Full Interview with Alice Lahana in English:
A.L.: You describe your sculptures as social objects. Could you tell us more about it?
B.M.: I started working on my latest sculptures with the soft parts of found furniture. What fascinated me about these objects is their ability to memorise and carry traces of intimate contact that we have with them throughout our lives. Beds and sofas are sites of reclusion, they are the physical supports for privacy from the outside world, they are a place of birth, rest, illness, and death but also a site of intimacy between individuals. The intimacy that I am addressing in my current work is always temporary, often discarded or psychologically recycled, which is something that often characterises a digitally hyperconnected and corporeally disconnected society.
I found the memory of these objects to be important in this current context and I wanted to draw a parallel between the memory of the object-support and object-body. When I start sculpting I am always trying to recall and recreate a corporal sensation, so body memory becomes the main site for producing the sculptures. Body memory is a place from which we draw a lot of our own social gestures from: mannerisms, behaviours, assumed postures in the process of interacting with others and constructing our identities through a performance of self. So my aim as a sculptor is to bring this object into play and explore their potential as articulations or extensions of a social body.
A.L.:Some of them are strung by ropes or blocked in structures. Are they the reflection of a social oppression?
B.M.:Social oppression is a very complex issue, rooted in a predominantly patriarchal, white supremacist, classist, heteronormative society, in which a person can be discriminated against according to their gender, ethnicity, social-political and economic background. I think what the ropes signify is more the process of psychological oppression that in the face of societal structures becomes located within the self. In a way what I am interested in is constructing a language of sculpture that expresses the psycho-sociological aspects of being contained in one’s own body. I am interested in both external and internal forces that hold the body in place in a socially and psychologically produced sense of selfhood and how this conditioning manifests in the ways the body relates to other bodies in a circuit of desire-repression-expression. This desire is related to belonging, to a place, to an identity, to the Other.
A.L.:What relationship do you have with architecture?
B.M.:Architecture is a way of constructing and organising space, and I am looking to apply this both in a material and conceptual way. I used to make large scale architectural installations, spaces designed for performances. These installations were acoustical sculptures, they amplified the voice of performers concealed within their structure. My later work is more focused on how sculpture can speak about the absence of a body, with the idea of architectural containment still there: a gestural body that is seemingly soft and malleable contained by a hard shell, concrete, plaster and other materials used for architectural construction. I particularly like to use plaster, since it is often the interior shell of architectural space, encapsulating the body almost like an architectural womb.
I often start sculpting with shapes that respond directly to surrounding architecture, such as in the latest series I am currently working on at Montresso Foundation in Marrakech. The geometric volumes that come from separations, supports, openings and closures in architectural space (doorways, corners, columns), are twisted and bent, they slip, or stand almost-collapsed, tied to themselves to maintain posture.
I am interested in architecture not only in its role as a container and concealer of bodies, but also as a signifier of social norms and hierarchies of power. The amount of space one can afford to occupy has a profound influence on the construction of the internal space that we find ourselves confined in. What is expected of us in a specific public or private space, or within a socially constructed role dictates our behavior and contributes to our sense of self or self image. I am interested in the politics behind how bodies occupy space, and how sculpture can bring out these politics of occupation.
Ultimately for this purpose I am hoping to be making installations and sculptures for public spaces where the dialogue between the audience and the artwork is not mediated by an institution.
A.L.:For me something very choreographic is revealed from the dialogue between your sculptures. Each of them seems to respond to the others by movement. Through personification, do you attempt to create a performative language?
B.M.:The sculptures are still, but they are caught in a phase of movement. This movement often renders them anthropomorphic, since I want them to act as bodies would . I twist and stretch them to the very limit of their ductility and stop at a moment when there’s a kind of momentum and the sculpture starts ‘talking back’. In a way I want them to perform a certain sensation, such as the feeling of being heavy and being pulled inwards by gravity, and in the process of choreographing this movement I allow the material to do what it can, and to guide me in the decisions. So yes, definitely this exchange becomes performative, just as the way we are socially is a performance of self, each moment shifting in character and tone.
The sculptures I install in one space relate to each other too. For example in the Outside Belongings series produced at Third Base Residency in Lisbon, all the shapes derived from a double bed, that was cut up and dispersed in space, symbolising the separation of two bodies that once shared the same bed. What remains is the memory of the intimacy once lived and now embodied and performed by the sculptures.
Movement is very important for me for other reasons too. I think any structure, be it societal, psychological or even architectural is never completely static. There is always a dynamic capacity for movement and change, and this is the potential the all of us carry as social beings in contact with the real physical world.