Reaching for the Stars: A Cosmic Vision of Hope

Over the last five years, Mela Marsh, who prefers to go by simply M, has constructed a series of works that are psychic and psychedelic—manifestations derived from a growing consciousness that vast resources are being spent on preparations for humans to leave planet Earth. Having lived in Los Angeles for over twenty years and coming from post-Soviet Russia, M presents work evincing a cross between neo-futurist Syd Mead’s glowing sci-fi cities and revolutionary Kazimir Malevich’s geometric avant-garde paintings. She intuitively conflates painting and sculpture to construct architectonic hybrids that radiate shape-shifting energies, sending us worlds beyond.

Painters have made big leaps in recent years deciding where and how paintings can exist within the white cube. In this way, M’s sculptures are really paintings that have found a fresh placement. Anne Truitt, who explored the boundary between painting and sculpture with her characteristic vertical forms of assembled painted wood in the 1960s, is a subtle predecessor in setting color free into three dimensions. Yet M’s standing works are not reductive objects of formalism; they are pulsating visions comprised of individual works assembled as a group to create a transformational experience. M’s work communicates a future that resonates within, beyond the object.

Ever since she was a young girl, M has always looked up to the stars–perhaps a legacy of Russian Cosmism, in which colonizing space was believed to provide humans immortality and a carefree existence, a proposition of the Father of Rocketry, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. M’s interest in future worlds, providing an escape from our current reality, has been ongoing. Before and after arriving in the U.S., she made colorful kaleidoscopic paintings of figures or beings emanating from other planes. From 2000 to 2015, she created architectonic wall constructions, nonobjective and occasionally over eight feet high. Her shaped panel work represents a significant artistic contribution—from a female artist in Los Angeles—and has inspired many young artists through the years.

Starting in 2015, M began cutting wood into hundreds of geometric shapes and forms over several months without knowing what the end result would be. With these freshly cut pieces M made Pink Sun Over the City and dedicated it to Judy Chicago. In this work the artist connects with the archetypal feminine spirit, employing color as the medium of transmission. The hot pink awakens her architectonic forms with a vibration of female strength, something M feels is needed on Earth in this millennium. M states, “As a female artist, this painting shines and illuminates with the light and power of inspiration as it rises over this male-dominated world.”

In 2017, upon her return from a three-month residency in Japan, M made a visit to the SpaceX rocket facility in Los Angeles. This experience inspired her to assemble the wood forms into fifty-three sculptural pieces over the next three years. The series is titled Losing Gravity in the Orbiting Megatropolis and features geometric waves, vibrant fields, and optic frequencies. With these works, M shifts her focus beyond an attraction to architectonic forms into a transmutation of energy and planetary feminism, a personal vision of raising cosmic consciousness.

In 2020, continuing with this series during the pandemic, M has worked on at least ten to twenty pieces at one time. Cathedral Satellite Beacon on the Angular Topography of a Blue Moon is a smaller work placed on a pedestal. The cathedral is a celebration of what religion or spirituality might ascend to if our communion with a higher power were literally on a moon gazing back at Earth. The kaleidoscopic cathedral beams out a balanced energy, a synergistic oneness with the universe. It also doubles as a rocket.

A most impressive piece made right before quarantine is Escape from Retrograde Through a Shape Shifting Space Elevator with Abstract Quantum Enhancements. A fluorescent pink column 96 inches high is perched on a poured cement block base with seven structures seemingly losing gravity while leaving Earth. The base structure is de-lineated with a dark blue color, representing the male or Earth energy from which the feminine escapes skyward abandoning the masculine. Retrograde, going backwards, is no longer an option.

Architectural Solar Variations Across Space and Time no. 3 lies on the floor, freestanding, a polygon of energy looking displaced on a foreign surface. This prismatic jewel displays the characteristic of PaSColor, an acronym that M invented in 2018 to identify the relationship between painting and sculpture + color. The artist feels that the vibrant color spectrum she presents provides a frequency through which her audience can have a transformative encounter.

In the words of Carl Sagan, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.” M’s PaSColor works help to create a heightened sense of awareness of a more conscious balance of the feminine and masculine energies. Her work signals an awakening that is essential for humans to survive on planet Earth.

Patricia Watts
May 2020


On Mela M’s

917 ANGLED COLOR ENGINEERED FEM ELECTRIC BRIDGE
Losing Gravity in the Orbiting Megatropolis: geometric waves, vibrant fields and optic frequencies

Unseen shifts occur where we walk, drive, congregate and sleep. In the supercity seismic activity is a given; faults and thrusts shudder through multiple zones and sections in the Earth, moving without interruption – from somewhere deep within the core inhabitants on the surface encounter transference of these energies, emerging outward and pushing up. As these energies converge, a geodetic passage is forming where balanced pillars plucked from staccato Richter scale lines reveal transmissions of steep edges and open recesses in an accordion structure. In 917 Angled Color Engineered Fem Electric Bridge, forces unfold throughout the body of the composition, steadily generating the flow of lightning fast current that provides stature and gravitational strength to a developing edifice. This bridge is a delicate, vulnerable extension attentively fused; its sharp borders penetrate reverberating foundational legs – an accomplishment to fitfully connect forces into one uniform expansion of un-dimensional elements: it houses space and time, the remainder of details fashioned from eons of shaking and quaking repetitions, the accumulations retained, reimagined and harnessed to witness the creation of this tangible being. The rise and fall of so many contained lines creates a multitude of spellbound silhouettes that wash over this being, holding viewers’ attention in such a way that we must look for a point to focus upon, a useful spot in our spinning. The open mystery of the piece is compelling, sustaining a reverie between the familiar and the unrecognizable. The entry is accessible from either side, open but divided, its center an invisible portal – a representation magically superimposing the precision of technical line variances on shaped wood sequencing, its appearance like a crack in the wall, amplifying color decoded circuitry and tectonic messages. On one side it retains a flat demeanor: a neon pink binding carefully interspersed throughout inner contours, accentuating the outlines of the construction; on the other, topographic intersections recede into articulated beats of firmament blues and purples, neoprene greens and solar yellows; though it is stationary, contained consecutive steps are interchangeably energized moving in multiple directions all over its physical terrain. Dynamic feminine components disperse powerful charges into the object, coursing through visible highways widening and narrowing, navigating tricky bends where quick compensation is needed – high speed actions euphorically enveloping all connectors, traces, and shadows, embracing desires and great unknowns. This flexible and equally complex assemblage is imbued with prowess and strength, standing fully aware and self-assured. To pass through and around this entity the audience is made aware of oppositional forces at work, challenging preconceived concepts of what elements constitute architecture, painting, sculpture and installation – a renewed sense of awe connects the technical with the hand of the artist and the enhanced unpredictability of nature. The presence of image making is apparent; created with cathodes, anodes and excited electrons, a state of becoming is depicted, uniting indeterminate qualities with calculated production.

Suzanne Bybee
Artist and Writer
May 13th, 2020


Mela M - Light Benders and Altered Absorptions

On @Retrograde exhibition, Carnegie Art Museum Studio Gallery, Oxnard, CA February-June 2020

What is yet to come echoes in the present and in this section of the solar system the transfiguration of bodies celebrating pathways of perception through shape, carefully developed color, and elevated connections represent the creative renewal and repurposing of place. Synthesizing intimate accents and inclines, the builder/artist, explores spatial advancements through the use of familiar flat constructions opening up constrained proportions – through repetition on these surfaces, line temporality is explored and the cultivation of depth through color considerations and arrangements harmonizes elastic variances.

It isn’t what is heard so much as what is seen or felt, an unanticipated blossoming into an otherwise white interior. In the group exhibition @Retrograde, one contained room offers a sensory surprise. Though the title implies one thing, it is clear we are not moving back – in particular the dramatic pull forward is into an accelerating, transformative space. Beyond an entry without a door, a quartet created by Mela M. entices viewers to float into an optical sonata. That which is emitted strains the eyes, the light bending, shifting from the monumental to the small, and back, myriad directional combinations careening and caressing shards of searing color. The mood is not disorienting, rather a welcome scene of expansion washes over you – voluminous, sweeping large, even as some part of the space is contracting, dashing towards the minute, all the while giddy, electric. But let’s slow it down to experience the pieces, to consider the subtleties unfolding.

Kneeling as if to take a moment to catch its breath, a sentinel at the entry of the chamber beckons from a tower. The form’s spiky adornment colorfully juts out, a small presence, designed to give pause in a revved scene. Lines are racing and tracing in and around its countenance marking memory, counting passages of time in every crevice. As multiple silhouettes beam from its profile, Cathedral Satellite Beacon on the Angular Topography of a Blue Moon consolidates molecules that are optical blades of grass piercing the atmosphere which extend above an urban horizon – it lunges, intercepting, incorporating and coupling kaleidoscopic crystals, playfully reaching out. As you walk around it, small talismanic islands erupt from its landscape, carefully placed windows into the personality of its surface. It propels itself in the direction of another form from where it is gleaning energy, its presence a force anticipating the dynamics of other components in this space.

One object of central balance to the quartet, The Authority of Color at the Speed of Light, is a virtual power house, refracting from within its core a supply of energy sustaining all matter in the room. In its center there is a recognizable icon edging up to the surface: a star pulsating, ebbing out of the uniform terrain, a ship traversing bands of angularity changing speeds alone by color arrangements loosened, and then tightened again by containments of ultra-violets, blues and pale pinks. As it sparkles it is hard to distinguish where multi-dimensional shaping begins or where one mesmerizing, undulating quiver ends. The arms of this pulsar travel high over each side, balancing fused fragments, carried up by variegated ladders; their infinitesimal outlines penetrating deep into the interior. It is extruding from the wall, suspending immersive bandwidths of deep space replicating internally, beating out a ritual for regeneration. Its nature is architectural, crafted and animated with deceptively simple exactness; it reaches toward a neighbor longingly though it may shoot back to the heavens at any moment, the star ecstatic. An exquisitely prismatic instrument is incrementally stretching upward, Escape from Retrograde Through a Shape Shifting Space Elevator with Abstract Quantum Enhancements, highlights a lyrical transporter lifting and descending simultaneously – each access point measuring depths and heights equally, carved geological fronds arranged symbolically fanning a cityscape. Sun rays merge with the buildings and wrap around the blocks exploring perspectives from steep precipices, falling up and enveloping the next location. One segment is a mimic excerpt inserted from another variation in the room, a deep cobalt molded cornerstone anchoring the candy pink firmament. Its’ close relative on a nearby wall merges natural and technical worlds, feminine layers replicating into the deep – in this setting it contributes to strengthening the sequenced steps of the transporter to generate a continuum; a solid pink belt supports this perpetual system, providing stability and the possibility of further replication.

On a wall with tight shadows casting, a thick solid ultramarine descends into midnight, its water/land mass absorbing indigo rubber bands which hold together elements directed back into a central core. Here an intricately arranged city skims the surface, an echo of an opening between the material and the immaterial, where alterity thrives and sophisticated intersections abound. The epic, A Prismatic Home of the New Uncommon Era with Bridges Over the Purple Void Losing Gravity in the Orbiting Metropolis: Geometric Waves, Vibrant Fields and Optic Frequencies, bridges deep surface compilations with utopian overpasses built from dizzying perspectives and complex boundaries. Everything is attracted to an edge, an engaged post historic embrace viewed from an aerial vantage point coming from distant space.

As bodies, we sense the presence of wavelengths emanating from these assembled surfaces pushing and pulling their encoded linear intimacies, expanding razor technicolor hues, glimmering and ricocheting. Hewn layers add heft to repetitions that are the building tools of these pantheist architectures, emitting electric pulses that alter awareness of the environment and their individual elements– shifting. The hard edge of painting merges with the literal edge of construction, PaSColor (where painting and sculpture meet, a term coined by the artist) forms are punctuated by precision and a hint of chance, swell with energy to convey possible outcomes. These intertwined markers place future views in front of us, an opportunity for considering innovative actions and designs as revelatory connections to new states of vitality and vision.

Because of their tight specifics one would think these works would be restrictive, instead the pieces produce room for reimagining the beauty of the conceptual universe – strata gleaned from the provenance of architectonics, storytelling produced from poetical thinking. Surface tensions dissipating, design, sculpture and painting cross preconceived boundaries, amplifying layered components begat from reflections of the world and projected onto characters yet to be imagined. The magic of these object variations distill sensory illusions and ambitiously invite us to peer deeper into and through the lens of time, releasing preconceived limitations and rationalizations to celebrate the unknown and the existence of alternate symbols.

Suzanne Bybee
Artist and Writer
April 2020


PROPOSAL FOR INTERACTIVE INSTALLATION METROPOLIS BY MELA M

Well known on three continents for her geometric installations, Mela M is a Postmodern inheritor of a Modernist legacy. Her most immediate formal ancestor may be El Lissitzky whose famed Proun Room debuted in 1923, one hundred years ago. “Prouns,” as the artist explained, existed in a liminal zone, caught someplace between drawing and sculpture.

In using the evocative metaphor of traveling, El Lissitzky explained that his painted forms were “the station where one changes from painting to architecture.” In other words, art has moved off the wall—ceased to be an inert painting—to a new site—becoming the wall or architecture itself.

A twenty-first century builder, Mela M is a constructor in the pure sense of the word. Each object she makes is a part of a greater metropolis that she has redefined as imaginary dislocations. Imagine an agglomeration of built objects, carefully constructed so as to defy identification. Think of forms that have no discernable function, existing solely in terms of color. Hue, rather than functionality, rules these shapes that share certain basic characteristics.

The fragments begin as flat pieces of raw wood, rectangles projecting flanges like fins. Rather than seeming inert or frozen, the cutouts of Mela M seem to be alive and growing and expanding but for what purpose? As we enter into this broken metropolis, we are forced to make our own interpretations.

The viewer is placed in a zone of ambivalence: is this a living being, throwing off extensions or is this a mere dead fragment, broken from something larger that is now lost? What this artist is doing is making art by presenting building as an activity, legitimate in and of itself.

Although any one of these objects can and does stand on its own as a work of art, each element is also destined to be one part that composes in a collective mass. Mela M creates what appear to be building blocks, but, while they can conceptually connect with each other, the parts cannot make a whole.

The swirling metropolis of Mela M is in turmoil, spewing fragments that transform the gallery into a space for the viewer to wander through a tsunami of forms and color.

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
Los Angeles area writer and critic.
November 8th, 2018


MAKING THE METROPOLIS: THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT OF MELA M

This is the memory map of Mela M: the secrets that lies beneath the sea, the lost cities, the forgotten civilizations, covered by the rolling deep. She is an internationally known artist who thinks of poetry when she dreams of these silent cities, scattered in broken pieces, drifted across the sands. Haunted by the long-lost cities that have sunk under the waves, ancient towns that have been swept away by an encroaching sea, the artist dreams of buildings crumbled and tossed away in a tsunami, entire societies vanished and swallowed up by earthquakes. Under the wine dark seas, there is an entire built environment, a past recovered by divers and treasure hunters and archaeologists; a past that needs to be reconstructed.

This great unknown is the realm that exist under the sea. Only recently have devices been invented that allow us to map the ocean floor and to plumb the depths of the canyons that scar the floors of our planet. New ways of mapping have revealed not just an expanded geography but also sunken ruins that once were cities where people lived and loved and died. Streets where vendors plied their wares lie inert beneath the weight of water. Surviving walls that once were homes rise here and there. Presided over by drifting seaweed, these forgotten places are visited by darting fish and lie mute in their dark graves.

While she was working in Japan, Mela M became fascinated by the sunken city off the southern coast of Japan, known as The Yonaguni Monument. However, what makes this site unique is that this monolith rearing up from the seabed is caught halfway between two states. Are the structures off the coast of Yonaguni Jima an ancient city or are they rock formations pushed to the surface by earthquakes? The diver who discovered the terraces, Masaaki Kimura, is convinced that the rising walls are those of an ancient city, which sank thousands of years ago. But others disagree with the geologist and believe the site to be broken ledges of sharp-edged sandstone. If it is a city; it has no name. But other ancient cities that lie beneath the ocean retained their names.

Existing somewhere between science and poetry, between fact and wish, the ambivalent site in Japan was celebrated by Mela M in an expansive plateau of slabs, blue like the sea, unidentifiable as human habitation and yet clearly the product of human invention. The undecided place, so old that it eludes definability led the way to Mela M’s latest project.

Well known on three continents for her geometric installations, Mela M is a Postmodern inheritor of a Modernist legacy. Her most immediate formal ancestor may be El Lissitzky whose famed Proun Room debuted in 1923, one hundred years ago. “Prouns,” as the artist explained, existed in a liminal zone, caught someplace between drawing and sculpture. In using the evocative metaphor of traveling, El Lissitzky explained that his painted forms were “the station where one changes from painting to architecture.” In other words, art has moved off the wall—an inert painting to be looked at—to a new site—becoming the wall or architecture itself.

On the walls of his room, the shapes of El Lissitzky became dynamic elements in a theater for architecture. Before his time, the Russian artist introduced the idea of “theatricality” and installation, transforming art into what he wanted to be a new form of architecture. Once the viewer was directed by the artist to move around the room, following the shapes, the notion of time was introduced, and, with time, theatricality.

Like a play in a theater, the Proun existed only when the viewer was in the room. In the same way, the installation ceases to function without people to activate it. It is this quality of time and the significance of human habitation that allies El Lissitzky to architecture. Like El Lissitzky, Mela M has built an environment, a place where people can wander and wonder.

But she has exceeded her predecessor. Mela M has built a city similar to El Lissitzky. She started from flat and progressed to three dimensional forms, but the sources of her inspirations are both ancient and modern. El Lissitzky lived on the edge of great change, making art in the midst of a political and aesthetic revolution. But Mela M is watching her world being ravaged by environmental forces which are tearing it apart. If El Lissitzky had hopes for beginnings, Mela M wants us to reconsider what it means to build, to make, to construct, in the most literal sense of the word, a place for humans to live.

By “place” she is referring to earth itself, and this earth is all we have. The sunken cities are a warning and a prediction of the future that is coming in our century. We are watching the makings of our own Yonaguni. Miami is sinking, New York will be swallowed by ocean. Venice has become a city one rows through and the distinction between street and canal is getting lost. As if to counteract the dangers of obliteration, Mela M builds new environments. Her metanomic allusions to buildings may be quite real, but what Mela M constructs is totally metaphorical and completely poetic.

She builds carefully by hand, piece by piece, fragment by fragment. Her studio space could be mistaken for that of a professional carpenter, and her work is an extremely precise act of craft. Working obsessively, she generates hundreds of shapes and forms, which, like puzzle pieces, may or may not ever be fitted together.

If we think of Mela M in conventional terms, she would be an additive maker. In other words, she moves from basic to the simple, to the complex and complicated, creating more and more pieces, which, in turn, are added to more and more forms. To the word “additive” should be added the concept of “elements” or parts that may or may not belong to a whole. Another thought would be “slice,” indicating that somewhere there might be a single unit, or that in the future there might be a completed accumulation.

But for now, Mela M keeps the art objects suspended between the spaces of making, constructing and becoming.  Mela M is making allegories that transcend symbol making and she uses the tactic of allegory to force the viewer into a state of extended contemplation of the meaning of form itself. Mela M is a constructor in the pure sense of the word. Each object she makes is a part of a greater environment, the metropolis that she is building.

Imagine an agglomeration of built objects, carefully constructed so as to defy identification. Imagine forms that have no discernable function, existing in terms of color. Hue, rather than functionality, rules these shapes that share certain basic characteristics. The fragments begin as flat pieces of raw wood, rectangles projecting flanges like fins. Rather than seeming inert or frozen, the cutouts of Mela M seem to be alive and growing and expanding but for what purpose? Once again, the viewer is placed in a zone of ambivalence: Is this a living being, throwing off extensions or is this a fragment, broken from something larger? Either way, the original use is unclear, and then we are forced to make our own interpretations.

And the mystery of Mela M’s poetic shards deepens. She doubles the shape, adds thickness with new shapes on all four sides. Mela M makes three-dimensional shapes.

What this artist is doing is making art by presenting building as an activity, legitimate in and of itself. Although any one of these objects can and does stand on its own as a work of art, each element is also destined to be one part that composes in a collective mass. The viewer begins to wonder about the protrusions that jut out and thinks of joints and joins and connections. Has the artist constructed thick slices that can eventually be slotted into another slice? Mela M creates what appear to be building blocks but while they can conceptually connect with each other, they cannot make a whole. The metropolis is in turmoil, spewing fragments. The theme of separateness is elevated by the way that Mela M paints the fragments. Each object is its own shape and this distinctness becomes more apparent as the wooden structure is transformed from raw to flat white to a smooth sanded finish, ready to take coats of paint.

The colors of Mela M’s “building blocks” are stunning and striking, running in a riot of running colors. In building her metropolis, Mela M fills the space with shapes that stride visually into view. This is an alive environment that refuses restraint. Today, ancient cities and old ruins are pure stone but once the façades were brilliant and polychromed in an exuberance that defies today’s taste for subdued colors. The Parthenon was positively gaudy, and the classical Roman buildings left no surface untouched and unembellished. Just as the glittering encrustations disguised the structure and the Roman engineering, Mela M evokes the ancient in postmodern terms by overdetermining shape and color, reminding us that the ancients decorated the surfaces of their buildings.

Modernism ushered in long theoretical discussions over the merits of “dressed” and “undressed” architectural exteriors, with modernism and its lack of ornamentation being scandalously “nude.” Postmodernism brought color back to architecture but often with caution. Mela M revels in the freedom to paint any color on any surface in any combination and creates a built environment that redresses the discussion of façade in architecture. Her metropolis is a city dancing with joy, flaunting its fashion, reveling in the display of exquisite craft. This is how humans create their built environments—we want to enrich the earth, mimicking its manifold colors and forms. Rather than making the surface a modernist backdrop, she explores the possibilities of making a flat plane come to life. Never introducing dimension and keeping her designs strictly graphic, Mela M paints a flat color over the construction and then she adds layers of colors, building a progression of hues marching across the face of her shapes.

The colored designs force a dialogue between the form and the colors that disguise and enhance its object-ness. But she does not stop with flat colors. Mela M then introduces a verbal/visual pun on the idea of building: she literally builds up and out small squares of color, smaller square growing on top of a larger square. These tiers of thick paint segments are attached arbitrarily to the structures. This extreme complexity that is a play between flat and raised, suggests a deliberate bas relief that plays with idea of a growth or a crust that has naturally evolved. As the audience is forced by the elaborate play of tropes to examine each element of every construction, a truth slowly dawns: the artist has built a metropolis that is deconstructing itself. The shapes are in a state of upheaval, twisting themselves inside out and throwing themselves upside down. Far from being inert pieces of wood, the forms are alive and interacting with each other.

Once again Mela M places the viewer in a liminal zone: she is building a work of architecture that is all façade. There is no enclosure; there are only pieces that imply the future or past possibility of a compound. If her architecture is all façade, it is also all surface. The idea of communication among the fragments is enhanced by the small appendages or star like shapes that can be added to or hooked on the fins of the larger forms. These are like ornaments and announce that the house that is being built by Mela M is a place where the audience can wander and play and even participate in “making” the environment.

If she is building a city, then this is a city in flux, strewn about the room as if it was taken up by a giant tsunami which churns buildings into splinters that swirl in the waves. In this activity, the shapes become waves and lose their role as elements of a whole. The form is denied a unity through the disruption of colors that change as the structure is rotated from side to side, from edge to edge.

The viewer is expected to spend time with each segment, examine its top, its bottom, and its edges. Mela M offers an infinite variety of perspectives for each building block. The solidity of form is broken with molten colors that are red and orange and volcanic, suggesting an inwardly burning wave of lava which pushes the city into the sea. The Metropolis is in motion, like a Proun, it is traveling.   And yet the fragments preserve the idea of the city while the colors retain the remains of a metropolis as it collides with the sea.

The elements that were once part of a city become, through an act of formal metamorphosis, fish-like shapes that now slip through the enveloping waters and swim through the waves. The basic colors of the fragments are sea blue and sky gray, but these surface hues are overlaid with dazzling patches of color and intriguing phalanges that reach out. Imagine a metropolis that is rising and rolling on the waves, unraveling, and becoming an environment that is suspended in time and space simultaneously, and you will have visited the Metropolis of Mela M.

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
Los Angeles area writer and critic.
October 29th, 2018


Losing Gravity in the Orbiting Megatropolis, Overture by Mela M

LOSING GRAVITY IN THE ORBITING MEGATROPOLIS
geometric waves, vibrant fields and optic frequencies

OVERTURE
by Mela M

Towering and descending
Geometric waves
Losing gravity

In an orbiting megatropolis
Transforming the capacity of space
Taking with them
An enduring evolution of layers
In an upside down
Inside out world

Where angular, luminous and harmonious projections
Of individual and collective shapes
Appear from above and below

Congruent lines
Sudden angles
Ambiguous infrastructure
Traces of profiles of people, animals and nature
Everything and anything existing under the sun and beyond

All objects recognizable and unrecognizable
Are transmuting throughout
Bright and glowing shapes of lava storms

To impact the surrounding deep and vibrant tempest
Of the intense color spectrum
That carries us into a transformative encounter

Within uncharted territory
Awakening the Feminine

 

LOSING GRAVITY IN THE ORBITING MEGATROPOLIS
geometric waves, vibrant fields and optic frequencies

A Solo Exhibition by Mela M

Artist Statement

After returning from a three month art residency in Japan in 2017, I resumed working on this project which was already one year in the making. At completion I had personally cut and painted 53 different sculptural pieces with some help in the final assembly by a woodworking assistant. These pieces can go together as one sculptural installation or, alternatively, each can also be a standalone work. My work represents an orbiting megatropolis losing gravity. As gravity diminishes, these architectural monoliths ascend and descend as they transform the capacity of space. The shapes induce a prismatic explosion of color from the inside out which ultimately reveals the magnetic feminine principle as seen throughout all cycles of life.

Further development of these concepts came after visiting SpaceX at one of their rocket facilities in Los Angeles.  While standing under the powerful rocket engines built to overcome gravity, I was reminded that  “the painting does not follow any physical law, it has no up or down, it is not ruled by gravity” according to Kazimir Malevich .  Rockets carrying everything needed to put cities inside large domes orbiting the earth became a new and fresh conceptually challenging artistic endeavor.

From my “0.10 Angled Shape of Color as a Beacon in Space”, as a tribute to Russian poet and artist Maximilian Voloshin who wanted art to be a “shining beacon”, to my “Lightning Transformer “, I hear Malevich exhorting me to “…. go into the unknown wilderness … where real transformation can take place“, and Frank Stella who said that “a sculpture is just a painting, cut out and stood up somewhere”.

So I decided to take my work and send it up into unknown space, away from gravity! Sol LeWitt pointed out “once the rocket loses gravity, it is out of our control” referring to the artist who “has no control over the way the viewer will perceive the work”.

I have been asked if my work represents painting or sculpture. They are neither paintings nor sculptures. They are both. As both, they are neither. But the sum of the two results in a whole that is greater than the two components. This is an artistic transmutation from two knowns to one unknown. Then we have one unknown searching for definition; for a new conceptual frame of reference. PaSColor is the final and formal name for my new concept.  This curious, if not idiosyncratic, neologism is a term I define as an integration— more accurately a bono fide transmutation!—of painting and sculpture through shape and color. The shape pulls the color from the inside out. These shapes are like prisms that bend, reflect, deflect, diminish, heighten, refract and absorb color in a myriad of dynamic vibratory movements. The color comes from the light and the color informs the shape which, in turn, pushes the color from the inside out. A discrete feature of PaSColor shows this by synergistically generating multiple layers of high intensity acrylic paint in a prismatic explosion of colors.

In this new work,  PaSColor captures my concept of an orbiting monolithic megatropolis losing gravity while also featuring the universal phenomena of geometric waves, vibrant fields and optic frequencies.

For my descriptions I chose to view a select few of these regal monoliths from only one of multiple possible angles. With PaSColor, I discovered yet another feature that enables it to animate as well as enhance the emotionally valenced quality of particular memories set apart by this intensity. From an abundance of narratives that surfaced like vertical waves from the deep blue sea of my unconscious, I could, correspondingly, imagine countless dreamlike stories still faintly forming and fading while rising from the low frequency depths where mythic underwater civilizations once thrived. These so-called lost civilizations, out of the mysteries of their extinction, signal a warning for us not to fall prey to similar conditions lest we become a vast architectural dystopia.

I view the orbiting megatropolis as a mirror image of our earthbound civilization with its nearly unlimited architectural cityscape audacity, built by a species that has always wanted to reach the stars. Colonizing our solar system is no longer science fiction. This drive to do so is no doubt a primitive remnant of a basic imbalanced masculine imperative to conquer, dominate, control and ultimately destroy all things natural, bright and full of color. Or to restrain the Feminine as revealed in “The Indomitable Spirit of the Amazon”. Each piece of this megatropolis transmutes the Law of Polarity into a higher frequency of interconnectedness and gender equilibrium through the PaSColor. I envision the crushing gravity of despair left behind. And I see Hope, as it loses the pull of gravity, elevated to a gender balanced consciousness where we honor, develop, follow and amplify the light within each of us to pass through the prism. This will collectively inform the world that our own unique and brilliant array of color, perspective and quality can move forward with elegance in a vibrant new context of union and equality.


A Brief History of Contemporary Art "From America"

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Minsk, Belarus is pleased to present the work of 55 American Artists from 25 cities. “FROM AMERICA” will be on view from June 13 to July 10, 2006. The exhibition was curated by Los Angeles based artist MELA M.

“ From America “ could be subtitled “ From California”, not just because most of the artists in the exhibition are from the Golden State but also because, for the rest of the world, “America “ is located in California. Among the top five economies in the world (if the state were a nation), California’s top exports are entertainment and garbage. To those who decry popular culture, the difference lies in an arbitrary nomenclature, but “America” has become synonymous with the mass media made in California. It is common for American art discourse to compare New York with Los Angeles, and, because most of the art writing comes from New York, L.A. has been territory long ignored. But as the current exhibition at the Pompidou suggests, the neglect of the art of the Left Coast is ending, and it is now impossible to image contemporary art without the contributions of artists from Los Angeles.

According to the Parisian art writer, Serge Guilbault, New York “ Stole the Idea of Modern Art “ and the international art scene shifted to New York from Paris. Meanwhile, Los Angeles artists made art far from the glare of the spotlight and the scrutiny of the art market. Working in isolation, these artists had the freedom to create a unique art culture. While the artists in New York were yoked to the tradition and heritage of European art, especially painting, artists in Los Angeles were responding to their own European influences: the iconoclastic non-tradition of Dada.  Both Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray were major figures on the L.A. scene. In their wake, a local penchant for the oject trouve emerged. While New York painted and made money, impoverished L.A. artists worked with junk and puns and created material concepts from detritus.  While New York approached art with a philosophical detachment (Sol Le Witt), L.A. artists reacted the local cultures of aerospace technology, surfing, fashion, and the Kustom Kultuer of fast cars.  ( Ed Ruscha ) With their delight in sensuous materials, hard shiny “finish fetish” ( Tony Delap ), and the toys of grown-up boys—hot rods and motorcycles, the artists of Southern California were decried by the East Coast counterparts for the “hedonistic decadence”.

The New York art scene was centered upon the galleries and museums, but in L. A., there were few galleries and even fewer museums, forcing the art scene into the rapidly expanding art schools, colleges, and universities. As art departments opened, artists found employment and worked in a site where innovative art and ideas could be nurtured. Even marginalized artists of color, even excluded women and feminist artists were given a place at the educational table. To peruse the list of included artists is to read the history of teaching art. The tradition of open-mindedness and inclusion and the refusal to hierarchize the products of the visual culture has been passed on through art schools and art scenes. From Ruscha to Huerta, from Chicago to Lachowicz, a “tradition” of sorts has been formed in a landscape constantly on the move.

Where American Art will go from here is anyone’s guess, but one can predict with certainty that it will change. L. A. has always been identified with all that is new, novel, and mobile. It is commonplace in America to remark that one can look at California today and see what the nation will be in 20 years. By the time the rest of the country has caught up with the Golden State, we have moved on. Far more than other American cities, the City of the Angels has been dedicated to being on the cutting edge and will continue to throw away the past in order to make way for the future. The exhibition of California art in Paris is about the past; in contrast, the curator, Mela M has shown the art of the present, which is to say, she has brought the future to Belarus.

Essay by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette


A Journey through The Flat World: The Virtual Architecture of Mela M

To the amazement of those who were convinced that the world was flat, Christopher Columbus found America. After 1492, everyone was convinced that the world was round but 500 years later, the skeptics have been vindicated. The world is indeed flat, flattened into a digital landscape spreading out endlessly, like a net that ensnares us all in its connective tissues. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Thomas Friedman (1) has commented, “Everywhere you turn, hierarchies are being challenged from below, or transforming themselves from top-down structures into more horizontal and collaborative ones”. Once artists were restricted to a style or a movement or a locale, but now art, like the web, goes everywhere, connecting artist to a globalization of creativity. Everywhere, artists are at home, citizens of a digital world, free of museums, galleries, and dealers. In this new Flat World, “artistic freedom “has acquired an entirely new meaning. The artist has become a wanderer.

On the eve of her American citizenship, Russian native, Mela M, now a successful artist in California, brings architectural drawings of a re-dreamed world to her homeland. Although it floats seamlessly through a cyber world, art stubbornly retains its human qualities: A basic physicality that demands to be looked at. The work of Mela M insists upon intimate, close observation, a careful reading of subtleties that become apparent only when scanned slowly. Close reading reveals that the small-scale painted drawings carry their own contradictions. The artist speaks in the international language of architectural CAD programs, but she works by hand. The flatness of the building diagrams is only apparent, not actual. The spectator who looks carefully will see geometrical segments precisely crafted by the artist. These sections become sculptural units that are conceptual memories of the actual structural materials.( “Purple Line”) She pours over architectural books in the library to find the landscape, but she stares at the sky, pondering the way in which the built environment pushes space into new shapes. Her map of the sky scheme of Chicago is a mirror line of the tall buildings that replace the plains of the prairie with false mountains, like the Sears Tower (“Constructed Horizon”). Surrounded by tall buildings, most humans instinctively look up at the sky, seeking nature in the middle of overwhelming culture. This artist inverts the viewpoint by looking down from nature, into culture, and imagines the buildings opening like the petals of a flower and re-sees the street as a piece of fallen sky (“Fallen Sky”). Perhaps God is female, who looks down and seeks to restore poetry to the earth.

Although as a post-feminist, the artist does not confront the patriarchy, her work records and recognizes the personal meaning of architecture to women and the public meaning of buildings erected by men. Mela M appropriates the buildings of male architects, noting with amazement that our environment was designed by and for men, and yet her work is not about gendered habitations. She simply takes these constructions and then proceeds to re-build them to her liking, meditating upon aspects of the structure that are now re-thought. I.M. Pei’s National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is crowned by red slabs, indicating the “hotness” of art in such a cool, geometrical white space (“Near the Red Hot Corner”). An obscure part of Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum is found and an odd window is highlighted (“Pushed Space at the Whitney”). Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, also in New York City, (“ Spiral Passage of the Guggenheim”), is remade as interior space of female sexuality, as though the architect was regressing into the spiral passage to the safety of the womb.

Now that the artist has become a perpetual traveler across the unfolded map of computer connections, one might assume that the artist has no home and no sense of place. But Mela M’s work is a deeply personal response to the identity of place. The question: “where do you live?” has become more significant than ever, for we can live anyplace; we can choose. America is a land of immigrants who are a source of the nation’s diversity and strength. Free to come and go as they want, people live there because they want to live there. America is “home”, (“World Home”), a vast flag composed of diverse shapes and colors. The artist carefully inscribed the names of all of the nations—-all of the cultures—-that have been carried by nomads to their adopted country over the stars and stripes. As an immigrant, Mela knows dislocation and adjustment and the difficulties of “coming to America”. The closest thing to a self-portrait or a narrative of migration would be a small white house shape within gray clouds, but inside the heart is a round yellow sun, (“My Sunny Home of Peace”). This sun is internal and is transportable: The artist is on the move and is always home. For her, the mid-use of home can be seen in the refusal of people to take care of the earth, as signified by the surround of burnt and dried grass surrounding a house that she imagines as being filled with artificial trees and flowers (“ House with a Green Window surrounded by dried Grass”). Culture has replaced nature with painful results.

One can speak eloquently of despoiled environment or of human arrogance, but the artist is not stridently political, only compassionate. Mela M makes the statement that architecture defines us. Since Stonehenge, marking the open land with stele is a human need. Thus, it is traumatic to the heart when a structure is felled. Like most Americans, the artist is nearly mute with the pain of the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11, but she memorializes the tragedy. Look carefully her active homage: She rebuilds the Towers, now “flattened” into hand-crafted planks with sharp beveled edges (“Twin Towers – Never Forget”). Painted over with floating lines of paint, these towers carry the marks of those hundreds of humans who flew, like angels, to the sky below. In another work, the artist draws the blankness of Ground Zero in the shape of two slabs, crossed one over the other (“The View”). Tom Friedman (2) made the point that when the Berlin Wall fell, the world opened and, in its openness, was flattened. In contrast, he continued, when the Towers fell, walls went up “To beat back the threat of openness, the Muslim extremists have, quite deliberately, chosen to attack the very thing that keeps open societies open, innovating, and flattening, and that is trust. As Friedman said, “there has never been a time in history when the character of human imagination wasn’t important, but… It has never been more important than now”. The writer calls upon us to exercise “peaceful imaginations” that will lead to openness.

When one looks at the flatness in the openness of Mela M’s “Views” of her world, one recognizes the interconnectedness and the vulnerability of us all. These are small works, sized to suggest the grids of a map, indicating pieces of a larger territory, extending in all directions. Despite all the sharpness, all the edginess, these drawings are exercises in empathy. Floating on white paper, lying under glass, her drawings are transparent and unprotected, underscoring the inherent irony of the virtual landscape they suggest that technology does not displace the human by flattening our space. In order to trust each other, we must be able to imagine each other. The artist of today must be an ambassador.

Essay by Dr. Jeanne S.M. Willette,
written for the MOCA Minsk Belarus Solo Exhibition of Mela M., 2006

  1. Thomas Friedman. The World is Flat (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux) 2005. p.45.
  2. Ibid. p.443


Memory and Metonymy: Mela M and Postmodern Painting

Postmodern art is characterized by its condition of betweenness—caught between the past and the present. Unlike the conceits of Modernism and its unwavering belief in rejecting the past by predicting the future, Postmodernism has embraced history and came to the pragmatic conclusion that because the future hasn’t happened yet, art can only be situated in the now.  Contemporary Postmodern painting is sited between the past and the present, inhabiting this intermediary space as an immediate presence. The paintings of Mela M inhabit this in-between place and challenge the Modernist boundaries between art forms with Postmodern interrogations. Looming above and enveloping the viewer, these paintings confirm and deny their status as painted surfaces and demand a reconsideration of the conditions of possibility. These painted architectonic fragments exist in a new place that refuses to be defined. If Modernism insisted upon maintaining the binary of “either/or”, then Postmodernism prefers the less stable but more open oscillation  of “both/and” that is theoretically described as “ betweenness”.

For the artist, this state of ”between-ness” is a complex and ever-changing condition, producing her serious and searching rethinking of painting as an environment of memory that shifts the ground between drawing and construction, between translucency and texture, and between architecture and painting.  Mela M does not make paintings, does not make sculpture, does not make architecture; she does all these things and more: she makes memories out of metonymic fragments that float upon the surface of a new kind of architectonic painting. The art of Mela M needs to be understood as a theoretical hybrid, a common condition of Postmodern art. Hybridity, by definition, is always on the way to the next thing.

Mela M is between worlds, the Old and the New. She came to the city of the 21st-century, Los Angeles, by way of Russian cities steeped in the past, Kiev and St. Petersburg. Walking through these old cities, one encounters shifts in history, walking from the elegant Baroque airs of the Imperial era, through the barrenness of Communism,  and in turning a corner to encounter Ukrainian designs in a Korean neighborhood, it becomes clear that one has been a flaneur through a fragmented past. Like many émigrés the artist has memories of home, overlaid with the cacophony of the present. Working with an architectural material, wood, the artist builds shaped paintings sawed from what appears to be a larger implied urban setting, carefully inscribed in a drafting style on the hard, unyielding service. These precise and angular shapes crisscrossed with edges refer to the strong contrast between light and dark that delineates shapes in the desert light of California. Within the here and now hard edges of Los Angeles is the open territory of softened memories of a Russian past.

The large and imposing constructions are buildings in and of themselves but their solidity is diffused by the dreamlike state of drawings that are not paintings of places that are not landscapes.  Despite the exactitude of the rendering and the sharpness of the edges there is a lack of specificity of site, suggesting an organic development of shapes and colors that is entirely intuitive. Mela M searches for colors and textures, mixing and combining and experimenting until she finds the tone she has been seeking. The found colors, rediscovered, function as a totalizing atmospheric membrane across which the drawn environment is stretched. There are sections of built up colors to connote the curiously three-dimensional quality of Russian colors, seen through rain and mist. These unique colors, like the experience of finding them, are unrepeatable, a moment that is past but frozen. Upon careful examination, the viewer discovers that these colors range between thin coats to build up blocks that suggest architectural modeling that is, nevertheless, solid paint. This solidity of shape metaphorically anchors the ephemeral conditions of the multiple perspectives that set the vision in motion.

On the move, we could be anywhere, East or West, America or Russia, or we could be in a dream of the past, the metonymy of a memory.  Location is anywhere as the spectator mentally flies above and around architectonic drawings that have yet to materialize. The tall and pale structures loom above the viewer, inviting a visual envelopment and an imaginary entrance into what appears to be an urban space. But this is the spaceless space of dream and memory, as the process of remembering diffuses and softens with the passage of time. The whole of the experience is lost but metonymic parts remain. The textures that are randomly employed evoke the materials of remembered buildings in Russian cities. The perspective is high and mobile, as though the stationary spectator is freed from the gallery to fly above these pale worlds and swoop down and around pieces of architecture that appears metonymically, hinting at something that is absent yet whole, irredeemably lost. Within solidity and presence there is dream and imagination, composed of fleeting memories of images conjured up during sleep.

Mela M, was a product, not of the Cold War, but of Glasnost, an event that occurred when a formerly closed society began gingerly  to open itself to the outside world and, most significantly, to itself, to its own history. This fact alone puts Mela M in a place that is very different from that of Komer and Melamid who defected from Russia in the 1970s and produced parodies of Russian propaganda art, the dominant form in their time.  For the generation of Mela M, the singularly rich heritage of the long suppressed Russian Avant-Garde was being revealed to the new art students whose teachers were often from the generation of Socialist Realists.  She was fortunate in her teachers who passed on the once forbidden knowledge of Malevich and Popova and Rodchenko and Rozanova and Tatlin, pioneers of abstract art in Russia.

The revolutionary intentions of these artists to make art for the new Communist world would be crushed under Stalin, who wanted only illustrations of his power.  For almost seventy years, Avant-Garde art was all but lost. When the Modernist art was re-instated, time had passed and it was impossible for the new generation to go back in time and pick up where their predecessors had left off.  Despite the surface similarity between Mela M and the followers of Malevich and Tatlin, she also had a strong affinity for the more expressionistic and old-fashioned art of Kadinsky. As with all Postmodern artists, Mela M is belated, maturing as an artist at the end of one tradition and at the beginning of another. Contemporary artists need a strategy to confront the past, and in order to move beyond her heritage, the artist positioned herself in between logic and expression and history and the present.

These artists of the past had created a Modernist art movement that had to be reckoned with. The question for any Russian artist reclaiming this heritage was one of position, that is, how to respect the heritage and yet go beyond the past. About 20 years ago, the American theorist, Harold Bloom, lifted an unexpected term from the legal profession-“misprision“- which means a deliberate misunderstanding. Freed from the confines of the law, this word took on a new art meaning, referring to the new artist encountering, emulating and surpassing a precursor by finding a new place to make art. This strategy of moving away from the shadow of a dominating presence is called a “swerve” by Bloom. An artist must veer off and glance away from the past to avoid being a mere reverential copyist or devoted follower.

To the contemporary artist, idealism as intent is impossible in a world that is unsettled, mobile, global and without fixed points. Postmodern painters have inherited the stance of purity from the Modernists but they have also come to understand that any notion of “purity” must be subverted and deconstructed. Mela M‘s misprision of their earlier works uses their suggestions but avoids their influences. One of the strategies of Postmodernism is to retrieve the past as a means of finding the future. Postmodernism is always about relativity, which means that the present is doomed to be characterized by being unfixed.  In contrast to the dogmatic prose of Modernism, there is a poetry to Postmodernism, clearly on view and captured in the works of Mela M, a melancholy poetry of lamenting lost worlds of certainty and of reconciliation to an unsteady place of  betweenness  where anything can happen.

As a member of the always belated Postmodern generation, Mela M’s  large constructions are examples of the strategy of maneuvering between genres and disciplines. In writing of Postmodern architecture, Postmodern theorists, such as Jacques Derrida, write eloquently of the site of undecidability: that which is in-between. Postmodernism rejects the fixed positions of polarities, the unnatural division between opposites.  Mela M swerves from the deductive purity of the shaped canvases of Frank Stella and arrives at an oscillation that exploits the inherent objectness of any constructed work of art that shifts back and forth between painting and architecture. At the same time, her work appears to reinterpret the flying forms of Malevich and the “painterly architectonics” of Popova. Denied the Modernist polarity of placing herself against another tradition, Mela M deconstructs the intrinsic essentials of painting and locates the opposite of Greenbergian “flatness” and “surface”—the givens of painting. For her, the opposite of flatness must be structure and the opposite of surface must be dream. But she keeps both conditions intact, creating oscillation and betweenness.

The artist re-examines the play between two and three dimensions and theoretically and literally deconstructs painting and sculpture and architecture to reveal the inevitable instability of artificially constructed categories. The metonymic deconstruction allows the works to function as signs of betweenness by refusing the boundaries of the rigid rectangle or square. Mela M opens up a landscape of process and becoming where the past is moving toward the present, intersecting waking thoughts with a haunting. The structured built environment of fragmented memories open up a new place of undecidability. It is here that Mela M’s work is poised, inhabiting a historical place between the Paper Architecture of the Russian Avant-Garde- dreams of buildings never built—and the newness of Postmodern field paintings without a center because they cannot be restricted by defined space.  Somewhere between the inheritance of constructed drawings and built paintings is a Postmodern strategy of reinvention of structures, drawn and colored and textured with softening memories captured within the ruled lines. Misprision has opened up a new space for a new time that is in-between an unfolding of floating memory, of resonating metonymy and a deconstruction of known certainties. We are in a new place.

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette
Los Angeles area writer and critic.
Catalog, June 2002, Los Angeles