Studio Visit: Melonie Mulkey

Studio Visit: Melonie Mulkey

Studio Visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melonie Mulkey of Champaign chats with Melissa Merli. Mulkey is a sculptor and photographer whose work is part of the two-person exhibition "A Little Touched, But Otherwise Alright" on view through Oct. 4 at Figure One, 116 N. Walnut St., C.

Tell me about how you combine all these different media in your work.

I construct life-size narratives and I make human figures for them out of chicken wire and origami. I start with an idea. For example, at Figure One I started with the idea of a person who collects. So over time I collected everything that would go into the narrative scene. Then I take photographs of the scene and make origami pieces that I attach to the chicken wire to create the figurative sculpture.

Do you videotape the process?

I did for this residency here at Figure One so visitors would be able to see the process unfold in this particular space. I captured all those moments on my camera and show a compilation of 2,700 images for this "Making of '2 X 2.' " It's a time-lapse video of still images.

A lot of people refer to my process as a style of tableau photography. But that's a known process from the beginning of photography. The way I make it contemporary is by changing the way the images are viewed — using them as a sculpted medium to create the figure.

How did you come up with the idea of building the figures using origami folded from the photographs you take of the scene?

It was really organic. My process has always been about repetition — doing the same thing over and over no matter what material I was using. In 2010 I folded 1,103 paper cranes for the Tivoli Student Center at the University of Colorado-Denver. After that I started folding paper and made them into sculptures and putting them into weird scenes and then photographing them. From there I started taking photographs of the object and then printing the photographs and placing them back on the object while paying attention to the scale and making sure they blended in.

Why do you show the photographs of your scenes rather than just leave the scenes intact?

Because it allows me to control how people view what was there. The photographs convey what I want to convey. If I left the scenes intact people would have too much to view. There would be multiple perspectives by viewers that would not be my intention. Using photography, I can build everything to have a single perspective.

What do you do with the objects you use to build your scenes?

They go back into the world. I take them back to Goodwill. When I borrow things I return them to the owners. So there's a lot of social interaction. I do buy some new things but I think there's a lot of stuff in the world to go around so you might as well use it.

When did you move to Champaign and what brought you here?

At the end of July 2013. I'm actually here because my husband is in the MFA program at the UI School of Art + Design. He's a painter and a sculptor.

You came here from Denver?

Yes, we came from Colorado — the old 'Rado. We met in art school there.

Don't you have an origami business, theflowersthatneverdie.com?

Yes, I do commissioned origami bouquets. In my art I don't do conventional origami. It's just an element of my work. We're actually doing an Origami Night from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 1 here at Figure One. We're folding and then donating 1,000 cranes to an organization called Cranes for Cancer. Everybody is encouraged to join us. I also will show people a couple of other objects to fold so they have something to take home with them.

Editor's note: Mulkey also will give a talk from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Figure One.

Topics (2):Art, People