MELK opens a new Oslo space tomorrow with the solo exhibition Ping Pong Belong by Ole Martin Lund Bø. We did a quick Q&A with one of the founders, artist Behzad Farazollahi.
Interview by Nina Strand
Nina Strand: Congratulations on your new space! A gallery, bookstore and a printing studio. You've just had an exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus & published a book, New Scandinavian photography, tell us about your plans for MELK in the future?
Behzad Farazollahi: Thank you. Yes, in many ways last year has been a turning point for MELK. Both the publication and the exhibition were two projects that opened new doors for us. This year we’ll focus on curating shows at our new space. We’ve also been invited to curate a group exhibition in Mexico City next year. It will be a continuation on the context and topic as our previous show at Kunstnernes Hus.
NS: What artists/art practises will you be showing? Is it important that it is new and Scandinavian?
BF: Some of the artists that we’ll show at MELK were included in the exhibition mentioned, Kristina Bengtsson, Flemming Ove Bech and Sandra Vaka Olsen will be following up after Ole Martin Lund Bø. But we try not to plan too far ahead. Even though we have a list of artists we want to work with, we feel that one of our strongest qualities being an artist run gallery, compared to bigger institutions and galleries, is our flexibility. This makes us more up to date with the artists we choose to work with.
Scandinavian is something that we started with seven years ago as nobody else was focusing purely on this group of artists. Even though we’ll try to show artists with other backgrounds, this will still be our focus. The main element in MELK's style and philosophy is that the art we show is experimental and has a touch of freshness, so in that way it's important to us that it's new.
NS: You're opening with Ole Martin Lund Bø, an established artist, showing photographs printed on canvas combined with paint. By this you want to engage the spectator in questions beyond the media-specific limits of photography and painting?
BF: We're very pleased to open the new space with Bø. He is an artist working in different directions and mediums where photography has been a key element. In this exhibition he mixes photography and paint in ways that push the boundaries of both mediums. By using minimal paint strokes combined with prints of different objects, that at first seem spontaneously chosen, he manages to engage the viewer in a way that keeps one questioning - both the aspects of the process in technical ways and the choice of the images he combines.
MELK is an artist run initiative where we as both artists and curators have had a strong drive for showing that photography is a medium that still has many new unknown directions. We want to expand and push the boundaries that we feel photography has had to rely on because of the many traditionalists that has been repeating each other over many decades. We want to support and help develop those artists that have a limitless vision on what photography can be.
NS: What do you think the artist brings with him as a curator, how do you use your own practice in your work at MELK?
BF: Being active as an artist and at the same time to get the chance to work with other artists has been very rewarding and inspiring for me. One gets to exchange ideas, learn different ways of working and thinking, and most of all we have a lot of fun working so close with other artists.
I think the artists that we work with appreciate our understanding and our working methods, since they know us mainly as artists and not curators. In that way I think they feel more comfortable sharing ideas and thoughts knowing that we are equally passionate.
NS: Having a gallery space showing photography in today's image-run society is challenging, as our board member Lucas Blalock writes in our upcoming issue: we are currently seeing the ascendency of Donald Trump in the US, which could easily be described as a triumph of pure image over other kinds of information. But if photography is to some degree displacing writing as our common cultural language; it has also (long ago) spawned a literature and a poetics of its own. And this “literary” position has been greatly enhanced by the fact that photography has evolved into this extremely dominant form for expressing content in commercial and social networks, which are themselves ever re-shaping our shared understanding of what a photograph is. How is your view on the photograph in light of this?
BF: The problem with photography taking over other ways of expression and ways of communication, is its extreme simplicity and directness. It used to have a strong impact on the viewer because of its limitation of use since it was harder produce a picture before than in our digitalised world. MELK is not engaged in trying to understand this part of the development of photography, but to see in other directions and try to find ways that will heighten the medium as an art form. In many ways we feel that the commercial and social explosion of its use, strengthens our task as artists because of its stultification of the public.