Shave is the first solo exhibition in Israel for Melanie Manchot. Born 1966 in Germany, living and working in London, Manchot is one of Germany's foremost and internationally renowned.
The video installation SHAVE (75min.) was previously exhibited in the Venice Biennale and in Gallerie-m in Bochum, Germany, and was nominated for an award in the Cassel Film festival this year. In the Chelouche Gallery Manchot exhibits, together with this video installation, a series of 9 still photographs that offers complementary point of view to the action shown in the video.
The camera orbits slowly around a figure of a bare chest man who is being shaved by a barber. The central image of the video installation is projected larger than life on the wall, the depicted body generating an extraordinary presence in the room. A recurrent splashing noise steers the viewer’s gaze back to the center of the room, to the video of a bowl in which the used razor is being continually rinsed in synchrony with the projection. This action takes place on a monitor into which one peers from above, as if into the real bowl.
The removal of body hair has always been associated with a variety of contexts, whether cultural, social, ideological, religious, medical or aesthetic. The external transformation prompts us to reflect on what body hair signifies and raises questions about gender identity. The man’s body which at first summons the impression of the archetypal male, gradually morphs into something more feminine. The shaving process is recorded in real time, uncut. The circling movement of the camera produces a sculptural perception of the figure. The artist thus strikingly translates the sculptural point of view into the medium of video. The barber as well seems to develop the same sensitivity with regard to his "subject/object," behaving almost like a sculptor.
By David Thorp
If one thing can be said to characterise the work of Melanie Manchot it is her dispassionate representation of the human condition, composed but containing, nonetheless, a sense of deep felt humanity. Manchot’s early works were photographs of her mother semi-naked. This remarkable series of photographs made challenging demands upon both artist and subject and reveals insights into the psychology of mother and daughter. They are accomplished within the conventions of photography and so aesthetically satisfying as large black and white photographs of an older woman but their real meaning lies beneath their appearance. It involves the bond between mother and daughter. What is revealed and what is concealed within a close familial relationship that spans a generation. In a more general sense, their meaning is concerned with the nature of womanhood as a distinct identity, and age and the process of ageing. It has to do with modesty and reality, with strength and wisdom but, above all, intimacy.
It is problematic to assert that Manchot has a strategy for her practice. Although there is a coherent development from one body of work to another that encompasses the social and the personal, Manchot’s real strength as an artist lies not in her ability to select and compose her subjects but, once selected, in being able to reveal within them an essential dimension that discloses their identity. Manchot’s skill at being able to establish an intimate relationship with her subject without neglecting a detached position creates a space in which the viewer can perceive for themselves the nature of the relationship between the artist and her subject. This is clearly demonstrated in her series Moscow Girls from 2006. These images (supported by sound narratives) are not about portraiture in an orthodox sense nor are they purely the depiction of anxiety or deprivation. They maintain an existential position but one tempered by Manchot’s sense of humanity as she establishes a link between artist and subject that is intimate but which observes their separate psychological space.
Objectivity and intimacy, separateness and closeness are qualities that underlie Manchot’s practice. In her most recent work Shave the camera slowly turns on a seated man who gradually has all his body hair removed from the waist up. Starting with electric clippers, a barber then slowly and painstakingly moves a cut-throat razor over the surface of the mans body. Lightly touching his flesh as he steadies his hand and runs the razor of the man’s skin. There is no threat involved. Occasionally the barber applies more soap with a shaving brush to the man’s torso. The image of a bowl on a separate monitor gradually fills with the shaved body hair as the shaving brush is periodically cleaned. Association between the razor and the softness of the skin is underplayed, there is no exaggeration of the relationship between the two men. We, the viewers, and the artist voyeuristically watch this slow and intimate process. Manchot’s ability to clear away any obfuscation from her subject matter has resulted in works that have developed her capacity to transmit psychological insight through her imagery. How such perceptions are attained and subsequently manifested remains a mystery but is demonstrable in Melanie Manchot’s film and photography as she moves between the social and the personal.