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Mel Bles Islands 19.10–25.11.17

Mel Bles, Islands


Beginning as a simple exploration of images as two- dimensional objects, Mel Bles’ Islands, evolved into a rhythmic meditation on line, form, light and shape. The curves and crevices of bodies echo the rippling slopes of sand dunes, and close-up pro les steeped in shadow mirror the rolling drama of cloud formations arching across the sky. The continuous presence of lines thread the images in Islands together, painted purposefully across Bles’ nude models to trace their shapes and movements, subtly recalling the body and performance art of the 1970s. There are glimpses of gestures and hands, faces and expressions, but most often the people we see become mere bodies – sculptural gures enfolded into the images in the same way all other organic forms are, malleable matter to be used and reused. Eclipsing in and out of the shadows, these bodies appear as fragmented parts; islands of their own.

Journeying through an array of classical photographic tropes – light and dark, shadows and mirrors, the female nude, the still life and the landscape – Bles conflates each tradition she encounters into her own process, and transforms it. With a belief that an image can be graphic without being ‘hard’, she makes images that probe how to imbue a photograph with intimacy and softness – studies on femininity and form away from any sexual or romantic connotations.

While some images maintain a stark photographic clarity in what the artist calls their ‘purest form’, others are fed through an intuitive process of alteration – revisited, reprinted, rephotographed on an iPhone, taken to a scanner, or upturned – and their surface textures are interrupted, stretched and warped in dreamlike and surreal ways.

An island is both the image of isolation and the stuff of fantasy too. Bles is our meandering narrator, figuring out how our bodies slot into the world around us, lone or entwined. Less personal and more geographic, Islands is an abstract mapping of land, the site of the body and the planes of photographic surfaces. Binding illusory glimpses of natural phenomena and the human form, Islands presents the first forays into Bles’ own quiet, earthly cosmology.