Exclusive Interview with Andrea MelÃ©ndez
We are pleased to interview Andrea Meléndez, a photographer who loves monochrome and one of the oldest members of the collective.
Tell us something about you.
I studied Art and Visual Communication. I love photography, illustration, music, cats, art history, chocolate and all things weird, dark, ugly and old. I was part of three exhibitions in Costa Rica, including ‘Realidades’ [Realities] in the National Museum of Costa Rica and ‘Expofoto Edición 2011’, where my photographs were used as part of the event’s publicity.
What inspires you when creating your works?
This question creates some sort of inner conflict between my academic background and my personal, more subjective experience. I studied a career in art and Visual Communication with an emphasis in Graphic Design. Throughout my studies, I was continuously told that inspiration didn’t exist and that designers shouldn’t state they were ‘inspired’ when creating a certain work. That was understandable if we consider that design is based on using one’s own knowledge to satisfy a certain need in terms of communication; if it doesn’t convey the original message, it’s simply worthless and you can speak of a bad designer. Art, however, is not necessarily that objective. All the theory I learnt in university lost its validity once I started creating images like the ones I do today. Without the fear of asking myself what my old teachers would say if they heard me, I can say now that inspiration is certainly there and that’s what I feel when I get carried away creating an image. I am not afraid to confess that I’m profoundly inspired by sadness, the disturbing, the bleak and macabre, death and nostalgia, the sublime, music, melancholy, black and white cinema, the ugly and bizarre, nightmares... only to name a few.
How did you start developing as an artist?
I studied Art and Visual Communication in College, with an emphasis in Graphic Design, and also one in painting, which I didn’t finish. About one year later I started feeling really attracted to photography. At first I wasn’t trying to convey a message, it was simply some sort of personal therapy or catharsis, I took the photographs for myself and to strengthen my feelings, and I didn’t share them. That’s when I joined a couple of websites for people to share their art. At first I didn’t upload anything, I simply observed, but then I became enthusiastic when I looked at other people’s comments and at the interest that my images produced. I also had the opportunity to be in contact and be inspired by other artists. A voice inside my head started telling me that I had to be like them, that I had to improve my technique to convey clearer messages: my feelings, sorrows and emotions. It was a duty, an order that I couldn’t resist back then and which still drives me today.
How would you define your style?
It is capricious, it has a life of its own, it doesn’t listen to me and I’m possessed by it… it sometimes jumps out of my head and it’s dirty, rough, bizarre, shocking to the eye, unpleasant, very noisy and damaged. But sometimes it surprises me and it is only silence, nostalgia, emptiness, and quietness, like a grey and gloomy aroma that becomes ethereal or ghostly.
Are you working on any personal projects?
Yes, I’m currently working on several things; I’m addicted to being occupied. My time is divided between several projects. The first is alternative (or opposed, really) to photography; it has to do with illustration for children (http://www.wix.com/ochobotas/ochobotas) and it has allowed me to create my own little illustration studio. The second one is a constant project of photographs taken with a cellphone and which remain unedited (http://diarioparaelcamino.blogspot.com ) and the last one is the sporadic production of personal photography ((http://pesadillanostalgia.tumblr.com/).
One of the most impressive pieces you’ve presented to the collective is “Abrenuntio”. Could you explain the story behind it?
I can begin by explaining the last thing I defined, which was the title. Abrenuntio refers to the act of giving up or refusing to something. The image can be interpreted in different ways, so I’d rather not explain too much of what I had in mind; I can say, however, that the character is not satisfied with its own specific situation. She is aware of this and expresses her discomfort until she decides to give up and leave. The scene has no major post work; rather, the elements were already in place at the time the shot was taken. It is the captured motion and the expressiveness of the interaction between both characters that make the sequence interesting. I’d like to show an image that I used as a base for the placement of the elements and attitudes, especially of the first shot. It is a representation of Virgin Mary and her “son” Jesus in their usual positions: (http://i916.photobucket.com/albums/ad5/andreamelendez/Pinturicchio_Virgen_con_nintildeo_Ashmolean_Museum.jpg). Note the slight resemblance between the position of the hand, the expression of the face and the way the child is being held. I hope this works as a guide or as a cause of debate about the viewer’s interpretation of the image.
What is your method when editing your photographs?
Now that you mention it, post work in my images is fundamental, inevitable and necessary. I think the image obtained directly from the camera is simply a small part, a starting point, not a final piece. I have never agreed with the view that condemns the editing of photographs. None of my shots is final; each of them has the potential for being a means and not an unalterable end. I think it would be a waste not to make use of what technology offers in favor of communication. I sometimes create scenes in my head, which are inspired by emotions or objects, then look for the camera and try to capture something similar to what I’m trying to express. But it doesn’t end there: magic is only beginning because it is then that I look through the shots obtained (sometimes three hundred or more) and I connect with one only, the one that invites me to invade it, explore it, manipulate it, exploit it, attack it, or change it. It is an impulse that I enjoy, and which I do not abandon until I can call it finished. It is a metaphorical ritual in which I can change reality, seeing the picture like a piece of it, a part of a frozen world, enjoying that I can change it however I want; I can create a nightmare from the fragment of reality, trapped in the picture, and that is unbeatable. I'm able to change the world, to edit it to my own liking and that is pure magic.
I can’t say that I have a definite method; it is rather impulsive and exclusive to each moment. The only thing that is constant is the strong use of textures superposed to the images.
Are most of your photographs self-portraits?
Yes, most of them are, but I don’t like to call them like that, since I don’t feel that I’m strictly capturing myself. I don’t mean it to be evident that it’s me in the pictures; I like to think of myself as another tool that helps build the final image, something like the pigments to the painter. The figure captured by the camera is just a character, a part of the final piece.
What is for you the most important thing of being part of an art collective?
I think it’s important for several reasons. The growth you gain from constructive critique, having contact with the creative process of other artists –from the moment an idea is conceived all the way to the finished product–, and the personal motivation derived from competition as well as working as a team to achieve common goals.
Which do you think is the best piece you’ve presented with the collective? Can you explain it?
I don’t think I have a best piece, because each one was unique at the time and for the idea it was created. I’d say, however, that “Credo, quia absurdum” (http://www.hystericalminds.com/viewer.php?id=44) has congruency between what I wanted to tell myself, the final image and what is perceived by the viewers. The shot captured the essence of my idea from the moment it was taken. The composition is simple and there’s no major post work, the elements that appear in the image were really there, none of them was added or modified later. I had the idea, looked for the necessary elements, composed the image and captured it with the camera. It expresses exactly what I wanted to say.
How do you see Hysterical Mind’s future?
I joined the group almost two years ago, and I’ve seen the quality of the woks grow immensely since then. I've seen artists join Hysterical Minds who I admired even before, deeply touched by their creations, such as Marcela Bolívar, Santiago Caruso, Tony Sandoval and Mario S. Nevado, in an extremely short time. If the collective has grown enough as to draw attention from these great creators and it keeps going at its current pace, I think Hysterical Mind’s future is really promising.
What do you think of the current art scene?
I love it. It is a giant rapidly growing in all directions. The new technologies and the flow of communication thanks to the Internet allows us to see the brushstrokes of someone on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. There are a number of ways to be self-taught, it is within the reach of anyone; you can have contact with the works of a thousand different creators and each and every one of them with impeccable technical (and sometimes also conceptual) skill. There are lots of ways to show your work, markets to sell it or promote it, thousands of new creators exposed each day –and thousands still in the process– due to the flow of information and tendencies. I think the current art scene is not hindering anyone, not the critics, the conservatives, the museums, the mummies or the oldest institutions within the art world.
What pros and cons do you find in the artistic promotion through the Internet?
If you are good you will be copied, ripped, quoted, interviewed, criticized or attacked independently of whether you show your art on the Internet, the MOMA or a wall in your neighborhood. It is a peculiar situation. The safety of intellectual property is very questionable nowadays. Nonetheless, having the opportunity to show your work through the Internet is a window that opens many possibilities both to amateurs like me and to masters of different disciplines. The fact that your work can be seen in Germany, France, Argentina, El Salvador, Chile or Croatia, with so much as a click of your mouse, is very positive. I have personally found my way because of this tool; up to this point I haven’t had any copyright issues or problems of the sort, but I have been contacted by people interested in my work and I have been published both in Europe and South America, something that I wouldn’t have achieved in 30 years had I feared to promote my work this way.
Do you think the role of art is more or less relevant to society given the current situation?
I don’t think it’s that important. At least the type of art that defined with academic terminology, the one exposed in museums, auctions, biennials or fairs. I think art nowadays is selfish, it can be relevant for a particular individual but not for today’s societies, which are so globalized. Art has lost its power as a communicative means. It cannot be made to reach so many people as to say that it has considerable influence or that it is something ‘important to society’. Because, in the end, what is?