An Interview with Melanie McLain

Irini Miga interviews Melanie McLain

Melanie McLain is a multidisciplinary artist based in Mexico City. Her work weaves together elements of architecture, sculpture, and performance blurring the line between interior and exterior realm, private and public action. In her hybridised environments the functionality design of corporate places, health clinics, and spas transforms through color, shapes and choreography into a commentary on behavioural aesthetics and social dynamics. 


Her installation “Peripersonal” was part of OTRXS MUNDXS (Curators: Humberto Moro and Andrés Valtierra with the assistance of Regina Elías) in Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, which closed on Sunday (April 18th, 2021.) 

Her solo show, “Unchoreoraphic  Sculptures,” is currently on view until June 20th at La Cresta in collaboration with Colector in Monterrey, Mexico. 






Irini Miga:

As a Greek, I always break down the meaning of words that have a Greek root or element and imagine my own interpretations. Thinking of your installation “Peripersonal,” the Greek word “Peri” -as the first synthetic of this word- means about or around; depending on the use. Can you tell us what “Peripersonal” means as a term, what does it mean for you and how it is used in the context of your work?


Melanie McLain

My first approach to the term was through psychology.  As I use it, it refers to the way we understand the spatial relationship between our bodies and the rest of the world. 

When working on Peripersonal for Museo Tamayo, I was thinking about the current social behavior in the pandemic in relation to the common threads in my work around interpersonal dynamics and touch. The new social guidelines are changing how we think about the space between ourselves and other people, how we divide spaces and use things to put up layers of protection to create a sense of security.






Irini Miga:

I always feel that there is an undertone of sensuality in your work. Moments of subtle intimate connections through gaze and touch; not only between the performers, or the performers and the audience but also a tender relation between the performers and the actual set. The openings, the curves, the holes that you create with resin, the peculiar architecture that you build and your performers inhabit; to me, all this points to a new way of forming relations with one another and our environments. This is even more obvious now under a period of a pandemic where touch is “censored” and life has taken a turn towards the solitude of the interior world(s.) Could you expand on how you approach emotion and behaviour through your work?



Melanie McLain

I think space and architecture influence our emotions and behavior in many ways in which we are not overtly aware. My sculptures and installations often divide space and constrain who and what we are able to see from any given position. Cropping the view of other parts of the space and other people within the space, whether performer or another viewer, adds to and alters how one might feel in relation to themselves or the others in the space. These changes build up different structures for developing, feeling, understanding and behaving through certain concepts, like intimacy, tension, privacy, etc. Design visually directs the body, the colors and textures are also changing the environment of the space, and all these aesthetic elements work as a whole to motivate an experience.




Irini Miga:

If I am not mistaken all your performers are female identifying. Could you expand on this choice? 


Melanie McLain

For the last several years I have only been working with female performers. On some level they become an extension of me. I design and construct the work around my own body, I often work with women of a similar size and physical ability. From my position of being female, the work explores social dynamics creating subtle moments of intimacy, vulnerability, authority and control in performances. This builds up different dynamics around who occupies the position of power within the space. 





Irini Miga:

I know you have a  background in acrobatics. Are you planning to actively perform in your work as well?


Melanie McLain: No, I prefer not to perform in my own work. Sometimes I do in video, but in relation to the previous question, the performers often complicate and question the interpersonal dynamics.  As the artist I want a different relationship with my viewers.  






Irini Miga:

I always admire the painterly aspects of your work. What is the process behind designing or picking up the clothes of your performers and the colors of your sculptures?


Melanie McLain:  

Color comes intuitively, I know the right color when I see it, but it takes me a long time to find the specific shade, I will look at a lot of paint samples,  I'll go to fabric stores and look for tons of colors, and when I find the right color, it stays with me. Body oriented spaces and institutional environments often inspire my color interests. 

For performers outfits it is similar. Sometimes the colors in the sculptures are chosen first and then I have to look for clothes that work with this existing color scheme, which is pretty hard sometimes because I get very specific about what shade it must match and trying to find these colors that already  exist in textiles can be tricky depending on the color trends of the moment.  




Irini Miga:

You moved to Mexico a few years back. Thinking primarily of your love with tiles and clay in general and all Mexican traditions in ceramics how has this move affected you and your work? 


Melanie McLain

In terms of clay, I started working with it for the first time after I moved to Mexico in a residency in Oaxaca with Fundación Casa Wabi. Using clay opened doors for the forms and shapes I was imagining, it allowed me to make organic shapes more easily which  has influenced how I create the bodily forms with architectural structures. 

More than anything, the  impact  of living in Mexico has been more about thinking in interpersonal dynamics, unraveling the cultural norms surrounding intimacy has changed the way I relate with my work.



Irini Miga:

What are some things that you are looking forward to in a post-pandemic world?


Melanie McLain:

Hugging everyone I see! I'm most interested in seeing how it all unfolds, how social interactions have changed and how they will continue evolving after getting used to not seeing each other, not touching each other.  I'm curious how we navigate being comfortable with getting closer again and how it's going to come at different  times for everyone. I love how in Mexico everyone is warm and close even if you don’t know each other, and I hope we can get that back.


* Photo Credits:

Images # 1-5 by Eduardo Lopez of GLR Estudio


Images # 6-10 by Michelle Lartigue

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