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Work Samples

Matters of the Belly and the Brain / A Brutal Action Leading to a Necessary Release / (Feeling in Red)

Matters of the Belly and the Brain / A Brutal Action Leading to a Necessary Release / (Feeling in Red) is an immersive installation, originally created for 'sindikit project space in Baltimore in 2017. Mixed Media and found objects. Dimensions variable. 2017.

Front Stoop / Back Yard (Detail of Charles Village Painted Ladies Birdhouse)

Front Stoop / Back Yard (Detail of Charles Village Painted Ladies Birdhouse). In 2013, along with Baltimore artists Linda Depalma, Kelley Bell, and School 33 Art Center, Melissa received a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Artistic Innovation and Collaboration grant. The resulting outdoor, site-specific installation opened in June of 2014.

In Between

In Between was a participatory performance and site-specific light installation, which took place at the 2012 Transmodern Festival as part of "Alley Oops!" curated by Laure Drogoul. In this piece, 2 characters, played by Autumn Breaud and Melissa Webb, moved about the nighttime alley space, which was transformed by sculptural objects filled with blue light.

The Family Veil

The Family Veil. Featured as part of Clermont Forum II: Interpreting Clermont’s History Through Art”, an exhibition curated by The Rotating History Project, at Clermont Farm, a beautiful state-owned architectural study site in Berryville, Virginia. As a selected artist, I was entrusted with many pieces of clothing, fabric, trimmings, and accessories left behind by previous owners of Clermont, dating between 1870-1960. I utilized these historic pieces to create a site-specific installation in an upstairs bedroom of the original, 1755 house.

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About Melissa

Baltimore City

Melissa Webb is a fiber artist working in the areas of site-specific installation, large-scale participatory environments, and performance.  She is a three-time Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize semi-finalist and the recipient of a Robert Rauschenberg Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Grant. Her work has been featured at venues such as sindikit projects, Vis-Arts Rockville, School 33 Art Center, The Maryland Institute, College of Art, The Creative Alliance, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The... more

Matters of the Belly and the Brain / A Brutal Action Leading to a Necessary Release / (Feeling in Red)

Matters of the Belly and the Brain / A Brutal Action Leading to a Necessary Release/ (Feeling in Red) is an immersive installation, originally created for 'sindikit project space in Baltimore.

Mixed media & found objects. Dimensions variable. 2017.

Clermont Forum II: "The Family Veil"

Clermont Forum II: Interpreting Clermont’s History Through Art”, was an exhibition curated by The Rotating History Project, at Clermont Farm, a beautiful state-owned architectural study site in Berryville, Virginia. As a selected artist, I was entrusted with many pieces of clothing, fabric, trimmings, and accessories left behind by previous owners of Clermont, dating between 1870-1960. I utilized these historic pieces to create a site-specific installation in an upstairs bedroom of the original, 1755 house.

During the course of building the piece, I published an 85 page, full-color, 12 x 12" book called "Seam by Seam", A Study of the Historical Garments of Clermont Farm", which can be found here:

http://www.blurb.com/books/5166325-seam-by-seam-a-study-of-the-historica...

More information about the exhibition:
The Rotating History Project, in cooperation with The Clermont Foundation and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources presented an exhibition entitled “The Clermont Forum II: Interpreting Clermont’s History Through Art”. The six week show opened Sunday, April 12, 2014, in the historic buildings on the grounds of Clermont, an 18th century 360-acre farmstead in Clarke County, Virginia, in the northern Shenandoah Valley. The exhibition was seen as a means to imaginatively engage the public with the history of the site.

Clermont Farm is a well-preserved complex of buildings ranging in date from 1755 to the mid-twentieth century. Formerly in the hands of only four families since its original survey by an 18-year old George Washington in 1750, and previously used by Native Americans for game production and hunting lands, the farm is now owned by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and managed by The Clermont Foundation. Clermont remains a working farm, involved with local food production and agricultural education, as well as a state historic site currently under intensive study.

The history of Clermont is a continuous history of various peoples using and living on the land, sometimes peacefully and sometimes in violent conflict, a micro-history of America. The exhibition seeks to explore a period of time beginning with the settlement of the Atlantic coast by Europeans, the last period when native Americans were still the primary inhabitants, and still shaping the landscape, a place taken by Europeans, who in turn brought enslaved Africans to the same landscape. The goal of “The Clermont Forum II: Interpreting Clermont’s History Through Art” is to invite artists to explore and create site-specific works that draw on any number of the topics specific to Clermont’s history, such as the roles of women and African Americans, agriculture and rural life, and the architectural and material culture of the homestead and its surrounding communities.

  • The Family Veil

    Installation overview
  • The Family Veil

    The Family Veil. Featured as part of Clermont Forum II: Interpreting Clermont’s History Through Art”, an exhibition curated by The Rotating History Project, at Clermont Farm, a beautiful state-owned architectural study site in Berryville, Virginia. As a selected artist, I was entrusted with many pieces of clothing, fabric, trimmings, and accessories left behind by previous owners of Clermont, dating between 1870-1960. I utilized these historic pieces to create a site-specific installation in an upstairs bedroom of the original, 1755 house.
  • The Family Veil (Bride Figure)

    The base garment of this piece is a silk brocade wedding gown, which was worn by two generations of Clermont women, in 1939, then again in 1979. Both veils worn by each of the women, one silk tulle, one synthetic, were also integrated into the piece, along with many other garments and trimmings found at Clermont.
  • The Family Veil (Mourning Figure)

    The base garment for this figure was a black satin bodice and skirt, trimmed with braid, circa 1905, intended for wearing during a period of deep mourning for a loved one. Many such Victorian era garments were found on the site. A jet bead capelet, and many other trimmings found at Clermont were also integrated into the garment, as well as buttons from a bodice dated from 1856.
  • The Family Veil

    Detail of 'Bride Figure'
  • Seam by Seam: The Historical Garments of Clermont Farm

    Detail from book: http://www.blurb.com/books/5166325-seam-by-seam-a-study-of-the-historical-garments-of Shows a pink damask bodice and skirt with ribbon applique', originally made circa 1900, but later altered and worn as a formal evening dress in the 1940s. This garment, along with many others, was documented, deconstructed, and integrated into "The Family Veil".
  • Seam by Seam: The Historical Garments of Clermont Farm

    The inside of a bodice, circa 1900... showing the 'stays' or 'bones', made of flexible whale bone.
  • Historical Garment Detail

    The women in Clermont's history diligently preserved many important garments by carefully wrapping them in tissue, boxing them, and creating notations outlining the significance of items such as children's clothes, military uniforms, and wedding and funerary dresses. Pictured: Victorian era bridal wax 'Orange blossoms'.
  • Clermont Farm 'Main House'

    The Clermont Farm homestead is under intensive architectural study due to the many changes and updates it has undergone during it's centuries of existence, and the incredible preservation of these buildings.
  • Clermont's Former Slave Quarters

    The original slave quarters on Clermont's land still stands. The interior is an intense and chilling space. Ever since entering this building I have questioned it's separateness from the energy of the 'Main House', and the comparative opulence experienced by the slave owners of that particular historical period.

"Front Stoop / Back Yard" Co-Lab(oration)

In 2013, along with Baltimore artists Linda Depalma, Kelley Bell, and School 33 Art Center, Melissa received a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Artistic Innovation and Collaboration grant. The resulting outdoor, site-specific installation opened in June of 2014. The Co-Lab team's work addressed the building's northern exterior wall and adjoining 1900 square foot vacant lot, which up until now has suffered from neglect.

Linda, Kelley, and I worked for many months to design and execute this project. We fabricated eight birdhouses, each an ode to a different Baltimore architectural landmark. These were placed upon metal venetian-style poles around the site, including a pair of Charles Village "Painted Ladies" and Penn Station, complete with Man / Woman sculpture (designed and built by me), The Patterson Park Pagoda, Bromo-Seltzer Tower, and replica of School 33 Art Center (designed and built by Linda DePalma), and three cast formstone-esque brick constructions (designed and built by Kelley Bell) all became potential homes for birds.

Two sets of concrete steps, cast to resemble marble, and colorful awning structures above them serve as shade structures and seating area for visitors. Six 3' x 9' painted screen panels, inspired by Baltimore screen-painters, were designed and painted by Jessie Underhalter and Katie Truhn.

In Between

A participatory performance and site-specific light installation, which took place at the 2012 Transmodern Festival as part of "Alley Oops!" curated by Laure Drogoul. In this piece, 2 characters, played by Autumn Breaud and Melissa Webb, moved about the nighttime alley space, which was transformed by sculptural objects filled with blue light. They interacted with the audience, guiding up to 3 people at a time by the hand to sit upon round pillows, where they were each given light-eminating head pieces, as well as light-refracting glasses with which to watch the performers and take in the surrounding environment.

"In Between" was created in memory of Flo McGarrell, a dear, longtime friend and collaborator who died in the Haitian Earthquake on January 12, 2010. It was intended to create a transcendent state within the viewer and to represent the moments experienced immediately following sudden death, as outlined by the Tibetan book of the dead.

Below Street Level

Below Street Level was a site-specific installation and cumulative performance which took place at the EMP Collective, as part of The Rotating History Project's "Down Through The Needle's Eye" exhibition. Performed by Theresa Columbus and Melissa Webb over a period of 2 hours, ladies dressed in early 19th century shirt-waist blouses and many-layered white cotton skirts hand-sewed themselves into their environment...Stitching into several points around the edge of each skirt, and connecting each strand of thread into the light-filled, cloud-like billowing fabric treatment above their heads. Over time this action caused the garments to form a lotus-like form around each of the performers.

Here is my artist statement for the show:
"Below Street Level is a site-specific installation utilizing the outdoor, arched and recessed areas at the bottom of the Faust building to explore themes of labor, mass production, and accumulation. As a longtime Baltimore resident and maker of garments, costumes, and other custom fabric goods as both a means of employment and as a primary aspect of her art, Melissa has become increasingly interested in the history of the once booming garment trade in our city. Specifically, the industrial shift from custom tailoring to mass factory and sweat shop production during the 1800's, driven in large measure by changes in the style and function of clothing, the invention of the sewing machine, as well as ever-increasing consumer demand. This work interlaces the struggles faced by garment workers of this time period with the excitement of innovation, commerce and success experienced by business owners and pioneers of the needle trades."

Landing of the Magic Flight: The Mysteries of Memory

Shown here at the Sondheim Semi-final Exhibition in the Meyerhoff Gallery at the Maryland Institute, College of Art as both a live performance and a static installation. This participatory performance was first mounted for Copycat Theatre's "The Rooms Play", Spring 2011. Participants entering the space were invited to cut shapes from cookie dough, asked to stand against a wall to measure how much they had grown, and one person in each gathering of viewers was singled out and given a birthday cake, which was shared around the room in sections while the other participants were encouraged to sing to them.

The original intention for creating the piece, within the context of The Rooms Play structure, was to create the illusion of a nostalgic ideal of home, safety, and innocence. Viewers were lured into the comfort of the space created by the sights, smells, and sounds of a loving grandmother's home... but upon closer inspection it was all a false, pre-packaged reality. Kitchen appliances, forest trees, and picket fences were only cardboard flats with obvious wooden stands... if tasted, cookies revealed themselves to be made with only salt, water, and flour, the smell only a store-bought scented candle... and an elaborate birthday cake was made from cardboard and antique doilies.

Photographed by Edward Winter.

  • Landing of the Magic Flight: The Mysteries of Memory (Installation overview)

    The Sondheim Semi-final Exhibition ran for one month, and was open during Artscape weekend. There were several live participatory performances, with Autumn Breaud and myself in full costume and character. When we were not present in the gallery, mannequins stood in our stead.
  • It's Your Birthday... I Baked You a Cake...

    Lucky participants were handed a faux cake covered in doilies and trimmings. The two grandmothers sang "Happy Birthday", encouraging all others in the space at that moment to sing along. Once this action was complete, the cake, having three separate layers, was taken apart and shared with other participants.
  • Landing of the Magic Flight (Partipatory detail)

    Participants in the space were invited to pick a cookie-cutter shape and press faux cookies from colored salt dough, which were then placed upon cookie sheets.
  • Rolling the Dough

    In moments where no one was taking part in the cookie-making, the two grandmother characters would re-roll the dough in preparation.
  • My How You Have Grown...

    Participants were led to a nearby wall to have their height measured, as though this had been a tradition on each visit to Grandmother's home.
  • Landing of the Magic Flight (Partipatory residue)

    Once their height was marked, participants were given a penci and asked to note their name next to the line.
  • Two Grandmothers

    In the original "Roomsplay" performances, I performed solo in the space. For the Sondheim exhibition I created a second, or doppleganger "Grandmother" character, played by performer Autumn Breaud. The two of us played off of eachother in the space as we interacted with participants, sometimes taking eachother into account, and sometimes moving along as though the other were not there.

The Temporary Nature of Ideas 2010

This second incarnation of my participatory installation "The Temporary Nature of Ideas" was mounted as a solo show at School 33 Art Center in 2010. Featured performers were Kelley Bell, Theresa Columbus, Jackie Milad, Monica Mirabile, Nicole Shiflet, and myself.

Photographed by Edward Winter.

Viewer/particpants were asked the following via a sign on the wall:

"Feel free to use the space and materials provided to make a personal object in celebration of an unfruitful, unexplored, or abandoned idea. Your object will be a tribute to this idea, once alive and vibrant in your mind's eye, but now retired and unrealized. When you are finished, please use the clothespins and pulleys in the gallery to incorporate your idea into the growing environment."

Here is my artist statement for this series of work:
As a fiber artist, I love the process of making- of obsessively crafting an object, a costume, or an installation, then combining the fruits of these efforts to create entirely new realities through the use of performance and audience participation. I tend to construct detail-oriented, otherworldly scenarios that can be viewed and interacted with in a casual manner, and where the performers are encouraged to react and improvise. The work becomes fully realized through this continuous interaction between the performer, the viewer, and the surrounding environment.

I am interested in removing the separation between the viewer and the work of art, as well as between the audience member and the performer. I want to enable others to become directly involved with the work, and to give them a role in determining the ultimate outcome of each piece. This concept is evident in The Temporary Nature of Ideas, a series of large-scale, living installations that I began in 2009. Viewer / participants, using provided materials, are invited to delve into the process of making with me, and to be a part of the growth taking place over time within the space.

There is an inherent collaborative nature to all of my work. I see interactive and participatory work as collaboration with the audience. I feel that collaboration and intuitive processes go hand and hand because what another individual or in this case, many individuals, can bring to a piece is yet another unknown element, another layer of mystery to unfold. In this way the process continues throughout the life of the piece.

The Temporary Nature of Ideas 2009

The Temporary Nature of Ideas was a large-scale, four-story, interactive rooftop installation featured at the 2009 Transmodern Festival. In action for the three nights of the festival, the installation grew as participants (patrons of the festival) added their own elements using provided materials.

Photographed by Edward Winter.

A sign on the wall read:

"Participants are encouraged to use the provided materials to make an object in honor of an unexplored or abandoned idea. They are invited to create a special tribute to this idea, once alive in thier mind's eye, but now retired and unrealized. When they finish the object is sent downward on a pulley into the space, where it is placed lovingly amidst the growing landscape."

Each participant's "idea object" was re-appropriated into the installation by costumed performers Melissa Webb and Theresa Columbus, who were stationed inside the installation for the duration of the festival. Roving costumed performers, Spoon Popkin and Lee Sinowski roamed the 4 floors of the festival, encouraging festival-goers to make an object in order to take part in the piece.

This is the first of two incarnations of "The Temporary Nature of Ideas", mounted at the 2009 Transmodern festival in a four story light well at the H&H building. It was on a rooftop surrounded by windows, which festival goers could peer down from to observe the space.

When I lived in the Whole Gallery on the third floor of the H&H years ago, I would stare into that space and dream about transforming it in some way. When the festival started happening in that building, I began to consider the space seriously.

To prepare for the piece I engaged in a series of visualizations where I would picture myself in the space and let thoughts come into my mind randomly. Ideas flowed in and out, sometimes very specific and sometimes vague, but nothing really stuck. So many solid ideas were literally meandering in and out of focus right in front of my eyes, only to be disregarded, and that is how the concept for the "The Temporary Nature of Ideas" came about.

I decided to let my intuition lead me and trust myself as a conduit- to make the actual piece in the same way that someone might do stream of consciousness writing. I just let things flow naturally. I wanted to make my artmaking process one of exploration rather than the straightforward execution of an idea. It was a scary process to let go of a solid idea for a space of that size and work intuitively, but in the end I felt that it was successful. It was a great lesson for me, and a perfect way for me as a solo artist to reestablish an intimate relationship with materials.

By adding the participatory element I asked people to consider ideas they have had that are still accessible to them, but have never been realized. I wanted people to celebrate an idea as an entity all of its own.

The original piece at Transmodern, and the one I created in 2010 at School 33 are very distinct from one another. The first time, people made their objects on the third floor and lowered them down on pulleys to the performers, who then incorporated the objects into the environment. Participants were not allowed to enter the space, which was on a rooftop, and it was decided, reasonably so, that it would be dangerous, or damaging to the roof to let multiple people down there. Both incarnations had / have their own individual feel to them- I loved the site-specific nature of the first one, the fact that it was originally a kind of grimy and gloomy looking space that was so drastically transformed by the installation and the objects people contributed. There was a certain drama and sense of danger of looking down from a sixth-story window into the space. It took place at night, and lighting which created giant shadows was a huge element in the overall look. At School 33, participants can immerse themselves physically into the space and choose the placement of their objects. There is also a longer time frame so folks can spend as much time as they like in the space and contribute multiple times. I see the two as distinct scenarios, but at the same time, the sculptural elements Temporary Nature are componential, and could work in many different types of settings.

  • The Temporary Nature of Ideas 2009 (The Structure Before)

    This first incarnation of "The Temporary Nature of Ideas" featured ladder configurations and roped pulleys extending from the second floor sub roof of the building all the way to the sixth floor. Large lights cast dramatic shadows on the surrounding walls. This image shows part of the initial structure on the first night of the 2009 Transmodern Festival, before the additions of participants' objects. photo by Eddie Winter
  • The Temporary Nature of Ideas (Performance detail)

    Performer Theresa Columbus and myself hide in the tall green grass. These sharp, brightly-colored spikes jutted from the rooftop, making the viewers who peered downward from the windows above a bit wary of leaning over too far for a look... photo: Eddie Winter
  • The Temporary Nature of Ideas (Performance detail)

    Performer Theresa Columbus and myself frolick in the space, inviting people to lower their idea objects downward from a pulley placed next to the window on the third floor. Once objects were lowered, we would send them upwards on a network of roped pulleys, filling out the space with the participants' brightly-colored contributions. photo by Eddie Winter
  • The Temporary Nature of Ideas (Performance detail)

    Theresa Columbus and myself, looking at all of the beautiful ideas created by the viewer / participants. photo by Eddie Winter
  • The Temporary Nature of Ideas (Participatory detail)

    A special area was provided on the third floor for participants to create their objects. Many brightly-colored fabrics, trims, yarns, and assorted textural items were provided, along with needle / thread and glue guns for people to use. They had a comfortable and inviting area in which to work, and some, completely engrossed in what they were making, spent hours carefully considering and then crafting their objects. photo: Eddie Winter
  • The Temporary Nature of Ideas (Installation overview)

    A wide view of the space from above, showing participants' objects dangling from pulleys throughout the space. Photo by Eddie Winter
  • The Temporary Nature of Ideas (Performance detail)

    Played by Lee Sinowski photo by Eddie Winter
  • The Temporary Nature of Ideas (Performance detail)

    Performers Theresa Columbus, Lee Sinowski, Spoon Popkin, and myself. The function of the messenger bird characters was to traverse all floors (third though sixth) and spread the word to festival-goers that they were welcome to use the making area on the third floor for creating an idea object to contribute to the growing environment. photo by Eddie Winter

The Uppity Ladies

A live performance for the 2007 Transmodern Festival . Created by Melissa Webb, M. Jane Taylor, and Company.

In the original living installation, stilted ladies in turn of the century dress sip tea, sniff flowers, eat cupcakes, and open gifts at their tall table. Hard-laboring garden gnomes provide them this luxurious lifestyle.

At first the gnomes work happily, but soon become disgruntled due to decreased break-times and excessive use of their bodies for croquet wickets. A passionate protest ensues.

The ladies' loyal butler tries to moderate to no avaiL until they are offered peace in the form of cupcakes.

Satisfied (for now) they get back to their work. And so the cycle continues...

"Opulent overlings and unprepossessing underlings glide and tromp forth in a frolicsomeâ?¦ yet begrudging display. A highbrow coterie of long-legged, albeit dainty darlings shares a stilted co-existence with a lowbrow crew of the submissive stripe. A walk in the park with the Chic She's and Shabby He's of yester-year..".

Photos by Uli Loskot and Alexander Webb

Goods of the Woods (@$#&%!!)

Featured at Artscape 2007, Ceci n'est pas a Booth, Kiosk or Gazebo and Other Radical Shacks, Curated by Laure Drogoul- A continuation of the Uppity Ladies Saga, the gnome characters get themselves a booth at Artscape, and sell twigs, moss, pinecones, and other woodland offerings for $1 each. Created by Melissa Webb, M. Jane Taylor, and Company.

Photos by Melissa Webb and aminibigcircus.

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Melissa's Curated Collection

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