MELANCHOLIA: Marion Colomer & Dana El-Masri

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One of the most enjoyable aspects of what I do is the matchmaking—not of the romantic variety, but the artistic one. When DC-based French artist, Marion Colomer, contacted me about her latest project, Melancholia, I immediately thought of NYC-based perfumer, Dana El-Masri. Both were talented young women who shared, in my view, a similar approach to their creative work: one that is at once both romantic and refreshingly fearless. I was looking forward to what they come up with!

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That combination is reflected in Colomer’s statement about her work, that its focus is the paradox. With that, her series Melancholia attempts to capture the paradox visually with a series of nude figures in lush jungle settings. While these surroundings are rendered verdant with deep saturated colors, the figures are depicted monochromatically with fragile pencil lines. So while the figures often occupy the foreground, they seem to recede back and disappear into their surroundings. This forces the viewer to get closer, revealing the rather erotic nature of these figures, and casting the viewer in a transgressive voyeuristic light. This intimate effect is heightened by the presentation of the work: one enters the space though a fragrant curtain of raffia strands to find the work lit, frameless, against a black backdrop.

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Fittingly, Colomer states that her series starts with the paradox of a scent, “a perfume that would for some people smell like an exotic flower, a fragrance of a lost paradise, while others that experience this effluvia would behold something dangerous, a moist smell of soil decomposition.” El-Masri renders this brief smartly. Her “wet earth scent” opens, innocently enough and as promised, with a green damp earth accord. But the scent soon takes on darker aspects: not the darkness of animalic notes or patchouli, but the counter-intuitive darkness of toxic synthetic fumes. Recall the scent of opening the packet of a cheap plastic tablecloth or shower-curtain: that volatile, almost threatening, but also seductive glue-like odor? There is something unsettling, but also refreshing, about this incongruence—the natural vs. the synthetic, the colorful vs. the melancholic—which makes Colomer and El-Masri’s work that most seductive of things: human.

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Melancholia is on view at the Arlington Art Center until December 18, 2016.

(Text by Ashraf Osman)

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