DIALOGUE: Melania Toma | Multidisciplinary Textile Artist
We talked with multidisciplinary artist Melania Toma, who reinterprets the relationship between painting, sculpture and textile art with waste materials.
Who is Melania Toma, would you like to introduce yourself?
I grew up in north-Italy and I am now based in London. Recently I am focusing on a new textile production around the notions of collective healing and binge healing. My sculptures, conceived as ghost-hybrid creatures, are questioning the schisms of biomedicine proposing post-human creatures that are profoundly linked with the social-environmental context and the unseen realm of spirits.
In order to explore a world where our lives are intricately interconnected and our environments are rapidly changing, my creations suggest a new visual semantic populated by symbols which translates into a collective act.
How would you describe your art practice, which centers on exploring narrative subjectivity within historically situated intersecting networks of gender, power hierarchies, and ecological degradation?
Through the relationship between the world of painting, sculpture and textile art, I investigate the notions of hybridity and human-non human interactions. These intersectional analyses include the often less visible ‘intimate’ scales, such as concepts of feminine, structures of domesticity, and the transformative power of the self.
Through the creation of a body of work made of new beings, new species, daughters of the decolonization process, I’m starting an investigation on these complex and contingent relations. I’m studying the palimpsest of colonial ideologies and narratives that are necessarily linked to them, through research that highlights the theme of collecting as a practice. My practice is not only rooted in one geographical place and culture but also in the interconnected collective process around the notion of cure. In order to explore a world where our lives are intricately interconnected and our environments are rapidly changing, my creations suggest a new visual semantic populated by symbols which translates into a collective act.
This is linked to the exploration of the concept of emotional energy. I question all the concepts eviscerated by their own emotional energy. Thus, emptying them of their innermost meaning, we no longer respond to them and they no longer affect us deeply.
I want to create works that serve as a transformative/transitional object, whose transformative power crosses the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘I’, producing new ecological imaginaries and understandings of inner or "domestic" places and proposing a rite of liberation towards the recovery of a disintegrated and disconnected self.
Your current exhibition, "From the Rattle," a collaboration with Dominic Beattie, has received much attention. We would like to hear the story of this exhibition from you.
“From the Rattle" is a show that I will always carry in my heart. At first, I thought that it would be a complicated dialogue as Beattie's art is rich in colors and patterns and so is mine. But it ended up being magical when we combined all these patterns and colors, they were able to complete each other pretty well.
The title is a reference to the viscerality and trance generated by the sound of the rattle. The rattle’s sound marks the beginning of ceremonies or encounters. It is an answer to inhabit a new, raw, elemental and potential space. The new work created for this exhibition opens up a conversation between forms inhabiting the gallery; proposing intimate ways to answer to this atavic rhythm and research the kind of worlds we could or should inhabit. The strong physicality of marks in our practice addresses a desire for building new localities and means of presence; ecological, technological realities populated by human-non-human interactions.
What are the challenging and exciting aspects of working with different materials in your work?
Currently, my practice is very much focused on the use of textile materials and natural fibers. I am interested in these materials as they represent unity and are able to generate a strong dialogue between the other material components. The collection, the selection and the re-assembly of discarded objects, organic and inorganic matter, are the operating devices in my works and my practice being hybrid, brings these realities into dialogue.
I have a very visceral relationship with the materials I choose for my works. They are mostly collected materials. The travel-pilgrimage dimension operated by these objects is essential. It is an important process for me to collect abandoned objects and offer them a second life in another context. When they are brought together they create new mental places where new structures of domesticity can be created. My practice is guided by the use of this combination of mediums – that come from the encounter with raw materials such as wool, clay, terracotta, sand and natural pigments with oil painting, concrete and animal body parts.
Sometimes the discovered materials tend to stay for a long time in the studio before the dialogue starts. It is the contact between them that opens this dialogue. I am in no hurry to use them when I bring them into the studio. I like to give them the time to be accumulated and in contact with very different ones. They start to talk after some time. They create a new space of community.
What do you do for inspiration? Who are the names you follow with curiosity in this field or from different disciplines?
I’m obsessed with the development of humanity all over the place, so traveling is the main source of inspiration for me. Especially the tools that humans were using, their relationship to birth and death, their sacred rituals, and all their craftships. The constant movement helps me to get constant inspiration and reminds me that our journey on earth is linked to the constant transformation. I think that my latest textile production is very close to Donna Haraway’s concept of “Children of compost”. Her production is a huge inspiration for me. I also looked a lot at the Andean textile imaginary of Cecilia Vicuna and at the sculptures of Magdalena Abakanowicz.
Are you excited for the future, and what are your plans?
By the end of the month, I am going to start a residency at Casa Wabi in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. There, I am planning to work within the communities around the Lagon de Cachagua and in Villa de Tututepec area, in order to develop a collective weaving project using discarded fishing nets. El Zapotalito reflects the context of the Parque National Lagunas de Chacahua, which is very complex in different aspects: culturally for the strong presence of afro, mixtecos and chatino roots, and socially for the high level of marginalization, and also for the fragile ecosystem that surrounds the lagoon. In this context, the communities are microcosms that give the opportunity to deal with themes linked to the wider national Mexican context such as machismo, mestizaje, environmental racism, fishing, and female organizations.