Paris born, Manchester bred artist Pablo Melchor’s projection piece, “Fuzzy Puzzle”, marks the NYC closing ceremony of Manchester-based collective Alexandra Art’s third year of the Pankhurst in the Park Festival. It illuminated the walls of the Mothership in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint on September 21st. Melchor describes “Fuzzy Puzzle” as “a prism vision. A Fuzzy collection of memories” which aims to be “subjective and colorful.” As such, the piece holds a strange place for Pablo as an author since it is, as he himself insists, an extension and acknowledgement of his involvement with Alexandra Arts and its branching out beyond Manchester’s frontiers, especially to New York, and Manchester’s cultural scene over more than a half-decade. It embraces its own inherent fragmentation and displacement.
Pablo began the informal ties to fellow creative workers that lead to this piece in Manchester in 2012. He traces this back to meeting Hip-Hop figure, promoter, and DJ, In the Loop’s Bedos, a ‘fantastic dude’, ‘elusive, reserved and selfless’ who ‘fished me out of some bad moments and indirectly introduced me to Lotte [Karlsen]’ (who had founded Alexandra Arts in 2010).
Karlsen, Bedos, and Melchor quickly became close friends and supporters of one another both personally and professionally. When Alexandra Arts was awarded arts council funding once again in 2014, a portion of the proposal was attributed to documenting and archiving the expansive work it was doing. Pablo was keen to take this position. His enthusiasm is undoubtedly the result of a sense of comradeship and a certain indebtedness to friends of his who helped cement his place in the Manchester art scene during his, in equal parts troubled and exciting, formative years after moving from Paris. It is also a perceived shared vision, which he describes as “DIY Feminist,” ‘½ physical and ½ digital. Bold.’ Further to this, I would say it is also characteristic of Pablo as an artist to place emphasis on his work as being always already the product, whether directly or indirectly, of collaborative efforts. Speaking to him, he has been, in all of our correspondence, almost avoidant of speaking of his own work. He is quick to qualify any statement with a proclamation of admiration towards those he is working with. Alongside Bedos, Melchor is very direct in his praise of Lotte’s involvement in the project, from her hard work and passion as a coordinator and moderator who “miraculously and with a lot of talent and hard work brought us together,” to her manner when dealing with finances. In contrast to his former experiences — “Most people I have worked for in the arts were crooks and kept most of the money raised with sneaky practices” — he says of Lotte’s attitude towards money: “Never was art funding spent so well, with such transparency and fairness.”
It seems fitting, then, that Pablo’s contribution to this, the final year of Pankhurst in the Park, possibly Alexandra Arts’ central preoccupation, picks up where this role left off. It is, both in content and in form, work that attempts to encapsulate a multiplicity of experiences which, though documented by the author and projectionist, he feels no singular hold or ownership over. His description of the work as “subjective” perhaps ought to be read as something of a disclaimer. This is a narrative that could have been told from any number of angles and perspectives, but the choice of medium and the style in which it is used place a certain emphasis on it being not a complete document, but something inherently partial and incomplete. But we will return to the text itself in more detail shortly.
To return to Manchester, we shouldn’t overlook here Pablo’s excitement when talking about the city and what this tells us about his perspective as an artist (which, we may assume, was in part informed by his experience of the city). Pablo speaks excitedly about Manchester’s openness and sense of community. It differed from his time in Paris in that what he witnessed in the UK was a keenness among creative communities to help each other out, making a concerted effort to overcome the limitations placed on artists and those around them by class and funding, not to mention other power dynamics, instead making a primary concern the work itself rather than caving into the pressure and focusing on one’s own career. In short, he describes a community in which solidarity strives to overcome competition. He speaks with great fondness of Manchester’s willingness to embrace its cultural and ethnic diversity, its class consciousness:
The solidarity is great and people are very resourceful as there is no money around. It is a funky environment where we live is relatively spacious but cold and damp even sometimes derelict houses. We are surrounded by music and DIY culture, sound systems, cheap beer and cheesy chips with gravy. It rains all the times and can get a bit gloomy but the great Irish and Jamaican, as well as Sudanese and Pakistani influences, are very welcome.
It would be easy to over-sentimentalise the city and not acknowledge the actual limitations, threats, and struggles faced by artists, low income individuals, and non-white communities in Manchester but we may also say, again at the risk of oversimplifying, that the solidarity described and celebrated here exists in Manchester precisely because of these struggles. Melchor seems very aware of these issues (recall, for instance, the admiration he expresses for Lotte’s transparency and fairness when dealing with funding above and his experience with the precise opposite, a phenomenon he eludes to as being the norm within the arts). In any case, Pablo describes himself, Lotte (originally from Norway), and Pablo, as ‘adopted Mancs.’ He claims that he ‘grew an adult in Manchester’ and that ‘my art and ideas formed’ there. He describes himself, with a hint of half-irony and a knowing smirk, as a ‘repented Parisian’. It is hard not to detect a breath of sadness when he talks about moving to London for professional reasons. He is working on a ‘ridiculously ambitious project’, a start-up acceleration based around augmented reality and AI development, an exciting career expansion that nonetheless is taking up enough of his time that he has had to, at least for now, turn down some other art jobs in other mediums. Another nod to his loyalty to Alexandra Arts, then, that “Fuzzy Puzzle” should be an exception during a busy time.
Of course, there are points of convergence in the solidarity, troubling of hierarchies, and celebration of difference with Alexandra Art’s interest in feminism and supporting under-represented female artists. The Pankhurst in the Park Festival, which has run since 2014 and celebrates its third active year in 2018, fought hard to exclusively include in its roster female artists even against somewhat quixotic claims that this central intention was sexist. It has been at once a celebration and acknowledgement of the efforts of the women’s Suffrage movement to earn women the right to vote in the UK (fittingly, this year marks the centenary of women over thirty winning the right to vote in England) and an effort to highlight the ongoing struggles that women face, including, of course, women in the arts. Pablo has been one of the few male artists explicitly involved in the Pankhurst in the Park project, and I suspect that it is no mistake that his is a work that documents the work of others with a marked insistence on refusing to claim a position of authority over what it refers to. When Pablo says that his work is not distinctly “feminist work” as such, but nonetheless maintains a feminist dimension, he is alluding to aspects of his artistic endeavors that view renouncing central or authoritative positions as givens and even delights in seeing them upended.
Which brings us, finally, to “Fuzzy Puzzle.” What is seems to represent for Pablo is a responsibility and opportunity to honor his experiences with Alexandra Arts and the artists he has archived and been inspired and informed by. Though the building projection uses pre-prepared edited video footage collected from over the years and filmed shots of some of Melchor’s own illustrations inspired by his experience, the performance itself will be largely improvised. There is no fixed way to present these videos which (alongside the inclusion of musical overdubs also to negotiate their place in the mix a nod to Bedos’ commitment to Manchester Hip Hop scene) will be presented in a largely improvised way. Pablo speaks quite a bit about this opportunity for immediacy in video projection work and live editing. The images and videos themselves often present ongoing movement – shots of moving roads through windscreens and strange walking figures upon which snippets of footage of the artists and collectives (the work and the individuals themselves) are overlaid. In this sense, through an emphasis on fluidity, movement, temporalities and contingencies, it does not seem to make the case for a ‘final word’ on what it marks the close of, but an invitation to consider what has passed from one’s own perspective precisely through its incompleteness and its limitations of perspective, and therein an invitation to consider what will follow. This openness and inclusion can be seen beyond the perimeter of the work itself. The night featured not only Pablo’s projection but also the experimental music of Elisa Garcia de la Huerta and her collaborator Madelena Mak. It also include work from Manchester based-artist, performer and sculptor, the distinctively playful Rabelaisian Anna FC Smith. The spectacle presented in this closing ceremony presents artists of nationalities forming a triangle between New York, Manchester, and Paris (and with Lotte’s very present direction we might also say this extends, forming an awkwardly shaped quadrangle, to Norway) and thus displays the expansive work that Alexandra Arts has managed to do since its formation in Manchester over eight years ago. The refusal to insist on one’s position at center stage is something that appears to be actively celebrated. As Pablo eloquently puts it: “We are not complicated people. We don’t care if we are behind the camera or in front of the projector. We are happy to be part of it all.”