It is summer and our minds are (understandably) in far away places. Amid the daydreaming, I managed to pin these two down and ask them some tough questions about their collaborative installation now on exhibit at the Drawing Room called Nervure.
This mixed media collaboration between Melanie Liles and Sergio Serrano is inspired by the Paris Syndrome — a condition first diagnosed in 1986 by Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France. This transient disorder, experienced by travellers disenchanted with their destination, brings about feelings of anxiety, delusion, persecution, derealization and depersonalization.
While some of the contributing factors to this affliction are attributed to language and cultural barriers, what is considered to be it's main cause is idealization of place and the inability to reconcile a disparity between expectation and reality.
In this work the artists seek to explore this condition, it's effects and how these feelings are not necessarily exclusive to Paris nor to travelling, but they can represent a universal predisposition to daydream and build up expectations — and the reaction and coping mechanisms when one is faced with reality.
Chelsea Boos: The title of the show is Nervure. Could you describe how you came upon the name?
Melanie Liles: Nervure comes from the name of a French psychiatry newsletter, ‘Nervure Journal De Psychiatrie,’ which published Hiroaki Ota’s work on Paris Syndrome in 2004. The word Nervure is French for a vein, as in an insect's wing or the rib of a leaf.
CB: You've said Joseph Cornell is an influence.
Sergio Serrano: I've personally found Cornell as an influence in my work for a while. When discussing this project, his work came to mind again. We found the little vignettes he creates quite fascinating — like peering into someone's headspace and thoughts. We see his shadow boxes and it's many compartments as both a sort of abstract sequential narrative and a metaphor for how humans have a tendency to compartmentalize their experiences and romanticize the image of memory as a neat and organized filing system.
CB: Some of the emotions you're trying to evoke are nostalgia, overwhelming disappointment and anxiety. What are the reasons behind this?
ML: I think for myself, the reason why I wanted to evoke nostalgia, disappointment and anxiety is because we come from a city where a lot of our friends move or perpetually talk about moving to a bigger city. Some of them come back for work, like myself, or for family, or because they just miss the people and the feeling of safety. Some are genuinely let down and it's that disappointment and those crushed expectations that can keep a person stuck in the past or feeling anxious about the future.
CB: How does this body of work relate to your own practice?
ML: Through my art, I often like to study and explore the relationship between science and nature. However, the element of psychology helps me observe, in more detail, the human condition in relation to its surroundings.
CB: Is this the first time you've collaborated together? How is it different from working alone? With other people? What have you taken away from the experience?
SS: Most of my forays into creating more artistic work have been as collaborations. Wether the collaboration happens on the final work created or as part of the development and brainstorming of themes, I always find it to be greatly helpful. It's great to have another mind to bounce things off of, to challenge the way I envision things, and to learn new perspectives and techniques.
This is my first collaboration with Mel (but hopefully not the last!). Due to some time constraints on my part, the collaborative aspects in this body of work were primarily in the brainstorming and collecting stage of the project — but were still greatly inspiring. Discussing the themes and ideas we wanted to explore and some of the forms envisioned for it allowed me to revisit a type of work — collage and shadow boxes — that I enjoy doing but had neglected for a while and to rekindle that practice.
Melanie Liles was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Melanie Liles has a degree in Art Education and a background in Theatre Design and Visual Communications. She is currently an Art and French teacher with Edmonton Public Schools and in her spare time works with different forms of printmaking, drawing, and sculpture. Her work often explores ideas around nature, science, and memory.
Sergio Serrano is a graphic designer and artist who has been working as a freelance designer since completing his BDes at the University of Alberta in 2009. His design client-work focuses mainly on the arts and education. His self-initiated work explores different thematic streams including issues of communication, information technology and translation; cosmology, mythology, folklore, proto- and pseudoscience as attempts to understand, explain and communicate human experience; and formal explorations of nonlinear narratives, constructed personal histories and nostalgia. He works in a variety of media including printmaking, drawing, digital, collage and bookworks — both individually and in collaboration with other artists. He has never been to Paris.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or visit the gallery Monday to Friday from 12 PM to 5 PM.