Melanie King joined our residency programme from the 7th to 22nd October 2020. Melanie had enjoyed another residency placement in Cornwall and heard about the Fish Factory Arts Space during her visit. This encouraged her to get in touch and we’re very glad she did. Originally from Manchester, Melanie studied BA Fine Art at Leeds College of Art from 2008-2011. Innovative and forward-thinking Melanie developed her practice further by studying MA Art and Science at Central Saint Martins in London. This led Melanie to begin a part-time PhD in Fine Art at the Royal College of Art in 2015, eventually moving to Margate in Kent and becoming part of Resort Studios in 2018. The artist is currently based in Ramsgate with her partner, Sam Bartle. As a multi-disciplinary artist, Melanie explores analogue photography and printmaking processes with a particular focus on astronomy as revealed by her PhD thesis: “Ancient Light: Rematerialising The Astronomical Image.”
Upon viewing Melanie’s work, one is instantly entranced by the synthesis between methodical study overlaid with surreal movement and ethereal shadow. Throughout her photography, stars blur across horizons, comets fall through windows and skies connect to galactic space while remaining grounded by scale, earth and substance. “I am interested in the intimate material connection that we share with the stars,” the artist explains, “when I take photographs of the stars, I am thinking about the light travelling for thousands if not millions of years before reaching my photosensitive film. Recently, I have been thinking about the materiality of the photographic materials I use - for example, the silver used in photography is created with large supernova explosions.” Melanie’s work encapsulates this sense of expansion and implosion, whole skies are drawn into her careful study and in a flash become a liminal composition of the stars and sky. In the same way that science and astronomy move through Melanie’s artistic practice, so do environmentally conscious methods, as she seeks to research a more sustainable approach to analogue photography. “This is why I used the caffenol developer at the Fish, rather than the standard developer. I also re-used my chemicals many times so they became less potent as I used them.”
As co-director of the London Alternative Photography Collective, Melanie has recently been working on a project called “The Sustainable Darkroom.” This has been important as it taught Melanie and other artists how to make plant-based developers from things like seaweed, mint-tea even leftover pasta water. “We have also found out how to extract silver from fixative to make sure that less silver goes into our waterways.” For Melanie, analogue photography is a powerful and transformative medium. “I love the idea of using materials and light from space - and have used meteorite dust in my work before. I enjoy using cyanotype because the ultraviolet light from the Sun is a catalyst for the process.” During the residency, Melanie used a variety of different film, expired colour film and lomography purple film, which is based on infrared.
Inspired by books and literature, Melanie was especially inspired by reading Merlin Sheldrake’s “Entangled Lives” which is all about mushrooms. “It made my walks through the woods in Penryn much more magical! I find science very inspiring, as it makes the everyday seem extraordinary!” Now Melanie is nearing the end of her PhD we are excited to see the next part of her journey and see her ever-evolving relationship with the stars unfold. Melanie has an upcoming workshop with Land Art Collective on the 13th February 2021. So for any aspiring artists, astronomers or star gazers, be sure to check it out.