Alumna Melanie King is a visual artist and practice-based researcher at the Royal College of Art. She is interested in the relationship between starlight, photography and materiality. Her PhD research project ‘Ancient Light: Rematerializing the Astronomical Image’ considers how starlight travels thousands, if not millions of years, before reaching photosensitive film or a digital sensor. Melanie studied BA (Hons) Fine Art at Leeds Arts University graduating in 2011.

Image: Melanie King, Hannah Fletcher, 2019. Silver gelatin print.

Originally from Manchester, Melanie King is an artist and curator with a specific focus on astronomy. She is co-Director of super/collider, Lumen Studios and the London Alternative Photography Collective. She is a lecturer on the MA programme at the Royal College of Art, and on the BA Photography course at University of West London. She is a graduate of the MA in Art and Science at Central Saint Martins and the BA Fine Art at Leeds Art University. Melanie is a PhD Candidate at the Royal College of Art. Melanie is based at Resort Studios in Margate, UK.

Melanie's solo exhibitions include Leeds Art University (2017, 2020), the Blyth Gallery, Imperial College London (2018) and Bloomsbury Festival (2019). Melanie has exhibited in a wide range of international galleries, such as The Photographers' Gallery, UK, the Hasselblad Foundation, Sweden, Unseen Amsterdam, the Williamson Gallery in Los Angeles and CAS Gallery in Japan. Melanie has attended residencies organised by Lay of the Land Ireland, Joya Arte and Ecologica, Spain, Bow Arts, Grizedale Forest, BioArtSociety, Finland and SIM Reykjavik, Iceland.

Melanie returns to Leeds Arts University with the exhibition Melanie King: Luna Portraits from 17 January to 9 April 2020 (viewing by appointment). We interviewed Melanie to find out more about all of her exciting projects, and how it all began.

What do you remember about your time on the course?

I worked mostly full time in an office before starting the BA Fine Art degree at Leeds Art University. I remember being so happy to finally have the freedom to explore my artistic interests! I experimented with lots of things like sculpture, painting, drawing and printmaking – but eventually focused on analogue photography for my degree show. The Fine Art course really nurtured a love for making things and the importance of materiality. The workshops were priceless for this reason!

I wrote my dissertation on Helen Chadwick and went to the Henry Moore Institute to look at her archive for my research. That experience has continually influenced me throughout the past decade. 

My friends and tutors on the BA Fine Art course also had an influence on my work. I remember a lecture about fear of nuclear war, which led to me confronting my fear of space (something that has now become a fascination).

All of these things have become important factors within both my practice-based research and my professional life.

Can you tell us more about your own artistic practice and interests?

Currently, I am interested in the relationship between photography and materiality, with a particular focus on astronomy. I have collaborated on world record sized cyanotypes using ultraviolet light from the Sun, prints using meteorite imbued ink and analogue photographs of the Sun, Moon and Stars. I have made 16mm films of the Moon and time-lapses of the stars as the Earth spins. I have also made a photo-acoustic installation with phosphorescence and lasers to visualise data from a scientists’ experiment with quantum entanglement at the European Commission.

I have recently moved to Margate, where the light is extremely beautiful and it is very easy to come into contact with nature. In the past five years, my practice has become much more reflexive. My work is influenced by the landscape, so I am always keen to participate in residencies in places such as Iceland or the Lake District. I also find that taking walks by the sea in Margate and experiencing the stars in complete darkness can help to open my mind to new ideas and inspirations. I have a studio at Resort Studios in Margate, which is fantastic as it has a darkroom and a great print studio.

More recently, I have been thinking about my impact on the environment. I am trying to take more train and boat journeys instead of flying, and I am thinking about the impact of the materials I use. For example, I have been practising with a sustainable Caffenol-C developer, which is made from coffee, vitamin-c, soda crystals and salt.

Can you tell us about the projects you are involved in and how they came about?

London Alternative Photography Collective - I founded the LAPC in 2013, to make alternative photography processes more accessible to the general public. I was interested in how contemporary artists used the materiality of photography, and wanted to promote skills sharing. I started by running talks at the E5 Process darkroom in Hackney, and over time this led to exhibitions and talks at Doomed Gallery in Dalston. I then partnered with the Photography and the Archive Research Centre at London College of Communication, where I was working at the time, to create some symposiums which were extremely popular. Now the LAPC is co-directed by myself, Almudena Romero, Diego Valente and Hannah Fletcher and we are growing exponentially! We have exhibited at Unseen Amsterdam and Belfast Photo Festival, participated in residencies at XYZ Books in Lisbon and are currently putting together a Sustainable Darkroom Laboratory at Guest Projects. We have also organised workshops at TATE Modern, Tate Britain, Whitechapel Gallery and The Photographers' Gallery amongst others.

Lumen Studios - Lumen Studios was founded in 2014, by myself and Louise Beer, following our MA in Art and Science at Central Saint Martins. We were shortly followed by Rebecca Huxley, Louise’s housemate. We wanted to create a collective focused on themes of astronomy and light, thinking about how different civilisations and cultures have understood the Sun, Moon and Stars throughout time. In 2015, we founded the Lumen Crypt Gallery at St John on Bethnal Green, and also started regular residencies for participants to respond to the experience of stargazing and visiting observatories. To date, we have organised residencies in Atina, Italy, the Lake District and Cornwall. We have been commissioned by Green Man Festival. The British Science Association and the Museum of Freemasonry (coming soon!) to create light installations. We recently collaborated with AIR Gallery in Manchester on “Natural Light”, an ACE funded exhibition and event series. 

super/collider - Founded in 2006 by Chris Hatherill, super/collider is an independent agency based in Margate, London and New York. Myself and Louise Beer joined as co-directors in 2014. super/collider explores science from a pop cultural standpoint – bringing its wonders to new audiences through public events, worldwide expeditions, self-published books and curated products. To date we have organised events at the Science and Industry Museum, the Science Museum, Ace Hotel London, the Soho House franchise, SALT Festival in Norway and Second Home, amongst others. We have also organised expeditions with Sail Britain and Kielder Observatory in Northumberland. We have explored a wide range of subjects, such as plastic pollution, slime moulds, quantum physics, holographic universes, the sartorial history of space suits and sound machines.

Banner image top: Nestria, 2011 from Photogram