About the Work

Melissa Fleming, artist

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The ocean is simultaneously dangerous and beautiful. I was attracted to this duality and began to photograph the waves at night, a time when the ocean feels the most unknown and un-navigable. Although the ocean is physically the same at night as it is in the day, our perception of it changes in the dark. Unable to see the water at night, we feel uncertain of our surroundings. Even photography, a medium of light, captured only the white crash of waves, the lone visible sign of the water in the darkness. The white seemed sentient and in a sense was the mark by which we could know the ocean at night. Waves visualize the power of the ocean and in the black void of night the swirls of white in Sentient hint at that unseen energy we know in our minds to be present.


Sea Change
Wave after wave, the mark of the ocean is ever present and continuously changing. The variations in the images of Sea Change, a series of palladium-based photograms, reference the complex character of the ocean. Never on its own, sea water contains and transports many materials that are not visible to the human eye, including sand, minerals, and other sediments. To produce the images of Sea Change, I stand in the water holding light sensitive paper in the break of a wave and allow sand and sediment to form a pattern on the paper as it exposes in the sunlight. This process entwines the material aspect of the medium with the ocean and shows the trace of water. As a result, each piece becomes a unique document of the movement of matter within an individual ocean wave. 


Under Glass
The natural world is composed of many levels of infinite complexity, all in a continuous state of change.  Attracted to these transient processes, our perceptions of them, and the ideas of 19th century citizen science, I collected natural objects and placed them under Victorian-style glass domes.  Under glass, the objects are singled out for close examination and highlight the act of intense seeing which is common to the practice of both art and science.  Each seemingly simple object coupled with an engraved label on its glass dome seeks to explore the duality of perception and reality.  



A system is a set of interacting entities that form an integrated whole. Interested in what exists between the elements of a system, I began to explore the idea of interconnections. Working with both three-dimensional objects and two-dimensional photographs, I focused on building small scale, intuitive installations that create a sense of flow. Presented on glass shelves, light and space play an important role in each grouping.   On every shelf, an object mimics aspects of its accompanying photographs, seemingly extending them into the third-dimension.  The shadow of the object then returns the sequence to the second-dimension, completing the visual system. 

One Sky

The sky is ever present, yet continually changing.  This series of photographs explores its unending diversity.  The different grids capture the sky overhead from a single position from sunrise to sunset in different seasons as well as the exact moment of equinoxes and solstices.


Chutes and Ladders

Up and down, in and out.  Where are you going?  This question can be interpreted on numerous levels, from the literal to the philosophical.  I was interested in the sense of change that the question implies and began to create sculptures that explore the feeling of transition. Ladders were the basis of this series, as they are tools for moving up and down in a given space and are often used to represent the hierarchical levels of an organization or society. Both physically and conceptually, these ladders, chutes, graphs, and compasses invite us to consider our choices and/or a change of position. 


Storms make visible the tremendous energy of the natural world. Inspired by the swirling shape of satellite hurricane imagery, I began to experiment with spinning forms. In Spin, centrifugal force is recorded as unique cyanotype photograms.  Created with a balance of chance and intention, the spiral shapes of these individual photograms are timeless.  The spiral can be found in the natural world at every level and scale. Following the idea that simple things working in unison can generate great intricacy, I joined the arms of these spirals to create larger continuous forms.


From Sea to Sky

Fascinated by the idea of the water cycle, where water is in a continuous sequence of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation, I started to explore our common understanding of where the ocean ends and the sky begins. Although we cannot see it, water is constantly rising from the ocean into the air. Unable to observe the sun driven evaporation process in action, I worked with sea salt, one of its residuals, and UV-sensitive photographic chemicals. The patterns of this series are based on constellations, subjective figures in the heavens, just as the maritime horizon is ultimately only a perceived boundary between sea and sky.


Wax Flora
A floral arrangement is the product of natural materials organized in an aesthetic way. Human creativity is imposed on nature.  Within an arrangement, a plant becomes more than a natural object, it works as both a color and a shape. Attracted to these formal art qualities, I photographed plant material including blooms, petals, leaves, and stems assembled in man-made compositions. Set in wax, these botanical still-lifes explore the interplay between the natural and the artificial.  Although derived from organic matter, they are ultimately synthetic. 

Various Projects
This gallery shows a sampling of images from numerous  projects.