Melanie Smith

Maria Elena

August 30 - October 13, 2018

Galerie Peter Kilchmann is pleased to present the fifth solo exhibition by Melanie Smith, who was born in Poole, England in 1965. Since 1989 she has lived and worked in Mexico City. She is staying in London for several months from July 2018 on.

Over the years Smith has developed an ambitious artistic repertoire manifesting in various forms of expression such as video installation, painting, sculpture and performance, which she brings together or even overlaps. Her central themes around the relationship between abstraction and perception, irrationality and chaos in the midst of urban life and the natural world as well as social-philosophical questions are illuminated from many sides, supplemented like a mosaic and taken apart again by different media. At the exhibition Smith is presenting her latest group of works Maria Elena. On show will be a one-channel video installation, a series of small-format paintings in oil and acrylic on canvas as well as a selection of works on paper.

The title Maria Elena refers to a mining town in the northern part of the Atacama Desert in Chile which was settled in the 1920s due to its high nitrate deposits for the production of saltpetre. Once owned by the New York Guggenheim family, the town was named after the wife of the first mine director. In her video Smith creates a very intimate portrait of this region in a series of sometimes very concrete and then poetically abstracted film stills. From views of the impressive wide desert landscape from a dizzying bird’s eye view there is a sudden switch to close-ups of rust-red sand dunes, animal inhabitants of the area or abandoned mining facilities. Green-blue water in which today’s residents swim unconcerned alternates with rectangular blasting fields that surprisingly explode. The calm and poetry of pollen floating in the heated atmosphere and the beauty of sparkling stars are thrown out of kilter by images of destruction and the unsettling architecture of a post-industrial landscape. The separate scenes are supplemented by old black-and-white photographs of former miners.

In past projects Smith already investigated the reality of an industrial modern Latin America. In this respect the film is thematically linked to earlier work groups such as Fordlandia (2014) and the installation Xilitla (2010), which was first shown in 2011 at the 54th Venice Biennale. One step ahead, or rather looking back, it is also a reference to the strong influence that the colonial past has had on certain Latin American regions: colonialism as father of the modern industrial age which in turn paved the way for the increasing damage to the environment in the era of globalisation.

The theme of the video is further developed in the second exhibition space by a series of paintings and drawings. The small, almost square formats are arranged singly or as diptychs and show figurative as well as abstracted scenes around María Elena, but can nevertheless also be read independently of the theme of the film. They show sections of a dry desert landscape painted in extremely reduced colours or abstract areas of colour whose forms make reference to a map. As so often Smith has combined two different visual concepts which together add up to a complex programme but also achieve their effect alone.