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Some artists choose to use their talent to communicate important matters to their viewers. They observe the society that they live in, they analyze it, they process it, and then they throw it back at us in their own language. What these artists offer is a vision of the world we live in, seen through their eyes and this usually comes with urgent messages. Melanie Bonajo is among them.

Born in the Netherlands in 1978, Melanie hardly fits in any of the typical boxes. She moves from photography to video making, from music to performance, mixing documentary forms to visual arts and she deals with sociological matters. In 2013 she released the video piece Pee on Presidents, which featured an ironic vision of anti-censorship and body positivity.

In 2014 she started working on the Night Soil Trilogy, which tells the stories of women who rebel against capitalism through systems that are currently illegal. The first video of the trilogy, Fake Paradise, analyses the healing effects of the herbal drug Ayahuasca on the minds and bodies of modern human beings. The second video, Economy of Love, features a group of sex workers in Brooklyn and their research of intimacy and empowering sexuality. The third video, Nocturnal Gardening (released in 2016), focuses on radical and innovative agriculture and harvesting, based on community work and on a deep respect for nature and animals.

In 2016, the first video of Melanie’s new trilogy was also released: Progress vs Regress. This looks at the growth of technology through the eyes of elderly people at retirement homes in The Netherlands. Her work often contains a strong criticism of the contemporary western world, in particular focusing on the loss of intimacy and humanity in an increasingly technological society, and also the progressive detachment of mankind from nature. But this criticism doesn’t come in harsh, apocalyptic or threatening tones: quite the opposite, Melanie’s work usually leaves the viewer with a deep sense of peace, with an ecstatic vision of beauty and purity and with deep love for the world. We chatted with Melanie in occasion of the screening of Progress vs Regress and Nocturnal Gardening at Worm Festival in Rotterdam.

How would you describe your work? What is the fil rouge of it?
The fil rouge can be described as a disconnection taking place regarding intimacy between people and species. This is one of the shadows caused by the growth of technology. In addition to this research, I also try and give voice to people who are not always mainstream.
When filming, do you build a kind of relationship with the subjects? Does this take a lot of time?
Yes, I build a very deep relationship with the subjects and this takes about a year. It is a very intimate process, very much based on a meeting point between respect and connection.
Your video works are often created like photoshoots, with a lot of stillness and a deep image study. Could you explain what determines this choice?
The shots in my works are very long and this allows the viewer to sink in. I also try and keep an eye open for detail. This way the brain of the viewer is drawn to the details, and this creates a type of intimacy.

The main themes of your most recent works deal with exceeding technological development and a parallel loss of values. What are your views on the direction that western society is taking now?
Total disruption. In a maximum of three generations, a big transformation will take place. We will live in polluted cities, a lot of people will suffer and a lot of species will be extinguished. Of course, this disruption might lead to a resurrection. I can’t tell, but we all still have a choice for our future, both as society and as individuals.
You chose to interview mostly women. Do you connect more with female stories?
No, I am not necessarily more interested in female stories, but I am however interested in finding more diversity in women stories – her story. For example, I am now getting older and it gets more and more difficult to find diversified female role models and I thank god there’s the Internet, or it would be impossible to find them. All sorts of female models exist for example in biology, in physics or in engineering, but their stories are constantly shadowed by male history. I want to find them, give them a voice and a space and also supply different kinds of role models to young girls.
At the same time, I am also still dealing too much with my internalized anger for female oppression to really be able to tell male stories. However, there will probably be a switch in this because a ‘renewed masculinity’ is slowly emerging and this is also very important to talk about, but for the moment, I still feel too much anger.
Can we know something about your future projects?
I am working on a new film based on the fact that funny or sweet images posted on the Internet have changed the way that children perceive wildlife – also, how it has changed education and how the spreading of urbanization has reduced the space between animals and men.

Words
Sara Kaufman

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