Interview – Melanie Clemmons- Belgrade Art Studio Online Residency

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Could you tell us a little more about your background? How did you start getting interested in new media art?

I went to college to study photography and came out enamored with video and installation art, partly thanks to Jeremy Blake’s Century 21 trilogy which transfixed me for hours when it was screened at a local museum. After graduating I didn’t have access to any resources except my laptop, so I started interacting with it as my studio, my tools, and as content for artwork. I used browsers as installation spaces, and experimented with net art and live visuals for bands and installations. 

…teaching, punk…How does your personal life influence your art?

It’s a bit of a spiral or ouroboros situation. I chase my intuition and fall obsessively into whatever ideas or tools I’m making work with and/or about at the time, and then it leaks back into my personal life or other areas of work like teaching. I’m very boring to be around when I’m in the middle of a project because it is all I can think or talk about. 

 What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

This is probably an ADHD symptom lol, but I’m not good at starting and stopping work. I usually start working and then don’t stop until I’ve exported and uploaded, or realized that I’ve witnessed the sun and moon switch places too many times. Otherwise I have a daily checklist for the most basic tasks (drinking water is a line-item lol), but it also includes intuition calisthenics like keeping a dream diary, practicing remote viewing, meditating, and reading tarot. I also try to spend time in nature solely observing and listening to natural forms, flora, fauna, and weather.

Your personal aim as an artist? What are you trying to communicate with your art?

At the risk of sounding altruistic, I have a drive to offset suffering. Sometimes I make tools, spaces, and experiences for healing, comfort, awareness, or transcendence that I want to use or live in, or that I want to be present in the world. I’m usually thinking about how art, technology and magick or spiritualism reside in similar spaces.

What’s a moment from the last year you’ll always remember? If you’d known that you’d be isolated, what would you have done differently?

With full awareness of the privilege of this statement, my life didn’t change that much during the pandemic. I already did almost everything online, preferred being at home, social distancing and I live in a different city than my friends and family, so keeping in touch via text and video chat was standard. What I’ll remember is how much everybody else seemed to dislike that lifestyle lol. 

How do you feel about being involved in an online residency program? How important is it to stay connected with the international art community?

Community is vital to artists, so I’m grateful to have this opportunity to meet and talk about art with an international community. It’s something that was harder before people collectively became more comfortable connecting virtually.

What are your thoughts about the theme ‘artist on standby’? Tell us a bit more about your project…

Standby, as all things, is a temporary state. It requires the person on standby to be called upon to be released from that temporary state. In Witchcraft and other spiritual  or religious traditions, leaving behind a significant state and emerging into a new one calls for cleansing. Some people cleanse with sound, others with fire or smoke smudging. I’m creating a browser based cleansing tool which will be offered to viewers to cleanse and refresh their tabs and windows that have been working so hard during these many months online. 

Additionally a browser based cleansing tool provides awareness for and an offset to white sage smudging. The ‘Digital New Age’ or the popularization of new age practices online have catapulted demand for white sage, making access more difficult for native communities that use it for religious purposes and perpetuate harmful histories. In the US, native communities could be arrested as recently as 1978 for smudging or performing religious rituals, but often those that learned to cleanse with sage smudging via instagram are unaware of this persecution.

What do you want to achieve before things return to normal?

I need to work on social anxiety lol. I’ve become too comfortable not having to practice being around people physically. Similarly, I’m working on easing separation anxiety for my dog because she’s gotten so used to us always being together. Well let’s be honest, I have separation anxiety when I’m away from her too. 

Any future plans/projects?

I’ve been thinking about ‘wild aesthetics’, and experimenting with bringing 3D scanning and 360 video of geologic objects/textures and natural forms in virtual settings. I’ve also been exploring how the role of a death doula can be applied to digital death, and the data trails we leave behind.