As cool as a Cronenberg movie, and as fascinating as looking under a microscope: so can be described the work of Spanish artist and photographer Mireia Donat Melús.
Through her organic compositions of oddities and her insistent (and almost voyeuristic) eye, Mireia plays with the inherent beauty of the grotesque, celebrating it devotedly and unapologetically.
Let’s have a chat with her!
Hello Mireia, and welcome to Visual Satiation!
Let’s start with an introduction: Who exactly is Mireia Donat Melús?
Well, hi everybody! I’m Mireia and I studied Fine Arts in Altea, between the mountains and the sea of Alicante.
I finished my studies in 2013 and moved to London with the intention of improving my English and art skills (as well as working like crazy in lots of different places haha).
Once I got tired of it, I travelled to Peru to attend an artist residency in Lima, where I got a better idea of what was going on with my concepts, mixing them with other cultures and different points of view, in relation to shapeless and abject bodies.
Eventually, I moved back to Valencia in 2016 to continue studying sculpture, photography, installation, and to keep going on with my “Buiuius” (this is how I like to call my creations) in order to cover some projects that came up.
I’m currently based in Ontinyent (the town that saw my teeth growing!), where I’m able to afford life and have a nice workshop.
Mireia Donat Melús
Can you tell us about your background and how it shaped the person and the artist you became?
I’ve always been impressed by the body: the tricky ways it has to fight illnesses and how it’s been politicized by society since we can call ourselves civilisation.
That’s the starting point that makes me create the unclear forms and the odd, high-physicality sculptures I do.
Since I was young, I always showed a strong curiosity about raw meat, death and bodies that display physical sickness. Mutilation, warts on faces or simply a scar make me think about the metamorphosis of flesh, how its appearance can freak out our society and the fact that having an abject body can be a parameter of (more or less) acceptance from others.
My parents had a bar so I had the opportunity to observe lots of random and very different people of all ages, as well as watch my mum cutting, ripping and cooking all types of animals.
I used to go with her to the butcher almost every day. I remember the smell and how fascinating it was for me to look at those big cow tongues or goat heads hanging everywhere.
I discovered a feeling for the abjection and how to recognize it at a very early age by going to such places with my mommy.
I also have to say that my own body and the way it started changing made me realize how oddities measure our level of acceptance toward others: how a hairy girl is not well-accepted (I’ve always been a little brown-haired wolf myself) a prepubescent body odor or the period (one of the biggest taboo of my time at the catholic school) can make you feel disgusted and completely upset with yourself.
Mireia Donat Melús
What feeds your imagination, and what kind of themes do you find yourself returning to in your art?
As said, we (as human beings) discover the feeling of disgust at a very early age in relation to the repulsion people have toward oddities and the way it plays with our own perception of ourselves. My work focuses on investigating how wretchedness has an imperative range of non-written laws, which are different for each culture and each individual.
Through my art, I play with deformed objects in different contexts. I focus on the sickness of the flesh and its disgusting appearance to then materialize the concept of the body as an object and its death under the form of different medical conditions such as tumors, teratomas or mutilation.
Lately I’ve been representing the body and the depersonalization of its death through photographic series like “Objetos de estudio 2017”, “TROU 2017” or “Morgue 2016”.
These latest works are actually a mix of my first creations (where I worked with holes, creases and incarcerated flesh) with stained steel complements that I add as a reference to the medical context I want to showcase. I’d like to experiment more with the new types of materials I’m currently working with.
Objetos de estudio 2017
What is the process behind your photographs, and how do you usually work to create them?
I started taking pictures when I realized that my pieces were actually changing a lot while sewing them (they’re made of tights stuffed with silicon fiber). So I started documenting the process with my camera because I found it interesting.
When I decided to make my first series of photographs I noticed that the public was less able to identify the materials I was using, and the way it looked added more physicality and power to my work.
So I started to sew sculptures with the only purpose of taking photos of them, giving at the same time a second life to some of my old artworks and exposing them at exhibitions (they can’t be touched much though) instead of getting wasted.
I actually made “TROU” also for this inconvenient of people touching things: viewers could wear a latex glove and insert their whole arm inside a hole of this big sculpture I made and enjoy a marvelous “Buiuius-fisting” without the disapproving look of society (because something amazing about Art is that it gives us – both artist and public – the permission of subversion without feeling ashamed).
How have you been coping with the last couple of years, and how’s life nowadays? Do you have any projects coming up?
Well… I think everyone had a very strange time while going through this big pandemic or whatever it was happening meanwhile or is still happening.
I was still living in Valencia during it and despite having a small room, I managed to create some small figures and discover new materials to use.
Nowadays I’m trying to use less textile material and get into the latex and silicon world (which is way more attractive to me and less fragile!).
I had a wonderful project with a Catalan theater company called “El Conde de Torrefiel”. I was working in the scenography department, and this experience both opened new doors for me and helped me reset the direction of my artistic career.
Can’t wait to start exhibiting once more now that things are moving again!
I’m also working on some collaboration projects with good friends of mine which will involve the use of materials such as latex and silicone.
But I’m just testing for the moment so stay tuned ahah!
Mireia Donat Melús
Name a lesser-known talent of yours, then name something you’re really bad at.
I´m actually good at sports and sometimes people are really surprised about it because I’m a very clumsy person haha.
Regarding being bad at something… I’d say that people, in general, think that just because you´re an artist it means that you can do whatever for them ahah.
But if someone asks me (without knowing too much about me or my art) to make a portrait for example, I always laugh out loud since I’m so bad at drawing.
I can realize whatever my imagination thinks of, as long as I’m not required to make it perfectly clean or 100% realistic.
As someone who’s not afraid of being grossed out, what’s the grossest movie scene you’ve ever watched? Also, can you name one of your favorite horror movies?
I love that scene in “Pink Flamingos” when Divine eats dog shit and the wicked look on her face while doing it. You can tell she’s disgusted by it but you can also see how the character is pleased with the level of disgust that will blow away the viewer hahah!
It’s something in the middle of barfing and the sexual pleasure of eating some good food.
One of my favorite movies is certainly “Braindead” by Peter Jackson from 1992.
I watched a lot of horror movies but I like this one in particular because it represents the germ of my passion for B-Movies.
The Spanish translation of the title (because we translate literally everything haha) is actually “Your mother ate my dog”.
What’s the funniest thing that happened to you lately?
I had so many amazing experiences, things and people in my life that I cannot choose haha!
However, I can tell you the last one that happened to me:
I moved to Ontinyent one year ago. I was looking for a space where to base my workshop and I eventually got a nice spot. Not too big but good enough to stay for a few months.
While talking to the owner (and lately to my parents), I discovered that my mum was actually working there sewing clothes when I was one year old.
I was so surprised that I decided to sew for a project I had last year, using both that same space and the sewing machine used by my mother while working there.
Later on, I moved from that workshop to a flat, and this flat was in the same building where my dad (as well as my brother and I) grew up (and because there is a flat per floor, the house is exactly the same)!
I used to play in the square just in front of the building every day and the bar owned by my parents is just next door.
The sound of the neighborhood is the sound of my childhood and the places of my memories… I felt so lucky and I think it’s amazing!
What odd smell do you actually enjoy?
Earlier I was talking about butchers and big tongues, and I can say that since I was very young (and I still do nowadays) I enjoy smelling raw meat, specifically lamb (vegans are gonna hate me but that’s the truth).
I don´t know why but I discovered this pleasure during my visits with my grandma to my great-grandma’s house in the Barcelona center. She used to buy me expensive lamb because she knew it was my favorite meat… I can imagine the way my eyes were wandering around the numerous butcheries of the big neighborhood market of “La Boqueria”.
I think this got stuck with me as a memory of my childhood even if I don’t really eat too much lamb meat anymore…
Mireia Donat Melús
Please show us one of your oldest creations.
Lastly, let’s give you a few minutes to draw a caricature of yourself and see how it goes! Ready, set, go!
Thank you so so much for being with us Mireia!
We wish you all the best!
Behance: Mireia Donat Melús