Q&A with… Melanie King
F&A: Tell us a bit about yourself, what you do and how you got there?
MK: When I was eight years old, I was introduced to the idea of astronomy and space. I was asked:
“Is the universe infinite? And if it is finite, what is it’s shape? What is it contained by?”
I was highly disturbed by this question, and used to have panic attacks where I would be kicking and screaming on the floor. I subsequently decided “not to think about it” and blocked the idea of space from my mind. I went to a lecture whilst I was studying Fine Art in Leeds, which suggested that we can use fear as a starting point for our work. In other words, I had the light bulb moment of thinking “if space affects me so much – perhaps it should be my focus”. Not only this, the process of art can help us to work through uncomfortable ideas indirectly. From that moment, I then started using astronomy as a central point of my work. I studied an MA in Art and Science at Central Saint Martins, which was focused on cosmological bubbles such as The Bubble Nebula and theories about the multiverse.
After graduating from the MA in Art and Science in 2013, I found like-minded artists interested in analogue photography processes, and founded the London Alternative Photography Collective.
I started organising talks by contemporary artists using experimental photographic techniques, and then began curating exhibitions, demonstrations and workshops.
I also joined up with other artists using outer space as an inspiration for their work, and founded Lumen. Lumen began by exhibiting works about astronomy in churches, to raise a dialogue about how humanity understands existing. We are now running a residency in Italy, which has been a fantastic experience so far.
I’m now studying towards an MPhil/PhD in Fine Art at the Royal College of Art, which is focused on “coming into contact” with objects from space – whether that is creating analogue photographs of stars, making cyanotypes with light from the Sun or prints made with meteorite dust.
F&A: What inspires you the most?
MK: A heady concoction of science and philosophy, learning about both fields enables me to see the gaps in our understanding of the universe. For example, how can we justify proof of something? With the collectives, I do a lot of curating and event organisation, which aims to bring these questions into sharp focus. The events and subsequent conversations are great idea generators!
F&A: What is creativity to you?
MK: I think there are many different types of creativity, but I find it most inspiring when people create new methodologies and systems in thinking. How can we look at the universe from a variety of perspectives? How can we use those perspectives to create new and innovative works?
To find answers about our universe, we can’t rely on tried and tested ways of thinking. We are living in a time when artists, scientists and philosophers are working together to look at many different aspects of the universe from a multitude of perspectives.
F&A: How do you lead a creative life?
MK: I have always had to work alongside my practice out of necessity. I’ve never had that jolt where I leave university and felt lost. I try and make something new at least once a week unless I’m working towards a really big project.
If you could do any other job what would it be?
MK: I actually feel quite fulfilled as an artist. The great thing about being an artist is that you can enquire into so many fields of research, all at the same time. No subject is off limits!
F&A: Do you have a favourite artist/artwork?
MK: Helen Chadwick is my biggest inspiration. I admire the way that she used visual metaphors such as the cateracted eye in“Nebulae”, and used living material in “Carcass”. She is one of those artists who took inspiration from a wide range of fields and used them to draw connections within her work. She was also a great writer, which is something I aspire to.
F&A: What was the last film you watched and loved.
MK: Hypernormalisation by Adam Curtis. I wouldn’t say that I loved it, because the subject matter is quite disturbing, but it certainly changed my way of thinking. The film gave me a broader perspective of the past two decades.
F&A: Describe the perfect day off.
MK: Right now, I would love to explore an ancient Mayan site in Guatemala, such as Tikal.
I recent went to the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and to the Sun and Moon pyramids at Teotihuacan, which has fuelled my interest for sites relating to archaeoastronomy.
F&A: What is your favourite comfort food?
MK: I love chocolate buttons, they remind me of being a kid!
F&A: What are your hopes for the future?
MK: This has been a really difficult question to answer in such uncertain times!
My hope is that I can continue to keep making artwork, to build up a network of amazing artists inspired by astronomy, nature and light, and to travel to more dark sky spaces to see the stars.
See more of Melanie King's work here: www.melaniek.co.uk