Marcelo de Melo – Derelict (Zietenstrasse, Chemnitz) 2012

‘Spontaneous Sculptures’, American artist Brad Downey calls his works. A Paris phone booth filled with balloons. A burning CCTV camera. Or a hopscotch game chalked onto a Berlin subway platform, continuing inside the carriage. Urban interventions that are in turn playful and political, upend expectations of functionality, defy regulation and bring a dadaist sense of poetry into the design of public spaces.

Something similar can be said about the work of Brazil-born artist Marcelo de Melo. In the summer of 2012, he was artist-in-residence at the Begehungen festival in the German town of Chemnitz. De Melo produced three site-specific works for the festival’s venue, the ‘Forum’ – the old communist events center. For one, he claimed part of the former, now rather gloomy basement kitchen, and traced its walls and floors with lines of coloured tape and toy blocks.

What most visitors didn’t know is that de Melo also made works off-site, at the artists lodgings in a derelict building on Zietenstrasse. While the Forum with its communist retro-chic was like a place stuck in time, the Zietenstrasse complex felt more like an excavation site. Its bare rooms served as the framework for de Melo’s interventions.

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Pieces of wallboard seem to struggle to stand erect, as if having wrestled themselves loose from the wall. They feel slightly surreal, these sculptures. And yes, they are conceptually related to Downey’s work:  they are ‘spontaneous sculptures’. Investigating the formal elements of a given space, they are inspired by and made with the materials available at hand, to finally be turned into an aesthetic arrangement. But something else is going on.

Downey’s urban interventions feature in public spaces, and deal with questions of identity and the distribution of power and control. Although de Melo raises similar concerns, he does so in the context of a derelict housing complex in former East-Germany – a state system that fostered a great deal of paranoia concerning the question of who really ‘owns’ space.

As de Melo’s sculptures find their formal shape through the deconstruction of the Zietenstrasse building, it is an understanding of the historical context of this space that gives them their meaning. Here, there is a sense of melancholy, a threat of impending loss that transcends this genre of art. These interventions literally speak through the spaces they inhabit. By doing so, they offer an almost sensual understanding of the rooms we live in and consider our own every day: our domestic horror and bliss, the tedious boredom and the joys of privacy, the waiting, the staying, and the saying goodbye.

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