Michaela Melián: “Art, music, literature, theater, film – these are basic foods for me.”
When asked which five albums I would take to a desert island, “Monaco” by Michaela Melian is always one of them. I love the dark, soft tones and they inevitably put me in a very cinematic mood, similar to the atmosphere of Berlin in the 80s sor a film Noir with Jeanne Moreau. Nevertheless, the music is absolutely contemporary and modern.
Gudrun Gut gave me this elegant album because she released it on her label “Monika”. Gudrun is also my label boss and was just about to release my first solo album “Tacoma”.
In 2016, I visited Michaela Melian’s first museum exhibition in Munich, in the Lenbachhaus, with Gudrun. That was when I became a real fan. Rarely have I seen an exhibition that I liked so much. In the large entrance hall huge drawings in black and white were installed on the walls. In the room itself, there were sound chairs in which one could sit and listen to Michael’s music, in this case electronic. The sound installation divided the music into 16 channels, which played different instruments in different areas in the room, so that the visitor would move through the sounds and only perceived fragments of the complete composition. Only the bass track was everywhere. In the next rooms films by her with spoken word and drawings were exhibited.
It is rare that conceptual, intellectual art is cohesive without much explanation. Her work brings together many points and thoughts, but communicate these instinctively and stimulate not only the brain but also the senses. I actually had heart palpitations. The fact that she achieves this in an interdisciplinary way, on different levels, simultaneously and correspondingly, is really impressive.
Danielle de Picciotto: You studied music and art and have been working as an interdisciplinary artists since the 80s. What was the appeal for moving you within the different arts?
Michaela Melián: During my schooldays I did a lot of music, learned guitar and cello, played in the school orchestra and sang in the choir. That’s why I wanted to study music after graduation and passed the entrance exam to the conservatory. The studies did not really make me happy though, because it was extremely performance-oriented, practicing 4 hours a day was the minimum. My interest was in contemporary music and art, and I wanted to develop and experiment with others. In a performance seminar, which was offered by the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and was also open to music students, I could do that, and in this seminar, I met Justin Hoffmann, who belonged to the editorial office of Mode & Verzweiflung. He took me to a meeting of this magazine and there I was asked if I would like to play in a band. This band then gave itself the name Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (Voluntary Self-Control) or F.S.K. All the band members came from the editorial office of Mode & Verzweiflung (Fashion & Despair), so the band always has (up til today) the subtitle “Voluntary Self-Control (F.S.K.) is a fashion & despair (Mode & Verzweiflung) product”, even though the magazine only existed until 1986. In any case, you can tell from this subtitle that we did not want to be a rock band. Actually we only wanted to distribute products, ie records, just as it happened with the magazine. At that time I also started studying art. The work that I did in the 80s during this time was actually not interdisciplinary, I drew, painted and built small objects. I was an interdisciplinary artist, because I was also in a band and participating in a self-organized magazine. For me it was a very delightful and exciting mixed lot, I could create music in the band as I had always hoped for. The band was my dialogue trainer, my real school, here we learned to formulate ourselves and to act. This was also fundamental for my own artistic work. But we were not the only ones doing this back then. In the 80ies at the beginning of the NDW (NDW = New German Wave / german new wave) many bands and fanzines were founded in art academies.
How did you come to work as a solo artist?
F.S.K. still exists, we are in the 39th year, the band is still very important for all of us band members, even if we no longer rehearse once a week, as we did for many years, and we rarely perform. Since none of us ever only wanted to have a band but instead perceived it as one part of our lives next to our other professions. The band continues to exist because it’s still so much fun to play together. This year, for example, we gave a concert at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg for the opening of the exhibition HYPER and the Magic of the Modernity Festival at Künstlerhaus Stuttgart.
My own music production started only with music digitization. Before that music recordings of our band could only ever take place in a recording studio. Then it was suddenly possible to produce music by myself, with a computer. My bandmate Carl Oesterhelt had set up a home studio at home and here I started developing my music as I had imagined. In my music every single track is recorded and produced one after the other, either played with analogue instruments that I can handle myself, or built with synthesizers. This way of working is no different than when I paint a picture layer by layer by layer. There is still a lot of fun in that for me. All my music has always been created in the context of my artistic work, some as tracks used in installations or as pure audio projects. I also work together with other musicians, since 2010 with Felix Raeithel for instance, who runs the label Sozialistischer Plattenbau in Hamburg and has a lectureship at the HFBK in the audio lab, the university where I also work. Other musicians increasingly appear in my recordings, Derya Yildirim, for example, has sung and Ruth May has played the violin regularly for me, Elen Harutyunyan the Viola.
This work is different from the F.S.K. collaborations. At F.S.K. we still develop the music together in improvisation, but in my solo work I compose and produce all the music myself. For the participating musicians, I write their respective parts in notes. Nevertheless, I consider the performances and recordings with Ruth and Elen as ensemble performance, it is much nicer to be together on stage than alone! The two have performed a number of concerts together with me in recent years, at the Ruhrtriennale, in the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle, in the Munich Kammerspiele, at the Sommerfestival on Kampnagel, a concert broadcasted live on Deutschlandfunk. There are new projects that we rehearse together constantly.
Your work is often dedicated to certain topics. Do you prefer this to abstraction?
Does not everything have an issue, whether in the field of art, music, literature, film? Of course, a topic can be multifaceted. In my case, I would put it this way: The question for me is always, what and by what means can I develop something for a space (the showroom, public space, radio room), what added value can I insert. I do not really make anything up, the topics I’m interested in are lying around anyway, offering themselves to me, finding me. I’m convinced that I never do anything on my own, I pick up ideas that others have formulated that may have been dead for a long time, I think them over and work on them for current contexts, I update them. I am interested in finding secret connections that cannot immediately be perceived, which are concealed, which have been overwritten. I have always been concerned with what history has omitted to say, which filters have been used effectively. This can then be transferred to the present and associated.
What do you look for in the art or music of other artists?
Art, music, literature, theater, film – these are basic foods for me. Here I can learn how others understand the world, how artists translate our universe. This inspires and uplifts me and sharpens my senses.
Do you think that art should be political? If so today more than ever?
In my opinion, every cultural production is always political, because it is part of our world. Even the art, which desperately wants to be unpolitical, is always part of a political narrative.
Your installation at the Lenbachhaus 2016 was about Olympia, which appears in ETA Hoffmann’s work “Der Sandmann.” Your drawings show the creation of women – by men, how is your attitude towards feminism and the women’s situation in art today? Is it a topic that interests you artistically?
This exhibition was conceived as Electric Ladyland. Electric Ladyland was also the show title. I had the intention, to redesign the space, which is a pretty inhospitable 2000 square meter space, which was originally planned as a subway station, into something in which visitors would like to stay and spend time with my work. If you wanted to hear everything in the exhibition, you would have to stay 4 hours. Usually we checkout things in seconds and are finished seeing an exhibition very quickly . That was not possible in the Electric Ladyland installation. In this exhibition I installed many strands of ideas, which I had been following for years and integrated them into a whole.
I have always experienced the art world from a female perspective as I am a female artist. From the very beginning it was important for me to latch on to an aspect of the female or feminist art history.
This theme always resonats in my work.
What are you currently working on?
I always work on many projects at the same time. Currently I have exhibitions in Hamburg, Bonn, Cologne, Berlin, Munich and Barcelona. Some of these exhibitions already have pieces that I have shown before, but there are also many new ones. At the same time – and this has not been properly mentioned here yet, I teach at the HFBK, the College of Fine Arts in Hamburg. This vocation, which I do not want to miss and which brings me a lot of fun and joy, reqires my commitment and energy as well.