Feature

In a world where ‘seeing is believing’, many of us think of artists as image conjurers, filling blank canvases with fictions crafted out of nothing. For French artist Myriam Mechita, art making is not a generative act: rather, the artist lets outside forces guide her towards a pantheon of symbolic subjects. Roses, eyes, hounds, serpents and angels flow from some unconstructed font of inspiration into her drawings and ceramics. The distinction between making something up and using a received image might seem subtle, but in becoming a conduit, Mechita has accumulated a world of imagery that is powerful, sprawling and tempestuous. Roses don’t have hearts but my eyes will find yours is a storm of monsters, fire and gold, symbolic of both Mechita’s memory and humanity at its most universal.

Mechita first entrusted her artistic agency to somebody else in 2011, during a residency at Triangle Studio in New York City.

Feeling chafed by the art scene’s demand for bottomless novelty, the artist took a new direction. “I was fed up,” she recounts. “I decided to change the rules. I went to see someone who could see for me.” She met with a psychic, a card reader who showed her the images that would form the basis of her new artworks. “She was able to see through me and my life. Images were coming to me, like a river, but this river was red.”

The psychic audience unleashed a torrent: a massive body of drawings, black on red. Seen together, the series is expansive and cinematic, resembling a sanguine stream of memories flashing before the eyes of some dying protagonist. The trivial overlaps with the profound: a leopard-print bra, classical paintings, a lynching, crumbling architecture, a contorted gymnast, and bed sheets. The red river is a powerful image. Dante wrote of a river called Phlegethon that ran with boiling blood through the seventh circle of Hell. Mechita has encountered shamans and Apache elders who also spoke of such a river, a flow between memory, vision and artwork.

malevich's dream #2
Myriam Mechita, Malevich’s dream #2, pencil on paper, 200 x 150 cm.

The search for imagery uncorrupted by authorship or fashion next led Mechita to a hypnotist. Between sleep and wakefulness, she began to see. “It was a strange feeling. A voice came directly from me, without any filter, without the fear, the strategising or seduction. It was a way of seeing without controlling what I said or produced.” From this experience more drawings flowed, many of which contemplate vision, featuring scenes obscured by shadow or revealed by light. “I think a lot about eyes and seeing, because that’s the way that we enter into reality,” she says. Indeed, one senses that Mechita is marking out those states in which what we see becomes merged with what we know or understand: memories, visions, dreams and hallucination. In all Mechita’s works, there is sight and there is insight.

Mechita’s yearning to be guided by others has a long history. As a young artist she would ask her mother what to draw. “She always answered, “a rose.” So, I have tonnes of pieces of paper with roses drawn on them. Later, I read ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’ and I laughed, knowing this was the perfect title for this pile of roses I have been drawing for years. In a way, the roses are another red river.”

Relinquishing control is a recurrent theme in Mechita’s work, and her experiences on the edge of artistic agency have altered the way she thinks about the art world, its hierarchies and routines. “I realised that I can step outside of that system. I don’t always have to participate. All my work is part of a bigger image. I’m just trying to understand what is going on every day. I’m building a body.”

Roses don’t have hearts… will also include a series of ceramic works created at Adelaide’s JamFactory workshops. The objects are shaped like various body parts − blindfolded faces, dog heads, antennae, hands, fingers − and glazed with high-gloss gold and iridescent scarab shell colours. Each body part is chained or fused to another: “building a body”. When I suggest to Mechita that these luxe hybrids put me in mind of Victor Frankenstein’s quest for a transcendent body, the artist laughs and tells me “the perfect body is a monster. You know, the word ‘monster’ has Latin roots. It means ‘showing’ and ‘to warn.’ I love that.” Certainly, the eyes, heads and hands in this series are all perceiving organs, fleshy tools for understanding our world, material or otherwise.

Roses don’t have hearts, but my eyes will find yours
Myriam Mechita
GAG Projects, Adelaide
30 August – 24 September

Sheridan Coleman