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Conjuring Melissa Scherrer–Part 1

May 30th, 2007 · 1 Comment

The following is the first part of a conversation between artist Melissa Scherrer and curator Katie Geha. Magic, the Midwest, and mimes all figure prominently. Part 2 will appear next week.

Crop Circles

Katie: So, I haven’t been sleeping much lately. And I have really wanted to do interviews with artists for a bit a now but I can’t really do them in person, living in Wichita and all.

But I am unsure about the whole phone interview—the kind of equipment I would need and then the difficulty of transcribing and then the horror of hearing your own voice. It’s too much.

And I don’t want to conduct interviews over email either—you can always tell an email interview—it somehow is lacking the immediacy of a real interview. So…it struck me the other night, tossing and turning, that I should really be doing IM interviews. AND since you are my #1 IM buddy, it seemed just natural that you would be my first.

Melissa: Okay.

Katie: So, I’ll ask you some questions to get us started.

Melissa: I am worried about bad spelling.

Katie: It’s okay. I’ll correct it.

Katie: When did you know you would be an artist?

Melissa: Good question.

Katie: Thanks.

Melissa: My mother used to have these rummage sales, and she would take them really seriously. She would have two a year. And she asked me to make signs for the sales to put up on trees and around the neighborhood, and I totally got into making the signs. I would spend hours on the letters, and drawing little pictures of clothes and used TV’s. I was more interested in that end of the rummage sale than the making money side. I was like 10.

Katie: Then how did that turn into feeling like you would be an artist?

Melissa: I just kept drawing and making things and then taking theater classes for years. It was obvious to everyone what my talents were. And this was the Midwest, where you think very practically about things. You recognize where your talents are and then you turn them into a skill, or a trade.

Katie: It makes sense that you bring up the Midwest, since your work has such an intense sense of place. How did being part of the Milwaukee art scene inform your work? Or living in Chicago? New York?

Melissa: Well, the Milwaukee scene I was involved in was heavily performative. And there is that element in my work. But also there is a lot of odd quietness about the Midwest, esp. the suburbs…so many people stay in their homes and don’t really get out; they become sort of ghost towns. I like to play around with that emptiness.

Katie: Performative? In that you insert yourself in your photographs? I hadn’t thought of your work as performative before, but it makes sense—explain?

Melissa: Well, exactly. I insert myself in my photographs, and sort of perform with the space and the objects.

Katie: Right.

Melissa: I studied mime for 2 years in high school.

Katie: Really? I never knew that!

Melissa: You didn’t?

Katie: No—that’s incredible.

Melissa: I was in a movie, a feature film, and I am a mime—Chaza Show Choir.

Katie: What is it about mime that relates to those early photographs? The (as far as I know) first body of works which was largely based on your parents’ house in Milwaukee? You created these incredibly uncanny images from what should have been a very comfortable environment.


Melissa: You tell me. I think it’s more of a lack of fear to act like an idiot in front of a camera. Mime helps you get that out of your system.

Katie: Or maybe something to do with creating stories that don’t necessarily have to be verbally told?

Melissa: You are so smart.

Katie: Thanks.

Melissa: Silent theatre.

Katie: Exactly. And that makes me think of all the props that seem so prominent in your work. For instance, Woodstock 07. What I love most about the photo isn’t that there are two naked people watching TV (although, that’s nice too) but I totally am in love with the objects in the room.

Melissa: Me too.

Katie: The patterns of the shade against the pattern of the bedspread—almost like these really obvious naked bodies aren’t the real focal point of the photo.

Woodstock 07

So if you were a mime it would seem to me that the objects you surround yourself with would be really important in telling a story. Can you tell me a little how you think of these objects? Are they just there? Or do you conceive of using certain objects ahead of time?

Melissa: Most of the time they are just there. In that particular photo, I went and stayed at a hotel up in Woodstock, and this was a room I was given called the “Asian Room.” And in the photos taken at my parent’s house, all those objects were either my father’s or my mother’s. My father is an artist himself; he makes sculptures out of animal skulls and bones, and furs.

Katie: Really? I didn’t know your dad was an artist.


Katie: I want to ask about your interest in bones (I can count 3 photos of bones I’ve seen so far)–so does that have to do with your dad? Or just a general interest in bones?

Melissa: Death

Katie: Oh sure, duh. But really?

Melissa: At first I thought it was about my dad.

Katie: They’re so elegant.

Melissa: But then it seems like the interaction of a body (myself) with these skulls really creates some sort of dialogue about existence.

Katie: Right. Also I find a deep interest in the occult in your work. Are you a witch?

Melissa: Not yet. My boyfriend is a magician.

Katie: Really?! A wizard?

Melissa: He practices magic.

Melissa: I think it works.

Katie: You think his magic works?

Melissa: Well, he makes these symbols when he really wants or need something, and then focuses on them…

Katie: The Gilroy Hot Springs photo might be one of the scariest photos I’ve ever seen.

Melissa: It was taken on Friday the 13th. But, I am actually totally afraid of anything “dark.” But I believe it is a world that exists.

Katie: So what does it have to do with your photos?

Melissa: I am interested in seeing what I can conjure up in an image.

Gilroy Hot Springs

Katie: I’ve seen ghosts in your photos before! Or was that photo trickery?

Melissa: Nope, I am not savvy enough with a camera for photo trickery.
Maybe I just have a haunted art practice.

Katie: Right!

Melissa: The rest of my world is pretty normal.


Tags: Conversation · Ghosts · Katie Geha · Look · Melissa Scherrer · Mimes · Photographs · Rummage Sales · the Midwest

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