Melanie Jame Wolf’s performance More Ballads of Outlaw Feelings on 3 February 2024, as part of her expansive exhibition The Creep at E-WERK Luckenwalde from 21 October 2023 – 10 February 2024, offers a vivid characterisation of the way power patterns become, seemingly, inevitable.
The Engine Room/Turbine Hall at E-WERK, an hour and forty minutes from Berlin by regional train, is installed with sparse sculptural gestures. Bulbous mounds of red latex that recall organs, growths or bloody remains look to be released onto the ground. There’s a rack swathed in the same deep red, impervious fabric, whose hanging shape outlines a fragmented stage curtain or land mass (a map, an upside down mountain). Large ceramic, pastel coloured tongues are licking a side of the space, and two—one large and platformed on a wooden stage, another smaller, mounted on the cold tiled floor—flat, white plywood cut-out silhouettes of mountains, as seen on horizons and reminiscent of theatre flats, raise their two-dimensional peaks against gravity. A video work and photographic print can each be found in two smaller, industrial machinery-clad spaces, apart from the majestic central hall, filled with the alluring smell of spruce wood chips from the local natural forests in Brandenburg, which today the plant burns to gasify, as E-WERK now functions both for energy and artistic production. In these print and moving image works, the artist appears in drag as ‘The Outlaw’, the mythic figure at the heart of her larger project ‘Creep Studies’, developing in several performance exhibition formats since 2022.
The formidable Melanie Jame Wolf enters the main hall as ‘The Outlaw’. Taking gender pronouns he and they, I learn in the post-show artist talk, this fictional yet oh-so-familiar figure exudes eerie supremacy. Lazily treading the long stretch of tiles with one leather-booted foot after the other, sleazily operating beyond the law of the land which rules others/us, he asserts his presence and commands our attention with each slow, spacious clop on the cold hard floor. Our heads turn, we fall silent. Out of law, the outlaw swiftly and silently becomes law.
Wolf’s study of invisible power structures of violence, and the edges that are surfed when one imperceptibly crosses lines from alluring into creepy, sexy into scary and appealing into disgusting, reflects an astute and economical grasp of her developed material, both object and ephemeral. The drawling words that fall from the outlaw’s mouth and their booming cries into space echo and engulf us with resounding and surprising dominance. The silence after each reverberation thickens the air and a simultaneous sense of danger and humour creeps over me. Does laughter help us to deal with or avoid fear? Or to deny it, and accept what’s feared? The spoken line “Oh! Get away with it for long enough, and it’ll start to look like fate” is repeated differently, as Wolf plays with the tastes of its consonants, the lengths and exhales of its vowels, sauntering from one side of the back of the large mountain to the other, a visible ‘backstage’. This land is their land and their behaviour controls the ecosystem we share.
Wolf adroitly transforms into this figure of confident and entitled control with a sly wink that invites us to question what ‘The Outlaw’ represents. When does something that looks or feels good become bad? How does something evil get accepted as ‘natural’ and therefore taken for granted as essential? More Ballads of Outlaw Feelings exposes invisible cycles of power and control, and the many ways that fascist, insidious patterns permeate our bodies, lives and the world as they draw and exploit mountainous triangulations of influence, manipulation and domination between human, nature and spirit.