Melanie Counsell

Melanie Counsell  (b.1964, Cardiff, Wales) is a rigorous realist. Her mature work is based on an intense commitment to the specifics of time and place, although earlier installations occasionally allowed the intrusions of memory into the present. At Matts Gallery in November 1989, for example, Counsell subtly modified the existing space of the building to convey the affect of a previous experience. She partially stripped back the lino, giving the room an air of desolation. Along one wall she created a shallow trough above which a curtain was looped over a single wire. Water dripped steadily from a row of tiny tubes projecting from the wall into the trough, then oozed from a rolled carpet over the edge of the trough and onto the floor. The artist’s memory in this case was of working at an institution where sensory evidence of lost control seeped out of every room.

In 1992 at the 9th Biennale of Sydney, Counsell had already adopted her more immediate, realist strategy of drawing only on the present moment, and allowing the memories and perceptions of the viewer to interact with the space and time of the installation. Her site was an old room to one side of the main entrance that had been used as a warehouse, and still contained the original wooden lift shafts and lifting apparatus. For fire safety reasons, the room had long been disused, and was closed to the public. Counsell’s solution was to build a simple glass wall supported by a steel frame in the form of a cross. This wall completely blocked the entrance to the space, sealing off all the objects and the evidence of their use. The glass was punctured by drilled holes in the shape of a diamond, not unlike the speaking holes in a bank teller’s window.

At first glance the frame of the ‘window’ looked like a hologram of a room, as if the real room had become a representation of itself. Looking through the holes, however, one could see – and smell – the space directly, thereby experiencing the glass as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of representation. Counsell’s installations have an indelible logic. The fact that we can subsequently analyse our first impression and even name the material components that gave rise to it in no way detracts from the poignancy of that fleeting moment prior to recognition and evaluation.

Melanie Counsell at Liverpool Biennial 1999

Empty Plot, Haggerston, 1999
B/w video installation, with object
Courtesy of the artist and Matt's Gallery, London