Frieze Art Award Winner Mélanie Matranga Makes the Art Fair Protagonist in Her Online-Offline Video Series

Next week, 29-year-old Mélanie Matranga will make her London debut as winner of Frieze London art fair’s inaugural Frieze Artist Award 2014, where she has been tasked to create a site-specific installation. Chosen by a jury that included Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen (co-directors of Zurich's gta Exhibitions), Frieze Projects curator Nicola Lees, and artist Hilary Lloyd, Matranga will present a series of web-hosted films that follow the narrative of an artist navigating the elaborate and often-complex installment of an art fair, including the various pressures and tensions that arise between artists, dealers, curators, and art handlers. Being shot on-site at the fair this week during installation, in a functioning coffee bar-meets-set created by Matranga, the experience will bring her practice of line drawings, graphic novels, video, new media, and performance art to the world’s stage.

Artsy: Can you tell me a bit about yourself: where did you grow up? What was your schooling, whether in art or other?

Mélanie Matranga: I was born in Marseille and grew up in the suburbs of Paris. The arts were not an obvious choice for me at first but I discovered the Musée d'Orsay, Gustave Courbet, and Monet and I decided I wanted to become Culture Minister. However, after very average school results and a total disinterest in politics, the arts remained as my only area of growing interest.

I went to the local high school, which offered arts history as an optional course and then joined the arts workshops of Paris City Council, where applicants to Arts Schools and retired amateur painters mixed with and worked alongside each other. After two years in these workshops, I passed the competitive exam of the Beaux Arts of Paris, and studied there for six years. There, I studied in different workshops, until I found Jean Marc Bustamante's workshop, in which I spent the last four years of my studies. He taught me to anchor my work in the real world, not just in the head of an arts student.    

Artsy: Have you always focused on drawing? Or can you tell me briefly about the evolution of your work from school to now? Have there been artists (or others, writers, mentors, etc.) who have influenced you along this path?

MM: Drawing is a very simple way to represent and a direct link between hand and thought. Despite the common structures it represents, it remains very intimate and close to the author. Sculpture, installations, and web series also allow me to address these common structures, but also to distance myself from the object. I have always loved to draw, but what interests me first and foremost is our relationships to the world, to others, to ideas... which allow us to build a society.

I use a lot of existing, or impersonal forms in my work, such as a Knoll Butterfly chair, or a Noguchi lamp, or even pieces of carpet. I like to think that objects are like language in a way. We all use words, but from one person to another, the meaning of these words change slightly and holds our own uniqueness.

Joan Didion or Frederick Wiseman are huge influences to me. They succeed, through institutions, city planning networks... in translating human complexity. 

Artsy: Do you work from a studio in Paris? If so, what is your studio life like—what neighborhood is it in, does it get a lot of light, do you go to the studio at specific hours every day, etc.?  

MM: I have a studio in Ivry-sur-Seine, very close to Paris. It is a very quiet and suburban area. To be fair, all I know about Ivry is the way from the metro to the studio and from the studio to the small café at the corner of the street. The surrounding quietness allows me to stay focused on the work to be done. My workspace is very bright and very pleasant. I go there every day; I spend most of my time there, when I am not with my son or his father.

Artsy: How did you learn about the prize? And when did you learn that you won Frieze’s inaugural Artist Award? Were you familiar with the jury?

MM: I learned I had received the prize in May. I didn't know anyone in the committee, however a friend, Edouard Montassut, encouraged me to apply because he thought that my work corresponded to what Frieze expected. I wrote my presentation all day and all night, just before the deadline and a few months later I received the award.

Artsy: Can you explain how you will use the award? Have you worked in video before, and if so, what challenges do you expect the medium will present? Conversely, how will video open up your work? What role the café will play in your project and what will it look like?

MM: The project would be a web series shot during the set-up of the art fair. Every scene of the web series will be shot [during the fair’s] construction: the film set, a coffee bar, as well as the display of the fair. [The set] will stay in the fair, meanwhile each episode would be broadcasted by newsletters or straight up on the website and social networks. The story would be set on three issues: It would be the story of a young artist, under pressure by her work requirements and her boyfriend, a young actor who stands by her side but in a dilettante way. The series will focus on their own and respective fears. To combine a fiction to the work of the artists, art dealers, curators, and planners will allow [me] to point out a degree of underlying—and often hidden—tension that occurs with any art exhibition. The building of the two characters’ relationship juxtaposed with the construction of the fair and of the set will be a subtle metaphor of the work process, for the artists as well as for art dealers and curators. The choice of a web series as a format will also enable me to keep this subtle aspect where fiction does not become an object and will only get its shape with the coffee bar set left during the three days of the fair. It will be used as a real coffee stand. 

Artsy: Have you been to the Frieze London fair before? If so, what have been memories from those visits—whether about the feeling around the fair, particular programs, or what’s going on in the city simultaneously? And what are you looking forward to most at this year’s Frieze London?

MM: I have never been to Frieze London. I look forward to discovering London during Frieze.

One of the projects I really look forward to is Ei Arakawa with UNITED BROTHERS at Green Tea Gallery, Iwaki in the new LIVE section at Frieze London.

Marina Cashdan

Explore Frieze London on Artsy.

Mélanie Matranga portrait courtesy of the artist. 

Mélanie Matranga, NOT (2014), web file, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist/frieze

Mélanie Matranga, NOT (2014), Ink On Paper, 80 x 60 cm., Courtesy of the artist/frieze

Mélanie Matranga, NOT (2014), web file, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist/frieze