which included over 100 artists). In 1999 she established the gallery's influential SLG Live Art programme which at its most ambitious presented a durational performance of One Million Years by Japanese artist On Kawara - involving a series of 16 people performing a live work in a glass box in Trafalgar Square continuously for 7 days and nights.

From 1995 – 1999 Donna was Touring Exhibitions Organiser and then Curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford. Prior to that she studied at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee and then had her own studio based practice for five years, in Dundee and Reading.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.