Last semester we received news that one of our alums, Alexia Mellor (PB ’06, MFA ’09), was in Amsterdam working on Unicorn Union, a public art engagement project. Being fans of both alumni and unicorns, we asked her a few questions:
Tell us about this project, and what took you to Amsterdam.
I’ve been working on a series of socially engaged projects that take the form of interventions and temporary communities. The Unicorn Union at KunstVlaai Amsterdam is the second part of a residency I did at Hotel Maria Kapel in Hoorn, NL. HMK regularly participates in KunstVlaai, which is a biennial for independent arts and cultural organizations in the Netherlands, and they asked me to be their representing artist this year.
What inspired this project?
Much of my practice relies on an element of play, humor, and a touch of sarcasm. One day I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a union based on the notion of a labor union, but applying the mythical and fantastical elements of a unicorn – going out into the world, spreading rainbows and glitter while attempting to make the world a better place?!” So, I did. Each iteration of the project is site-specific and investigates ideas of security, place and community by actively engaging the local community in the creation of the project.
KunstVlaai is sited at a former high school in Amsterdam, so I have turned the classroom into a bit of a workshop with rolls of fluorescent pink ripstop nylon to make safety devices designed to protect people from their fears: fear of heights, fear of commitment, fear of economic collapse. It is a way of bringing people together to tackle whimsical and quite serious fears, and the evolving installation gives a visual representation to the individual, collective and cultural fears we share.
What was your focus at SMFA?
While a student at SMFA, I focused mainly on performance, or at least taking a performative approach to the concepts that were of interest to me. I had some amazing instructors and colleagues in the area! It was through exploring the performative that I have developed a more dialogical approach to artmaking, and looking at my interests through the roles of artist, educator and sometimes curator and writer.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing since graduation?
Since graduating from SMFA I have continued to explore ways of integrating a participatory practice with taking art into unusual contexts. From participating in a land arts residency, to creating a multi-platform initiative as part of ISEA2011 in Istanbul, being commissioned to perform in Abandon Normal Devices festival in Manchester (UK), and now performing at KunstVlaai, I have actively pursued opportunities to try ideas in various cultural contexts. Upon finishing KunstVlaai, I head to South Wales where I have been selected as artist-in-residence as part of a social regeneration program in a former mining town.
Any words of wisdom for our current students?
My advice to students? Be willing to fail. Take risks. Try things you never thought you would do in a million years, and remember that artists are part of society, not separate or exempt from it. It’s our job to question and present a mirror to our culture, and to do that, we have to be actively involved.
Thanks, Alexia, and best of luck in Wales!