words Mia Krikler
London-based visual artist, Melanie Manchot’s major new multi-channel video installation, Twelve, connects remembered moments from the lives of 12 people in recent recovery from drug and alcohol misuse. The work explores the intimate rituals, ruptures and repetitions of lives trapped in addiction and recovery.
Twelve, which is currently on show at Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery connects individual recollections in which everyday situations, events and activities are rendered dramatic and are infused with both tragedy and humour.
One of the striking things about the exhibition are the subjects’ eyes. The gazes in the shots are both intimidatingly direct to the audience, however incontestably distant in thought. This makes sense seeing as the subjects’ are speaking about the highs, lows and struggles that are fought on the long journey of recovery. The project, which explores specific sites and public spaces, locates notions of individual and collective identities’.
Over the last two years Manchot has worked in dialogue with twelve people in recent recovery from substance misuse in rehab communities in Liverpool, Oxford and London. Twelve is informed by the subjects’ personal oral and written testimonies as well as their creative conceptions. In one installation, a love letter (and almost ode) to alcohol is read aloud to the camera. The letter depicts the contradictory nature of addiction as the sentences contrast and collide with one another. “I knew you would always be there to love and protect me” reads the start of the letter, before the subject goes on to reveal how addiction dictated her life, “You were my worst enemy”.
Twelve was inspired by the visual acuity of renowned contemporary filmmakers; each part of the exhibition’s intricate montage is based on a scene from an existing feature film that deals with addiction and recovery. In the videos, single sequences are shot as continuous takes: the obsessive cleaning of a floor as well as the cutting of daisies with small scissors. These scenes offer the framework for reflections on remembered states of mind. Manchot uses recurring motifs such as water in order to connect threads between these vignettes. The repetitions are used as metaphors for the complex and non-linear nature of an addict’s recovery.
In room 1, two television screens pose side by side, both showing the same subject: a young man. On the left screen, the man gazes directly at us, however his gaze seems distant as if he is mentally somewhere else. He hesitantly discusses his addiction. Unedited scenes are shot in single takes. This technique only adds more sensitivity to Manchot’s work as the voiceovers on the TV’s retain the authenticity of the subject’s hesitation as he tries to find the words that he wants to say.
Whilst cinema and literature have often explored the subject of addiction by showcasing the violent backdrop that leads to a life of fixation, Twelve additionally explores the positive side in the narrative by focusing on recovery. In one video, a man tracks his progress on a blackboard by writing “I woke up today feeling lucky”. By offering her participants control over their self-representation, Manchot let them situate their work to powerful effect, lying somewhere between documentary and fiction.
The exhibition exposes the un-thought through the artist’s creative strategies.
Although the participants were in treatment at the time and accustomed to sharing their life stories with others, the presence of a camera unlocked new ideas and allowed a different kind of disclosure. It enabled art to become an integral part of the recovery journey, teaching us about divergent ways of knowing or understanding addiction.
To coincide with the exhibition at Castlefield Gallery, Melanie Manchot has developed a series of workshops with people from the North West in long-term recovery. With the support of The Priory Clinic, the participants are each exploring their experiences in the cycle of addiction and recovery and their reactions to the video work to produce a series of artworks to be shown at poster-sites across Manchester from the 11 September – 2 October 2015
The Melanie Manchot show is on at the Castlefield Gallery in Manchester until the 1st November. It will then continue touring at the Aspex Gallery, Portsmouth from 23rd January until 20th March and at the Towner in Eastbourne from 16th April – 26th June 2016.
words Mia Krikler