Images by Melanie Schambach
Melanie Schambach calls out “Hello” from the back room of the Gam Gallery and appears around from around the corner with a warm smile.
Her solo exhibition, Processing Change, is on display at the collective gallery and features 16 pieces, acrylic on wood, mixed with collage and sealed with a thick varnish. Schambach, who has lived in Columbia, Guatemala and Vancouver, discusses the self-portraits (though some you’d hardly recognize as her) with a soft accent.
The series depicts a journey with a familiar narrative. “It’s the whole idea that we all change all the time, there’s nothing impermanent,” she says. “This comes from a time in my life when I started to rip everything apart and start being very selective. And then it was about how do you deal with that process of change.”
Taking time to think about her answers, she talks through each of her paintings, through the states of mind and mood behind them. It begins with a sense that things in her life weren’t reaching their full potential. “There was a huge piece missing; I was feeling inspired but not fully inspired or really living life to the fullest.”
The first pieces are the darkest; the starting point where she realized that things are “sedated” and a change is needed. They quickly become frenzied, as anyone might when they’ve started confronting and breaking down old and comfortable patterns and relationships that weigh one down.
“I went into almost a psychotic state, where the emotions were so intense that I lost the ability to see life objectively,” she says of one of the more outstanding pieces, called Don’t Resist.
She talks about personal change, but she’s also passionate about creating change within her community. Schambach is working with artist and community activist Sara Kendall on a 20 x 35 foot canvas to send to the G20 summit in Toronto at the end of June. The massive canvas will confront the tar sand developments in Alberta’s north, and they’re inviting community members to contribute to the piece, creating one final product that is made of many different voices. (More information can be found at TarSandsArt.com)
And then there are her community art projects, notably the SpeakArt initiatives that attempt to bridge the gaps between people in a position of power and making decisions and the people directly affected by those decisions. (Though she’s not sure that the term SpeakArt is the best fit and might change it in the near future.) Her most recent SpeakArt project took place in Nanaimo, and brought together students and school board members to create a dialogue about a realistic and relevant future for creativity in school curriculums.
While it might not have turned out exactly the way she planned it (public servants don’t like to be activists, she says nicely), it was an experience that will lead to stronger projects in the future. This pattern of developing, experimenting, learning and doing it better the next time is present in these projects, too.
Schambach comes off as determined and hopeful, and it shows in Processing Change. After she confronts her struggles and her sorrow, she finds a place of peace. The pieces turn lighter, brighter and induce a sense of happiness.
It’s an appealing series to everyone who struggles with inspiration, or with questions about what it means to be one’s happiest, most creative and most productive. It’s about letting go, tearing it all down in order to see clearly and move forward.
“Art doesn’t really take your pain away,” Schambach says, “but it can at least teach you something useful about it.”
Processing Change runs until June 17 at the Gam Gallery, 110 East Hastings St.