Fred East End
Interview: Sarah Kent
Time Out 12.04.06 – 19.04.06
A blonde guy stands in front of emphatically closed doors, his toned body rippling with enlarged muscles, feet planted firmly on the ground, arms behind his back-the embodiment of masculine power. Wearing a tight, navy-blue T- shirt that reads ‘Security’, he stands so implacably still that you could easily mistake Melanie Manchot’s video for a photograph. Then he starts to undress; the trousers and neat black underpants come off first, then the shoes-leaving the ‘Security’ t-shirt until last. Quickly arranging his genitals, he squares up to the camera; huge and immensely strong, he is hairless (every inch of flesh waxed smooth) and seems oddly vulnerable. After a minute or so, he dresses and, smoothing his clothes, resumes his implacable stance.
One after another, the bouncers at Ibiza’s seven superclubs stand in front of the doors they guard in poses that confirm their authority. When it comes to undressing, though, their cool quickly crumbles; the accoutrements selected to create image of invincibility (tight-fit-ting-vests and trousers, cowboy boots or trainers, gold chains, watches and bracelets)are taken off and neatly laid aside. The shades stay in place, yet despite this protective shield and the fact that they have spent hours pumping iron to look like Michelin Man, they are reluctant to reveal their perfect bodies for a second, longer than necessary. Maybe it’s because, while muscles respond to exercise by becoming hard and large, genitals remain soft and normal in size; they give the game away-Superman is human after all. Four of the door-men reveal all and two hold their hands over their genitals, while one shaven-headed bruiser bottles out altogether. Taking off his sweatshirt, he reveals a heavily tattooed chest. Your heart goes out to him as his composure vanishes; glancing nervously round and smiling coyly, he fidgets with his trunks before hurriedly dressing again and resuming his pose and regaining his poise.
As each man peels off and reconstructs his façade, the process provides fascinating into how can an image is assembled from its constitute parts-clothing, gesture and posture. Each sequence ends as it began, with the doorman employing stasis to convey authority.
The art profile
Born in Dusseldorf, Melanie Manchot has lived in London since leaving the Royal College of Ar tin 1990. She quickly came to attention with large black-and-white photographs of her naked mother- the first time that aging female flesh has been made beautiful,
How did the Ibiza video come about?
There are seven super clubs in Ibiza with hundreds of holiday makers trying to get in; its quite desperate and rather sad. I wanted to address the power of the bouncers who hold the key to paradise. It’s question of exclusion or inclusion, which also applies to the art world; either you’re invited in because you conform to someone’s criteria or you’re considered worthy.
I asked the doorman to take off their security gear and put it back on again; it’s a moment of transformation, of shedding and resuming their roles, you learn a lot from how they undress, how they fold their clothes and so on; but as filming progressed, I started thinking of them as sculptures objects. They spend a huge amount of time building an ideal body; their bodies are their capital, they invest in them and they’re incredibly vain. The clubs are off the main street so filming during the day was easy. I set up the camera and sometimes left them alone, because it’s not about them and me-there was no eye contact. It’s a dialogue between themselves and the camera.
Manchot is now spending a year in Berlin where numerous British artists either live or are on residencies. Has it affected her work?
Berlin is a shrinking city; compared with London it’s slow and quiet, but the art scene is international. I didn’t come to make a piece about Berlin, but I came across a series of postcards of people standing outside the places where they live and worked. The photos were taken 100 years ago and, on the back, the locations were listed. So I visited the buildings and took group portraits of the people living or working there now. I’ve also made videos of people performing private activities in park. ‘Rope’ shows a tightrope walker participating on a rope strung between two trees and ‘Voice’ is of a woman making weird sounds, from whimpering to mad laughter to repeated words like mama, mama, mama. ‘She was an actress training her voice.
Is there a linking thread?
It’s an idea of portraiture; simply presenting someone seems doomed to failure, so I allow people to reveal themselves through an accumulation of gesture.
Are you coming back to London?
Yes. There’s something about the energy, the dynamic of London, that I would miss. It’s a powerful place.