Michaela Melián. Electric Ladyland

08.03.2016 – 19.06.2016

Munich-based artist Michaela Melián (b. 1956) has a long-standing relationship with Lenbachhaus. She has contributed to several temporary exhibitions at the museum, which holds a number of her works in its collection. Munich audiences may be acquainted with her work through projects at local institutions and in public settings; her work has also be presented in national and international shows. Lenbachhaus now mounts her first solo exhibition at a museum in Munich.

A visual artist and musician, Melián has been professor of time-based media at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg (HFBK) since 2010 and performs with her band F.S.K. Her expansive multimedia installations are composed of films, photographs, drawings, objects, music, and writings. They raise questions about the historic legacy of sites as well as collective memory, language, and their inherent aspects of (re)construction and projection. Melián interweaves diverse references to cultural history, popular culture, and social and political life into a complex web of meanings, narratives, and possible readings.

The intellectual and material centerpiece of "Electric Ladyland" is an installation of the same title Melián has created especially for the exhibition; an environment that takes up a full half of the Kunstbau, it was designed with the space in mind and responds to its character and proportions. It consists of a multilayered ensemble of sounds as well as drawings, objects, and light—an amalgamation of the registers of visual art and music that is characteristic of Melián’s output—and pursues an interest that runs like a red thread through her oeuvre: women who played important parts in cultural history but have been largely ignored by historians. Yet the figure at the heart of "Electric Ladyland" is not a historic personage but a fictional character: the artificial creature Olympia from Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of "Hoffmann" (1881), an opera that heralds the dawn of Paris modernism. Olympia, a mechanical moving doll with highly developed physical capabilities, outgrows her human maker’s control and is ultimately destroyed by human hand. Melián has brought the story into our time by composing a new soundtrack loosely based on Olympia’s aria. She also created drawings that take inspiration from laboratory-like settings in the history of technical invention and physical development from the Renaissance to science fiction scenarios.

Melián brings history to life and demonstrates that such illumination of the past can shed new light also on the present and perhaps the future. Exploring "Electric Ladyland", we hear but moments and possible realizations of a work that never congeals into final and definite form. Even when we take the time to study its details, we can never keep an eye on everything; the whole remains elusive. The seating furniture, which is part of the installation, invites visitors to linger and immerse themselves in the work’s abundant visual and sonic richness.

The exhibition also includes significant earlier works by Michaela Melián such as "Föhrenwald" (2005), "Speicher" (2008) and "Lunapark" (2011) or "In a Mist" (2014). "Föhrenwald" examines the checkered history of Waldram, now a residential neighborhood on the edge of Wolfratshausen, a town south of Munich. First planned as a model development for workers in the late 1930s, it was converted into a forced labor camp after the outbreak of World War II and then used to house Jewish displaced persons once the war was over; ethnic Germans expelled from the Reich’s eastern territories moved in starting in the late 1950s. Melián worked with archival materials and conducted interviews with former and present residents to create a slide-show-and-sound installation in which today’s political challenges resonate.

In "Speicher", an environment encompassing sound and projections, Melián’s pays homage to a pioneering work of inter-media art combining sound, text, and image that is now lost: Alexander Kluge, Edgar Reitz, and Josef Anton Riedl’s "VariaVision—Endless Journey," conceived in 1965 and realized at the Siemens Studio for Electronic Music, which is now in the Deutsches Museum’s collection of musical instruments.

Long preoccupied with sound and music, Melián’s has worked with the Bayerischer Rundfunk’s editorial department for radio plays and media on a regular basis; the radio plays that have resulted from this collaboration are works of art in their own right. Like 2Föhrenwald", "Speicher", and "Memory Loops", "Electric Ladyland" exists in a radio-play version that will be broadcast — a distribution channel that, Melián hopes, will make her art accessible to a wider public.

In 2008, Michaela Melián won the City of Munich art competition "Victims of National Socialism – New Forms of Remembering and Commemorating" with her concept for "Memory Loops". Realized in 2010, her virtual monument was honored with the Grimme-Online Award among others.

Curated by Eva Huttenlauch

Exhibition booklet