Casting Call, An Interview with Melchior De Tinguy

Throughout his work, Melchior de Tinguy brings together various references to modernist architecture and monumental structures inspired by Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius or Roberto Burle Marx. The utopia conveyed by these seemingly grandiose references is funneled through his sculptural process to give birth to slightly grotesque anthropomorphic sculptures. Set on a stage-like platform, these intimate characters and their bodies made of concrete, plaster, and steel rods, occupy a space between a small theatrical production, and an oversized urban diorama.

Informed by the urban textures and surfaces observed by Tinguy on a daily basis both in New York City and in Bahrain where he was born, this sculptural installation highlights his lasting interest in urbanization and its social, cultural and psychological implications.

De Tinguy’s exhibition is on view March 30, 2017 – April 2, 2017.

Naima Green: Lets start with your process. Where did these pieces begin for you?

Melchior de Tinguy: The starting point happened in April towards the end of my first year. I was working on a photograph I made: an iteration of a cement image found on the internet and I made a cement frame for it. That was specifically the moment that triggered everything, manipulating materials was a big break through for me. I was focused on architectural materials, building materials. I wanted to get as close as possible. As you know, cement is the most used material in modernist architecture, particularly brutalist architecture.

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Through this process I began to understand a lot of things about the pictures I was  making before the program. I was making architectural pictures. I was working in Bahrain, I was born there and before I came to New York I was living there for three years. I was making a series of photographs where I was investigating the urban landscapes in Bahrain. I focused on the changes of the urban landscape itself.

NG: I see so much of your palette in looking at these pictures. 

MT: Yes, there is no doubt that I consider Bahrain my home, and I have a huge attachment to its color palette.  I think in a way, that living in New York forced me to look closer at details, finding my own colors and patterns I would notice in the streets or the in the subway.

You see the sculptures are made out of fragments of buildings I find appealing. I also researched Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus school, and other modernist architects. I have a particular interest towards brutalist architecture. The MET Breuer is one of my favorite buildings in New York. It is cold and monumental and the body is forced to engaged with its structure.  However by making my own forms out of these materials and turning them into anthropomorphic sculptures, I turn a physical reaction upside down and from negative to positive. This is where my photographic eye comes in.

Making work that is informed by so much rigidity and coldness was something I was trying very hard to break. I discovered the work of artist and architect Roberto Burl Marx. Most of the forms you see in his work are organic to me and an incredible way to think about structures within organisms. And this is where painting came in for me. Painting on a surface like painting on a wall. Putting colors on my sculptures like you find graffiti on wall, but also as they have an anthropomorphic quality thinking about make up or body paint. My thesis show will be theatrical. 

NG: In what ways?

MT: There will be a stage and those sculptures can finally find a way to be in conversation. They become characters and they will operate together. It is the only way I think to really understand what my relation is to them. I think they have other qualities not only architectural, they also resemble artifacts from another time, especially the hieroglyphic cubes. This guy, pictured below (center), is inspired by a photograph and drawing of Mario Botta’s Gotthard Bank.

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I’m trying to bring my research directly into the work and I think it is important to allow them to operate and live on their own.

NG: What is the process of imprinting?

MT: This is where I can see it is a photographer making sculptures. Not only by the negative and positive process that is inherent to molding and casting but the fact that you see details only from the front. They do not have a back.

NG: Are you cutting away or are you adding on? Your work brings up those questions for me. 

MT: I tell myself that these are sculptures from a photographic point of view. I’ve been making photographs for eight years. There is no doubt I think like a photographer. In some aspects, sculpture and photography have so much in common.

NG: What about the colors and the tactile aspect? What drew you to making objects in the first place, aside from photographing the concrete and thinking about the concrete? 

MT: That’s what happened. I got so used to looking at something and never touching it. Coming so close to the surface of something… I had a tendency of always making picture from a far distance. In a way I was not physically engaged with the questions I raised in my work.

Coming so close made me want to use the materials and I can think of my work like a building filled with characters. The sculptures have names and they are on stage, like in a theater. 

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