Tell us a bit about yourself and your practice, how would you describe the work that you do?
I am a visual artist and educator, based in Wales. I moved to the UK from Belgium in 1999 together with my partner who is a plant biologist. As a teenager I loved biology and science, architectural drawing and art. Now I recognise these passions have come together in my work. Outreach projects intertwine with my artistic practice. They feed of each other. While I love to draw, I try to find a way to make a living of my art which is not only based on the production of traditional art works. Some of my art exists only for a finite well defined period. Sometimes, only the documentation of these transient works remains.
I am fascinated with plants; the way they evolve, the way in which humans interact with them and the scientific research linked to it. In this age of climate change I reflect on issues related to the natural environment and consequently our responsibilities as citizens of this planet. I hope to sensitise the viewer to become aware that small actions from individuals can turn into collective behavioural changes. Reflecting on imagined futures can inspire us to act today.
My practice often involves research which is translated into a variety of different mediums resulting in playful and sometimes unsettling works. I use traditional media like drawing, sculpture and photography in conjunction with digital technologies. I have made stop motion animations, used 3D printing to create small scale sculptural work and use moving images. I like to try out new materials and have worked with tar, high visibility fabric and resin. I incorporate natural specimens and materials in ephemeral installations. I enjoy trying out new ways of working and collaborations with other artists. My work evolves from one work to the next, building on previous installations or drawings and introducing new elements and ideas.
Anne-Mie Melis, Nurturing, prototype #4, 2019
Despite your work spanning a variety of different mediums, interactivity often appears central to your work - can you tell us more about that?
As an artist I try to instigate an experience when the viewer encounters my work. If the artwork has an element of interactivity I have a better chance to focus the viewer's attention and trigger some reflection.
For the chicory Flexine project, I collaborated with the artist Roger Lougher. We used the concept of 'the chicory entity' to interact and engage with the public. These interactions and the process of the project were documented and came together in a lively online presentation (http://www.chicoryflexine.wales).
The work “Nurturing” has currently four prototype versions. This work has an active participation element of the viewer in nurturing live growing plants. I am very pleased how this temporary installation stays relevant today. I made the first version in 2012 and 2013 for a commission for the Duke's Wood project in Nottingham. At this moment, Nurturing ( prototype #4) is part of the Coventry Biennial. Two 'nurturing' units are installed in the disused server room on the second floor at The Row.
I have used welsh turf brought in from where I live, Pontypridd-Wales. Red Clover, Broadleaf Plantain, Dandelion and grasses are some of the specimens that are first covered and then lighted up by one of the units. The other unit is nurturing soil and dried plants brought in from Warwickshire and Belgium where I visited family over the summer. Both units are honouring the theme of the biennial by twinning soil from Wales, England and Belgium.
The installation itself creates 'an incongruous artificial environment'. The work seeks to 'experiment with the idea of tending to plants by first sheltering it from direct light and then providing it, at the discretion of the viewer, with artificial light for growth.' This active participation by the viewer illustrates the notion that our environment is by no means immune to our actions and that our influence on the world around us, however slight or localised, has global ramifications beyond borders.
Anne-Mie Melis, Inaccessible. Restoration of Landscape, 2014.
Environmental issues have been thrust to the front of public consciousness by groups like Extinction Rebellion - do you think it’s the role of artists to engage in these struggles? And if so, how?
I hope as an artist to be able to contribute through my art to the awareness for environmental issues and support a narrative around behavioural change. I am very much a visual artist and see my work as an act of protest, less then my actual voice or actions in a demonstration. I am quite a timid person.
I made and raised a red flag (see Anhygyrch, Adfer Tirwedd / Inaccessible, Restoration of Landscape). It links the socialist tradition of Welsh miner's banners with humanist concerns. How are we going to feed the future population on this planet and protect our natural environment?
The quote on the flag has been inspired by a poem "Het wordt tijd” (“It is time”) by the Belgian poet Eddy van Vliet (flemish and english translation below):
Het wordt tijd
Het wordt tijd dat wij orde op zaken stellen.
De woede verzamelen. Een republiek voorspellen.
Een vlag ontwerpen naar Jackson Pollocks model.
Het wordt tijd dat wij de vette gans
van de zakelijkheid villen en samen met haar
de boswachters die hout en wild ruilen voor goud.
Het wordt tijd dat wij verloochenen wat aangeslibd is
en kiezen ons niet langer verlamt. Dat een vuist
de littekens in de handpalm vervangt.
Het wordt tijd dat wij prikkeldraad om ons heen zetten en
met rode letters op een groen vlak verkondigen: Ontoegankelijk.
Herstel van landschap. Een decennium is voorbij.
Eddy van Vliet (1942-2002), Gigantische dagen, een keuze uit de gedichten 1978-2001, De Bezige Bij, 2002, Amsterdam. Oorspronkelijk verschenen in De Morgen, 30 december 1989.
It is time.
It is time to set things right. Collect the rage, predict a republic. Design a flag to Jackson Pollock’s model. It is time that we skin the fat goose of pragmatism and with her the foresters who trade timber and wildlife for gold.
It is time that we refuse to accept what has been slurred and making choices no longer paralyses us. A fist will replace the scars in the palm of our hand. It is time we put barbed wire around us and with red lettering on green proclaim
Inaccessible. Restoration of landscape. A decade has passed.
Poem by Eddy Van Vliet (first published in ‘De Morgen’ 30 December 1989).
Which artists working at the moment do you admire?
I admire the work of the Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno. I saw his work this year at the Venice Biennale, his real spiderweb displays were beautiful to watch. Inspired by web like structures his floating sculptures visualise ideas of possible airborne dwelling in the future, exploring new, sustainable ways of inhabiting the environment.
Marguerite Humeau is a french artist I admire. I saw the exhibition 'Echoes' in London. The work explores bringing back to life sounds of life from the past. She uses digital 3D design to create sculptural pieces that I experience as futuristic set in a historical context. These sculptural works are presented with experimental sound systems that produce the recreated calls from the past in the surrounding space, an amazing experience.
A third artist is Otobong Nkanga, Nigerian born and based in Antwerp. She exhibited at National Museum Cardiff for the Artes Mundi prize. The concept of her work is anchored in the geology of the earth, the depletion of natural resources from the African continent, environmental damage, the politics of land, borders and ownership. Her paintings, tapestries, installations and performances are thought provoking.
Anne-Mie Melis, Prototype for a New Niche for Nature, module IV, 2016.
What projects do you have coming up?
I am taking part in a group show at Elysium Gallery in Swansea next month, The Closer We Are. Five welsh artists are exhibiting alongside five European artists living and working in the UK.
I am also researching a presentation of my work for in my home country Belgium. During my recent solo exhibition at ArcadeCampfa, Cardiff I used wall drawing and colour patterns together with natural specimens and artwork to create an engaging environment. I want to explore that theme further and work on incorporating interactive elements.
With Roger Lougher we are researching the science involved in growing food crops. For example old varieties of oats are regrown in Wales to look for intrinsic qualities that can be of use today. An exciting project to develop ideas for and to be working on (https://aportraitofwheat.tumblr.com/).
Recently I self-published a small publication with the help of my son, Damiaan Melis who is a graphic designer; Prototype for a publication, Arabidopsis thaliana beyond the moon. This beautiful publication brings together a series of my graph drawings (Watch My Garden Grow). In the new year the publication will be part of the exhibition Lunar Library at Southwark Park Gallery, London, curated by Susan Johanknecht and Finlay Taylor. I am working with my son on another publication related to my work. This is an excellent and affordable way of getting my work out there.
Anne-Mie Melis, Prototype for a publication, Arabidopsis thaliana beyond the moon, 2019, Graig Hill Editions.