De Monsterkamer

In de gang: Melanie Matthieu

In de gang is tentoonstellingsruimte en gang ineen. De lange corridor naar De Monsterkamer biedt sinds januari 2013 ruimte aan exposities. Kunstenaar Hendrik-Jan Hunneman ontwierp de basisinrichting van de expositie, waarbij een hangende wand letterlijk de tentoonstellingsruimte kadreert. Een steeds terugkerend vraaggesprek – als vouwblad en online beschikbaar – biedt daarnaast verdieping aan de fysieke component van ‘In de gang’. Op dit moment is er werk te zien van de Belgische kunstenaar Melanie Matthieu. Melanie Matthieu (1989) werd geboren te Aalst, België. Ze studeerde Beeldende Kunst aan de Hogeschool St. Lukas in Brussel. Sinds 2011 woont ze in Frankfurt am Main, waar ze studeert aan de HFBK Städelschule bij Willem de Rooij.

Een publicatie van het project Le Martchaû et la Tènaîye verschijnt in 2014 bij uitgeverij Alauda Publications.

Op 19 september 1846, op de bergtop van La Salette (een klein dorpje in de Franse Alpen), verscheen een prachtige vrouw aan twee herderskinderen, Melanie Matthieu en Maximin Giraud. Terwijl ze onophoudelijk huilde, vertrouwde de dame de kinderen een apocalyptisch geheim toe. Vervolgens richtte ze zich naar het zuidoosten en versmolt opnieuw met het licht. Honderdvierenzestig jaar later, in 2010, maakte de kunstenares Melanie Matthieu een reis naar deze “Vallei van de Verschijning”. In een poging om het etherische landschap en zijn hallucinerende geschiedenis te vatten, zwierf ze – de ene dag als veldwerker, de andere dag als pelgrim – over de heilige berg, ondergedompeld in het dagelijks leven van het “Heiligdom van Onze Lieve Vrouw La Salette”. Het resultaat is een serie van toevallige zwart-wit beelden die drie verschijningen van Melanie Matthieu verenigt (de 19e eeuwse herderin, de kunstenares zelf en haar tante).

Interview met Melanie Mathieu:

Esther Krop: What does the title of your book Le Martchaû et la Tènaîye mean?
Melanie Matthieu: This translates as ‘The Hammer and the Pincers’, it’s written in a local patois from the region of La Salette in the French Alps. In the account of the apparition Mélanie and Maximin give a detailed description of the Lady’s visual appearance and her accesories. Apparently she was wearing around her neck a large chain and a crucifix with a set of pincers on the left, and a hammer on the right. This type of crucifix is a traditional symbol for reconcilitation. I’m interested in the ambiguity of a tool, it’s multi-sided applications, how the meaning and effect totally depends on it’s user and context.

Le Martchaû et la Tènaîye

EK: How did you find out about the existence of three Melanie Matthieu’s?
MM: The first Melanie Matthieu was my aunt, my grandfather’s sister. She passed away in 2006. She was a piano teacher and I hold very specific memories to her. Her fiancée, a musician, passed away at the age of 30. She never found a new love, and devoted her life to music, religion, teaching and traveling. According to her wishes, everybody called her Nini, Aunt Nini. Even on official mail correspondence one would address her as Nini Matthieu. ‘Melanie’ stems from the Greek word melanos, which means black or darkness. She decided at an early age that she doesn’t like this gloomy connotation and gave herself a more playful name. I personally always embraced melancholy.
The discovery of the third Melanie was the result of a simple Internet search. Somehow this coincidence was a fruitful base to start a project and I gradually became interested in the idea of retracing and merging these three lives in an associative manner.

Melanie Matthieu, La Salette, 2010

EK: What do we see on the big black & white print in the exhibition?
MM: The image depicts the table in a house in Corenc at which Mélanie (La Salette) was seated while writing down her secret (which she received from the beautiful Lady). This happened for the first time in 1851. The secret was sent in a sealed letter to Pope Pius IX. This letter was never made public, and eventually got lost.
In 1999, Michel Courteville discovered the original letter in the Vatican archives. It was published in 2002 in a book entitled ‘Découverte du secret de La Salette’. It’s here that I found the image of the table, as well as a drawing Mélanie made as a child. (see fig. 2).
The discovery is of great importance to me, since it marks the secret in its pure form, written by an innocent mind. In the same year Mélanie joined a convent. During this time she started telling prophecies about her miraculous childhood, playing with the child Jesus and leading animals in a religious procession. Her behavior became progressively bizarre, as she had hysterical fits and threatened to bite her superior. She was never allowed to become a sister, and instead was sent off to England in 1855. After years of moving from convent to convent, and never progressing beyond the novitiate, Melanie settled in Castellamare in 1867. Throughout her life she gradually grew more and more bitter due to the repeated rejection by the Church hierarchy, and was influenced by apocalyptic prophecies.
In 1878 Mélanie wrote a fourth version of the secret, which was published this time with the imprimatur of Salvatore Luigi Zola, bishop of Lecce, near Naples. The Vatican later put this book on the Index of Prohibited Books. The publication stirred a great ongoing controversy about the apparition.

EK: How do you see photography as a means of expression?
MM: Firstly I want to make a distinction between analogue and digital photography, which I perceive as two different worlds, different modus operandi. This is not a question of value. Analogue photography brings along a material. I consider the negative as a space that can be entered into. A crucial aspect embedded in the nature of the medium is the experience of not knowing, a lack of control and the latent image. The transition from latent to visible image implies a crucial delay. There is a transition phase, a journey, a moment of being in between. Like a pilgrimage, you could call it a liminal process.
When I made the series in 2010, I definitely had a more romantic idea about photo­graphy. I considered it a magical device. Today my relationship towards photography (and images in general) is more dubious and pragmatic.

Melanie Matthieu, La Salette, 2010

EK: In 2014, Alauda Publications will publish a book about this project. Talk about the textual part of the publication and collaborative process.
MM: For the book project I invited a friend of mine, Scott Rogers, to collaborate on the text. He is an artist from Alberta, Canada. We met at the Stâdelschule in Frankfurt am Main in 2012. I believe we have a great affinity for each other’s work and many mutual interests. I provided him with a huge stack of research I conducted during the spring of 2013, together with some broad abstract goals for the book, such as: the opportunity for text to become image, and for images to become text, a stage with many doors open and locked, where diagonal fields become acquainted with one another.
The research was mainly dealing with the  history of the apparition itself. Several other associative lines and characters gradually sneaked into the project such as the discovery of the outer planet Neptune on 23 September, 1846, four days after the apparition, the writings of Léon Bloy and the diary of Camille Claudel. Scott distilled a couple of major themes from this research: landscape, names, impersonations, apparitions and miracles. He also wrote down personal anecdotes and experiences that are related in one way or another. From this emerged an extremely nourishing ping-pong document.

Drawing made by Mélanie, ca. 1850

Quote from Le Martchaû et la Tènaîye:
“Names, like words, are not pulled from thin air. They are of course the accumulation of many centuries of calcification and erosion, their syllables slurred and sharpened by time. In a person’s name we can find many meanings, where the stories of the ancient past are re-told, although one must be a cryptographer to decipher them.
Etymologically, Melanie refers to blackness, darkness (from the Greek word melania). The immediate connotation is somewhat fearful. Although, what is darkness really? Where light is limited we find the dark, but darkness is not simply a lack of light. The dark is a rather more peculiar thing. It is an immersive condition that we dissolve into, losing track of our senses. At night we attempt to complete the darkened state with our minds, letting our imaginations wander. Any tiny movement or a rustle can become a mystery. We are so desperate to make darkness into light, that we construct the world of light out of the dark. It might be better to pause and let one’s eyes adjust. Then the anxiety surrounding “Melanie”, could give way to a becoming; a state that is bordering on universal, less individual, more attuned.” – Scott Rogers, 2013

De tentoonstelling Le Martchaû et la Tènaîye van Melanie Matthieu is te zien t/m 01 maart 2014 in De Monsterkamer. Openingstijden: woensdag t/m vrijdag op afspraak.