It’s true that one man’s trash is another’s treasure. I recently connected with an artist who uses discarded materials to create her artworks. Her name is Melanie Gritzka del Villar. If you ask her where she’s from, she hesitates for a moment, trying to think how to answer.
When the German-Filipino artist left Bangkok, Thailand in June of 2015 to move to Washington, DC, she didn’t know where her next art materials would come from. Working mostly with found objects and discarded items makes for a very different art experience everywhere she goes. Luckily, Melanie’s move landed her right next door to The JCommerce Group, parent company to Kosherwine.com and Jwines.com at Off The Beaten Track Warehouse. The team invited her to join a few of their happy hour wine tastings, and she looked around at the warehouse while sipping wine, her eye settling on the shelved wine crates and wooden pallets. The staff manager told her to help herself to the boxes; they had a whole pile in storage that they were saving for just such an occasion. Melanie dragged a bunch of boxes back to her studio. Seeing the boxes got her thinking, which soon prompted her to create retablos, spiritual dioramas of a personal nature.
Melanie was inspired by Peruvian retablos – handcrafted tributes containing miniature figurines and intricate scenes and dedicated to folkloric or religious themes. Years ago the artist was blown away by the incredible craftsmanship, storing this style of art in back of her mind to be attempted hopefully at a later time. Fast forward to her DC move, when she decided to try making retablos, furnishing them with her own content. That’s when she started using the wine boxes. They were perfect for this project.
The making of these boxes is very time consuming, she says. There’s attaching, hanging, and fiddling. Two are finished, and one is a plank of a wine crate used as a surface. “La Corona” (the crown), is a completed piece. They started as personal art works, but quickly evolved into statements about the world. “I like them because they act as little stages… snapshots of a play.”
When asked why she prefers to use recycled and found materials, the artist says that these items reflect her lifestyle which is just as transitory. She trained herself early on to pick up fragments and makes sense of them through art.
In her work, Melanie explores the basic concept of recycling to make statements about value in the discarded. She says she’s trying to question our hierarchies of value.
“You have to establish a link with yourself in order to communicate with the outer world, to find a way to balance your inner and outer world and create bridges between the two,” the artist explains.
“Even if you move places,” Melanie continues, “everything interrelates and adds up later.” For example, if you throw something out on the coast of West Africa, it might eventually show up on the shores of the Philippines – everything is linked. Traveling opened her eyes to this aspect. The challenge for her is to retain a sense of community and connection in a globalized world that is trending towards a state of disassociation and separation.
Melanie’s recent solo exhibition in Manila, the Philippines, called Hanging by a Thread, engages with this tension of personal values versus society’s values. She says that it’s important to keep a sense of rootedness but also to see life as a larger picture. We’re all one human race on this planet. Melanie finds it difficult to attach herself permanently to any one place. However, she insists on the importance of roots. “It’s good to know where you come from,” she reflects, “but above all, it’s important to be human.”
In her studio, Melanie works mostly on her own, but she enjoys reaching out to others and to share her process. As an upcoming collaborative workshop she envisions a memory box project with the elderly at a local senior home, where she hopes to enter into dialogue with the participants on how to use an empty container as starting point to thinking outside the box.