Review on solo exhibition by Inga Meldere ‘House by the Waterfall or Colouring Books for Adults’
Temnikova & Kasela, Tallinn
Behind the monumental concrete walls of a Stalinist era building and a neon sign reading ‘Temnikova’ exists ‘Temnikova & Kasela’, an art gallery established in the centre of Tallinn in 2010. Until recently, it housed the multicultural Arcadian enthused solo exhibition of Helsinki-based Latvian artist Inga Meldere (b. 1979). This was Meldere’s third exhibition and her first solo show presented at Temnikova & Kasela. Accompanied afterwards by expressive textile and ceramic collages of Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu, more of Meldere’s recent work went to Basel, exhibited at LISTE, the so-called ‘fair for new galleries’. There the artworks and the gallery’s director, Olga Temnikova, received exclusive attention from world renowned curators and collectors, a rare treat for the Baltic States. Furthermore, alongside various generations of outstanding Estonian artists such as Jaan Toomik, Marko Mäetamm, Kaido Ole, Flo Kasearu and Jaanus Samma, Inga Meldere is the only Latvian artist included in the roster of artists formally represented by Temnikova & Kasela gallery.
Curator of memories
Through her small curatorial projects, Inga Meldere’s creative career offers us a lot of interesting reflection points which, just like her solo exhibitions, performances and other individual pieces of work, illustrate her inexhaustible interest in certain phenomena and their associated nostalgic memories. Meldere possesses the passion of a museologist or even an archivist, to sieve through, select, collect and exhibit many necessary artefacts of interest to her projects. At times, she has even falsified them, like in her project Retouch (2015), during Survival K(n)it7, which imitated fragments of wall paintings inside the former building of the National Library of Latvia as if they had been revealed through a method of prospection. In 2011, she curated The Collector at Nabaklab Club in Riga, where she showed her own work alongside pieces by Ēriks Apaļais, Daiga Krūze, Kaspars Groševs, Anda Lāce and other Latvian artists in her private collection. The project immersed the viewer in a group show of friends and associates, tracing similarities through their means of expression applied by this particular generation of artists. Brought together by an interest in the psychology of perception, the artists strived to visualise dreams, memories and language as an abstract category, transported to the realm of the visual world, in their works. Consequently, general clusters of characters were born, unravelled in mystified ornaments and expressive moods, placed on a flat surface or transformed into a performance. On occasions these pieces were executed in an exceedingly infantile manner, similar to the methods favoured by modernists at the start of the 20th century.
Although Inga Meldere is mainly known for her painty, yet small-scale flowing watercolour-like artworks, her delicate installations include popular techniques of painting on ceramic and different types of textiles. Her education and qualification, stemming from the Department of Restoration at The Art Academy of Latvia, has not been lost. Rather, it has transferred her knowledge and methods from this field into her creative practice. The daily process in the life of a paint restorer involves studying paintings and their colourful layers whilst simultaneously researching their cultural and historical contexts. Inga Meldere’s projects transform these into exciting analyses of historical layers, memories and experiences. The summary of her personal found archives and imagery creates an impression of continually searching for a lost paradise which, like Woody Allen’s film ‘Midnight in Paris’, narrates a story seeking nostalgia for some long lost golden era of the past or the magic of the world that only existed in childhood.
Colouring books as redecoration and a political act
Inga Maldere’s recent exhibition House by the Waterfall or Colouring Books for Adults (2016) at Temnikova&Kasela created an associative fusion between a spa centre and an archaeology museum, a mystified in-between space where different times, cultures and values could convene. Her brightly-coloured collage paintings adorned the walls, whilst a falsified wall exhibited painting fragments and a video of a waterfall was projected onto a white sheet, like Vera Icona (the original image of Christ), over in the far end of the gallery. In comparison to her previous projects like Writer’s Room (2015) — which transformed the memorial room of Rūdolfs Blaumanis, one of Latvia’s most famous authors of classic literature, into a boudoir of rainbow colours, referencing discussions into his sexual orientation — or Magic Mountain (2014) at the XO Gallery — where her characteristic small-scale paintings were supplemented with tiny objects, reminiscent of shamanistic amulets, and a birch-bark patterned textile piece imitating a mountain — her work in this exhibition is remarkably two dimensional. The various translucent colours and image layers of her silkscreen prints and digital prints on fabric were more reminiscent of paused video screens or icons, displaying the noise of information with transitory disturbances coming from projected channels and colour filters. Her pieces looked like enlarged book illustrations that some helpful child armed with a box of paint had improved. Visitors lacking guidance and specific instructions took on the role of being Egyptologists attempting to decode the visible elements, striving to find hidden messages in their translations.
Although the exhibition could have been imagined as a pastoral Arcadian landscape with a waterfall and a house, there was something far more interesting lurking behind the romanticised exterior that related to a seemingly ordinary man-made product — the colouring book. Whilst most of her previous projects transform private and found photo archive materials into naïve paintings, or have had them individually projected, on this occasion this underpinned her canvases becoming their foundations which she could then improve, adjust, paint over, draw on or simply colour in. Over the past few years, colouring books for adults have once again risen on the market to become best sellers in all book charts worldwide. This has commenced in the awakening of the so called ‘chalk activist’ and the curious colourist to become Meldere’s latest source of interest and method. The exhibition did not offer visitors interactive opportunities to colour in or connect the dots, instead she encouraged the viewer to redecorate their personal critical thinking and values in her artworks through methods of observation.
Colouring books are often judged equivocally, similarly to the standardised rules of our contemporary society, which demand certain appearances, behaviours and achievements to follow collectively set aims. We only have to colour in these contours successfully, so to speak, without overstepping the boundaries. Even mistakes made while doing so can still be retouched or ‘photoshopped’. On one hand, the colouring book promises to develop our creativity, offering a meditative therapy that could even function as an antidepressant. On the other hand, it requires us to follow certain rules which if abandoned, could lead us to ruined drawings. Inga Meldere’s ‘Yoga’ and ‘Dolphin Instructors’— the latter depicting beautiful, athletic citizens of Ancient Greece surrounded by rhythmically lined arrangements of raw meat chunks, computer keyboards and fans, as a strange decorative cannelure and meander motif — both comment on the standardisation of society and our desire to use Photoshop to mimic certain aesthetic codes or standards, retouching unwanted elements. These works are the most direct reference to an earlier and far more exciting period in adult colouring books, the purpose of which was never a book filled with outlined blank ornaments. In fact, the colouring process was never the actual purpose of these books at all. Rather, the purpose was the politically and socially tinted message and humour that each image conveyed. Instead of a pretty beetle, the user was invited to have a go at colouring in a bureaucrat of the system using naïve, melancholic or other unregimented colours found inside their pencil case. It is fascinating to trace certain movements and political satire through the history and examination of certain peculiar books from examining sexuality researcher and artist Tee Corinne’s Cunt Colouring Book (1973), to leafing through brand new products like The Trump Colouring Book (2015). Within the context of questioning gender and body, it is worth mentioning the sensual Xeroxed collages by British artist Helen Chadwick, in which all sorts of flora and fauna were arranged next to her naked body, seemingly floating in space. Later her work became more spatial, culminating with the sculptural series Piss Flowers (1991-92).
The Veil of Veronica and the deluge of sins
It seems, the current obvious disorder engulfing the Eurasian continent, and changes slowly altering Western lifestyle, have awakened the desire to search for answers in Eastern practices and Western mysticism once again, unearthing ideas of theosophy and its perception of the world. Likewise, with every passing day, art grows more and more shamanistic, transforming itself into a vast ‘enchanted forest’ (to reference Johanna Basford’s popular colouring books).
There is a context of mysticism and sacral art from the Middle Ages that I feel is inherent in Inga Meldere’s exhibition. Having studied frescos from the Middle Ages, specifically examples of Proto-Renaissance or Northern Renaissance such as Giotto’s The Legend of St Francis created in the late 13th century, I noticed this work had been reproduced in Meldere’s latest pieces. Through her work it became clearer to me that one of the main themes for artists like Giotto was the depiction of visions and miracles. These themes reminded me of one of the most beautiful representations, created by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, of a vision or a dream. It is a work preserved on paper in the form of a text and an image that is currently in the collection of Kunsthistorisches Musuem Wien. On the evening of the 7th of July 1525, Dürer had an apocalyptic dream in which a violent torrent of water flooded the earth. His dream occurred at a time of extensive religious reformations which made people fearful of God’s retribution and a looming deluge that could inevitably wash all forms of life away. Despite Dürer’s vision being dreamt out of fear, the visual representation executed in his watercolour is incredibly vivid and alive. The characteristics of Inga Meldere’s work involuntarily attach themselves to Dürer’s stylistic approach. Her waterfall video with its accentuated colours is discretely hidden in the depths of the gallery, and is reminiscent of this beautiful and horrific vision simultaneously.
Underpinning her exhibition lays a continual motif – the white sheet. In Christian iconography, this motif signifies the appearance of a holy face or the original image of Christ on the ‘Veil of Veronica’ as it is often regarded. It may seem that by continuing to unravel the visual theme of an oversaturated afflicted world, Meldere has stumbled upon the real attribute or the source through which she can deliver the culmination. Through the empty, contour-free space of the white sheet, she is able to present many alternative opportunities and choices that can lead to a new and incorrupt beginning.
Photography: Temnikova & Kasela gallery