Christina Meloni’s performances and installations sometimes border on the transgressive, while also including objects and routines superficially mundane, even tedious. From the absurdist and surreal performance of vacuuming in the street, or the use of such craft skills as embroidery to graphically depict sexual acts, through to the exaggerated and repeated application of ‘beauty’ routines, all of which mainstream society usually associates with the feminine sphere.
While Meloni’s practice certainly does present images of ‘femininity’ – sometimes to exaggerated effect, as in New Look in which fashions are represented as two dimensional props in a cartoonish manner so that when stood behind the visitor appears to be ‘wearing’ them, or 26 Volte, a set of mirrors each printed with a bobbed hairstyle which can make the right participant appear ludicrous – her work also mocks received standards of beauty. They appear to give the lie also to the notion of ‘self-image’, as something from without – manufactured, sold to us, trading on our insecurities and fears.
This is where Meloni’s work is most revealing. It is suspended in some awkward moment, and the references to cartoonish costume imagery, gender-ideals, expectations of women which are as entrenched now as they have always been, are all part at work here. It is as much about the disparity between ourselves and these external pressures to which we are all subject.
Meloni’s practice frequently returns to the artist’s own body. Phobias surrounding the body and what might attack it- Skin, for example, in which pairs of tights have been altered and appear to have been stretched over the artist’s arms and hands, like a kind of ‘second skin’. Or the ongoing series Life on Mars, in which the artist takes close up images of her own skin, to the point where the appear to be surfaces of some alien world. Implicit too is the ‘life’ in the form of bacteria: fears of one’s own body being invaded by such ‘alien’ life forms, themselves a recurring theme both in the marketing of beauty products and to the domestic realm.
What comes through in the practices of many artists working today is the disengagement, or the uncertainties and anxieties apparent between the individual and their environment. While certainly not a new idea, such a revisit of Existentialism seems increasingly relevant in a world where control over one’s own life, and more particularly one’s own privacy, has been eroded; indeed the concept of ‘privacy’, itself a comparatively recent phenomenon, has once again been reframed as we decant more and more of ourselves online. Whether it be the breakdown or shortcomings of historical narratives, or the nuances of a language which get lost in translation, or of the gap between the self and the self-image, the preoccupation with many of today’s artists is about just how much control we have over our immediate settings, and how much we can trust what we are told and what we have been brought up to believe.
Text by Matthew Crookes