When is a video about skiing not about skiing? Melanie Manchot’s Leap after The Great Ecstasy is just that. It consists of a multi-channel video installation in three parts inspired by Werner Herzog’s film The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner(1974).
The installation is presented at CARSLAW, St Luke’s, the gallery is tucked away and inconspicuous from the outside. Upon entering you pull back a drape of black cloth and are transported to the ‘world’s largest natural ski jump’ embarking on a phantasmagorical journey through the largely untamed woodland of Switzerland’s mountainous alpine forest, travelling between perspectives and viewpoints. You are at once within the scene and a spectator viewing from outside.
The exhibition is preceded by a single photo of a cabin nested upon a mountainside home to dozens of towering trees, its structure propped up somewhat precariously making it appear almost as if it is hanging in mid-air above the steep decline. It is just about balancing. There are certain ambiguities which continue from this photo through the rest of the exhibition, from safety and danger to calmness and interruption. The log cabin is an intimidating haven offering both warmth and isolation.
The main film pulls into focus the tension between natural and man-made more explicitly. Documenting the preparations for a skiing tournament, the men that work on the slope are seen meticulously sweeping the snow from the tracks one inch at a time with the exact precision of a Swiss watch. Their battle with the snow is just one part of coping to live in this hostile environment. When describing the installation, Melanie suggests that this control endeavours to perfect a section of nature, even if only momentarily. In a sense, this goes against a more typical representation of nature as an ideal before being corrupted by man-made artifice and machines. Instead, the ideal is humanly crafted. Perhaps that is the point; that perfection is a very human idea, it only exists in our perception.
The seriousness with which the skiers attempt to tame this landscape is, at times, comical yet it encroaches upon more sombre issues. It is difficult to address environmental issues without falling back on simplistic binaries of what is natural and man-made, and although at times the landscape appears too still and unchanging in relation to the actions of the skiers and their equipment, the installation succeeds in its use of ambiguity. It works best when it is precarious and unstable. As a whole, the exhibition hangs together well and the combination of the physical log cabin and video format creates an effective space for contemplation.
The elephant in the room is that this is an installation about skiing which doesn’t show any skiing. You see the preparations of the slope yet without actually seeing someone make a jump. Usually this may indicate that the artist is commenting on what you don’t see, but in this case it would appear that the skiing tournament is used as a vehicle to explore something else. This isn’t about skiing; this is about control.
Words: Katee Woods
Photo: Melanie Manchot: Leap after The Great Ecstasy
CARSLAW, St Luke’s, London (20 April 2013- 1 June 2013)