Mellina Van Der Valk

Cosmopolitan Artist whose work reflects the 'constructed identities' of women

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Mellina Van Der Valk

Born in the small rural town of Ballyduff, in Co Waterford, my mother Rosemary is local, my father, TJ, is Dutch.

Amazingly, there were just 16 others in my primary school class. However, this rural education definitely helped the development of my imagination. With only large hurling pitches to play on, we had to invent alternative games during our lunch breaks, when the weather was fine. It was an aspect of my childhood I feel ever grateful for as an artist. I went to two Secondary Schools, and finally to Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD).

LSAD opened-up a whole new world of opportunities for me, and as a former Magdalene laundry, invited discussion about the role of women in Ireland.

After spending several months studying fashion I successfully applied to finish my BA in Sculpture and Combined Media. Having worked on a group exhibition in third year, I was, then, offered a summer internship at Limerick City Gallery of Art (LCGA) followed by work with EVA international. Without these experiences I would never have got the chance to work at two of the largest fairs in the art world. Furthermore, the importance of the BA in Fine Art is its ability to teach individuals to focus their creativity in critically engaging ways. My current practice takes the form of video and performance works accompanied by sculptural objects made from Jesmonite, gelatine, leather, and bed linen. 

Having a vivid imagination I spent a lot of my childhood in fields nearby building fairy houses with my sister Sophie and best friend Deirdre.

We, also, went on great adventure trips with my Dad and our dog, Scully (as per the X-Files).

This fascination with nature and the environment played a large role in my early work and must surely do in any future work. Creativity is in the family, with my aunt in Holland making beautiful Throws and Quilts, and my mum decorating our family home so stylishly. In fact, I was always encouraged to keep my imagination alive and finally to embrace it as a future career. I was lucky to have parents who never focused on gender roles while raising my sister and I.

A large part of my inspiration comes from daily interactions with people on my commute to work in London but also through the popular dating App ‘Tinder’.

My personal experience of constructing an identity whilst growing-up in rural Ireland, as well as the struggle of women generally populates my work. There have been several feminist movements in the past century which have been influential, most notably the fourth wave feminist movement of the current ‘internet society’.

Indeed, using the book, ‘Girls Will Be Girls’ by Emer O’Toole as a back-drop, I have started to focus on the idea of ‘constructed identities’ through social acceptance and female stereotyping. This is a concept I worked on for my degree show piece in 2016. I am now at the very early stages of researching new aspects of these performances and will seek to exhibit them in an upcoming show in November (possibly in an independent gallery in East London). Following graduation, last summer, I enjoyed working at both the Frieze and Art Basel Art Fairs.

Making it in the art world is incredibly difficult now, and always has been, as it often involves knowing the right people plus a measure of good fortune.

Obviously, talent plays a major role but, as I am learning in London, connections get you shows which lead to more shows and so on. Starting off is the most difficult part.

Despite graduating last year, I still feel overwhelmed by the art world and feel as if I will never become successful. Perhaps it is that fear which drives me on.

Disheartening and soul destroying, having gained a wealth of experience both nationally and internationally, I must still work in the retail sector in order to make ends meet.

However, that said, I would never change my chosen path. Being an artist has altered how I see the world, with everything I see having the potential to become a piece of art or at least to inspire it. This makes even the most mundane task interesting.

The vibrancy of the art scene in Limerick drives the artistic work which has blossomed over the past few years.

Most notably Limerick City of Culture (2014) was an opportunity for students, like me, to perform with international art groups such ‘Fuerza Bruta’.

This helped us to gain the critical skills needed for our professional development.

It is these links with the artistic community that have helped LSAD to gain a noteworthy reputation.

For example, EVA International has also given Limerick a valued place in the international art world. Having worked with EVA myself in the run-up to the ‘Still (the) Barbarian’s’ biennial in 2016, the impact it is having on local areas is still clearly visible.

Most notably, in the case of Cleeves Toffee Factory, the buildings were transformed into house art works.

These were by a team of international artists interested in the effect of colonialism and looking at Ireland 100 years after the Easter Rising of 1916. This biennial highlighted existing connections between countries, seemingly so different, yet sharing the common experience of English rule.

At another level, the artistic community continues to offer tremendous support for new arrivals here, as well as recent graduates. This is by running shows like ‘Plinth II’, at the Sailors Home, on Culture Night, endless student shows in the Belltable, and at various locations throughout the City!

For more information about Mellina Van Der Valk please see: mellinavandervalk.
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