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  1. "Hidden matter" duo show with Mikko Hintz at Helsinki Contemporary, Helsinki 2019

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    Mikaela Lostedt: How did you come across the stories of Matisse and his muse Lydia? What was it that caught your attention?

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    Inga Meldere: The themes I have been working on when starting this project evolve around excerpts of female writers’ poetic diaries, dealing with sexuality and female sensual perception. The idea was to explore the possibilities of relating painting with the style of diary writing and poetic language. For example how Eileen Myles looks on the vibrant New York cityscape of the 80’s trough flowers. Yellow tulips associate with “miserable faces in daily pain & awful air”, “looking too real to be real, so big and sexual-looking in that funny way flowers are, they were like heads poking from another world”.(1) Or the celebrated contemporary poet and critic Maggie Nelson and her lifelong obsession with the colour blue, devoted to the “inextricability of pleasure and pain, and to the question of what role, if any, aesthetic beauty can play in times of great heartache of grief”.(2) A scientific article describes the colour of the universe as “pale turquoise”. Nelson “knew it all along. The heart of the world is blue”, but, as she found out a few months later, the discovery was an error made by a computer glitch. “The real colour of the universe, this new article says, is light beige”.

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    The preparations for each new project create a starting point that doesn’t necessary have anything to do with painting. I collect perspectives that are, at this stage, still quite vague but they set the mood. Authors such as Kris Craus, Lidia Yuknavich, Sheila Heti, Hélène Cixous, Iran Mersal, Laurie Weeks and Kate Zambreno are some of the names which I came across on this particular journey. One book or author led to another.

    I revised my bookshelf and came across an item which I have had in my possession/owned since my student years in the Art academy of Latvia 15 years ago: A book about Lydia Delectorskaya (3), who was more than a model for Matisse. The two formed a strong bond. She became his model, studio assistant and companion, faithfully serving the artist from 1932 until his death in 1954. She was the exception to the rule: a close companion of more than 20 years with an acknowledged public role in Matisse’s life (even if her name did not always appear in the titles of his drawings of her), Lydia’s Nordic appearance varied from the looks of his usual Mediterranean models.

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    Bought on a study trip to Moscow, the book is a collection of letters and memories of people who met or collaborated with Lydia. I was intrigued by the life story of a woman who had a big impact on art history. Through the book one could grasp her dedication, sacrifice and unselfishness in her work with the artist – and the enormous loneliness, especially after Matisse’s passing. Working with this story and my paintings, I wanted to emphasise the role of Lydia, to look at her as an equal, as a creator (closely alongside Matisse) of the heritage that we are used to recognise trough the books of art history and museum expositions.

    Matisse wrote ”what I dream is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from psychical fatigue”. From this viewpoint art would serve as a healer, looking from darkness to the light. I think Lydia, with her presence as a woman, companion, mother and muse, was part of this great “project”.

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    Fo this exhibition I invited the Latvian author Agnese Krivade, whose work I deeply admire, to collaborate with me. She got very close to the story of Lydia and Matisse. For her, it took the direction of a poetic manifest. Excerpts from the text she wrote can be found in some of my paintings in the exhibition.

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    ML: The concept of caring is central for the new works, what are the central aspects of it that you address in your works?

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    IM: I would say that the central concept for the new works is perception. The mentioned concept of care has to do with finding a story, which is very important for me to start painting. Care is not about the painting, rather it is about the story, as well as the connection between the authors whose works I read. It all leads to the story. When reading about Matisse and Lydia, the concept of caring was very present for me, it was one of the ways to enter their story. There was a relationship between two people based on respect and care, involving senses.

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    Of course, we can speculate on that because of what we actually know about them. In those times people where talking less, and there is not much information available. Matisse was dedicated and serving to his art and she was a bright light, like saint Mary burned by the fire of the bright colours, as a martyr for a world that needs to recover its light. One can grasp this with a careful “reading” of the works and letters, notes (wrote to her) by Matisse.

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    But, tracing back to the concept of care, I came across a text of Aristotle which felt somehow “right” regarding this story. Aristotle distinguished two means of perception: through the mind/reason, considered universal and immaterial, and through the senses, belonging to the realm of the body, thus more familiar, permitting the establishment of relationships with other people – through such activities as care – and enabling our sensory being-in-the-world.

    “Both instances reveal four phases of care that trace back to the values outlined by Joan Tronto (political science) and Berenice Fisher (civil rights activist). The first is caring about, or being sensitive to the needs of others; the second is caring for (responsibility), the third, taking care of, involves specific skills (wether we’re providing care to a child, a cronically-ill person, or “saving the world”, while the last phase is ability to receive care, thereby place oneself in the weaker position within the certain power relation.”(4)

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    “I was his eye sight and he was the reason for me to live”, L. Delektorskaya (5)

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    ML: How do you go about when doing research? Is it very planned or more organic?

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    IM: The beginning for me is usually very organic, it's more following my instincts, or things that catch my attention. If the interest stays with me for a longer time, the organic way grows into very a planned one.

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    ML: What does the scarf mean to you? Is it just a visual element or are you considering its wider meaning?

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    IM: I love this accessory, I even have a small collection! Each scarf can tell a story, starting from the composition and what is depicted on it, all the way to the person who is wearing it. A scarf is a very innocent “banner”, a piece of cloth for a manifest, or a statement. At the same time, one can just wear it to become anonymous and disappear in the crowd. I like the compositions of scarves which are usually very symmetrical, elements can repeat themselves in decorative patterns and create new compositions and new meanings.

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    ML: How do you see the relationship between painting and perception?

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    IM: It’s about the story, everything starts from there. Each time, to begin with, I set the mood and look for a story.

    Painting for me is not just about feelings, there is something that comes from the “outside”. I read a lot and it doesn't necessarily have to do with the painting. In a way, that’s how I structure the process before starting to work on research for the painting. First research and then painting. I use archival material [existing images, (my solution)] as a print. It changes the painting process. Some part of the image is already there when I start to paint. The idea of perception starts there! I look at the print and then I start to paint. These are two different languages, and I have to find a dialogue between them to work, and this is were it becomes interesting for me. I am already adapted to this way of working and it shows the way to what to do next.

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    For me, the painting process aims to create a resonance, or a vibrance, between the image and painting. A vibrance between public (image, story, being outside the studio) and private (painting, being in the studio with my work). The work is about artistic practices and methods of painting.

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    ML: Tell me more about your techniques? How did you start using UV-printing and how do you see it working with painting?

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    IM: The choice to start using UV print was very pragmatic and well sorted out. I wanted to use printed image as a starting point for my painting, but “classic” methods of transferring image on primed canvas (such as silkscreen or paper collage) didn't really give me the result I wanted. I was also looking for something that is not dissolved with organic solvents while I was using oil colour. I didn't know anything about this technique’s existence before, so I was quite happy to discover it and it really works well for me.

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    ML: What kind of steps does your working process include?

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    IM: Research, work with archival materials. I also take a lot of pictures myself (lately I have mostly been working with my own photographs). Work on the computer where I prepare collages, cutouts and layouts for the prints. After the print is ready, starts the most interesting part of the working process – painting. Painting materials, new techniques as well as methods have always been very interesting to me, I also feel quite relaxed to mix them, maybe that’s because I have a background in restoration :)

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    ML: How do you know a painting is finished?

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    IM: Maybe there is something like an inner feeling that tells it, although sometimes it can be misleading and after a while, I need to return to the painting.

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    1 Eileen Myles, I MUST BE LIVING TWICE, New and Selected Poems, 1975-2014. Ecco/ Harper CollinsPublishers.

    2 Maggie Nelson, Bluets, Wave Books 2009

    3 Lydia Delektorskaya Henri Matisse. View from Moscow. Published in Russia 2002

    4 Care, Labor and Robots: A Feminist Manisfesto for the Future Economy. Zofia Lapniewska. All Men Become Sisters, 2018

    5 Lydia Delektorskaya Henri Matisse. View from Moscow. Published in Russia 2002

    Photos: Jussi Tiainen