Melissa Sclafani: We are pressed into lines


Artist Statement

The US is a failed experiment. Or perhaps, it is functioning exactly as planned. However you look at it, it's not working for most of the people who live here. What would it look like for the US to surrender and rebuild? How through the moments of defeat in recent years can we be reborn into new, better beings and communities? “We are pressed into lines” is inspired by many affect, queer, and feminist theories, specifically Sara Ahmed. Through this work I am exploring how breaking down (emotionally, institutionally, systemically) can cause radical change and what the moment of surrender would look like.


For this exhibition proposal, I’m returning to chain link as a material and how this material of oppression can be subverted to become a material of connection. I see chain link as a ubiquitous, socially acceptable, material of power and oppression. This material and structure work in contradiction with itself, being used for both freedom and oppression. A person only knows their position within this contradiction based on which side of the fence they are on. But what happens when the distinction is blurred? Are you the one being protected, or the one people are being protecting from? Chain link is a woven material and I am working on pieces where chain link is un-woven and broken back down to its bare components to create new sculptures that can connect multiple viewers. Here’s some writing from the original series that I am building from: Chain link is woven and knitted, its wires swivel to coddle and nest each diamond together. It overlaps and twists its closures in unison to ensure its permanence. The wire dances with itself, creating a material diversely used for its strength and portability. The fence structures created with this material are seen in an array of contexts. In parks
and playgrounds, it can be used to keep adults and children safe by giving them freedom to run around. In fields and forests, it can be used to protect people by blocking off high voltage electrical lines and utility boxes. In backyards and around houses, it can be used to ensure a private space for children and pets to safely play. Yet, it is often used as a position of power. On private property, it is used to stake claim and ownership of enclosed land. In homes and on farms, it is used to corral, submit and oppress domesticated animals.

Within detention and deportation centers, it is used to create a layering of walls for confinement and imprisonment. This material and structure works in contradiction with itself, being used for both freedom and oppression. A person only knows their position within this contradiction based on which side of the fence they are on. But what happens when the distinction is blurred? Are you the one being protected or the one people are being protecting from? From this lens, I am making a series of sculptures designed for participants to question their place within a space. Question which side of the fence they are on. Question privilege and power. Question the dichotomy of opposites and the ethics in all of us.

I started working with chain link in 2016 for a few years and stopped because I could not figure out how to rid it of its power. Every piece I made, seemed to give it more authority and agency. Fast forward to 2022, and through the literal deconstruction of the material, I am subverting it’s function and finally feeling like I am ridding it of its power. I am really excited about this work and see it as a jumping-off point for a lot of other work. Ideally, these would become site-specific deconstructions of chain link fences in highly problematic and powerful settings. Once the chain link is deconstructed, I’d like to create new sculptures of connection between multiple viewers. Being able to show this in the project room will allow me to take a step back and see how this work is functioning.


Melissa Sclafani is an Assistant Professor of Sculpture and Gallery Director at Fort Lewis College in Durango CO. She received her BFA in sculpture from SUNY New Paltz in 2009 and her MFA in Sculpture and Post-Studio Practices from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2018.

Her work manifests in sculpture, installation, and performance often integrating all three together. She uses her background in traditional sculpture techniques, journalism, and gender studies to generate a relationship between labor intensive process, interaction, and social constructions. She is interested in creating work that sparks conversation, getting herself and the viewer to think more, talk more, work together, and hopefully, do more.  

​She has participated in residencies and exhibitions across the country including NURTUREArt in Brooklyn, NY; Museum of Boulder in Boulder CO; Wayfarers in Brooklyn, NY; Franconia Sculpture Park in Franconia, MN; Salem Art Works in Salem, NY; The Contemporary Artist Center in Troy, NY; Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, CO; and MoMAZoZo in Carrizozo, NM.  


CONTACT US: If you want to know more about this project, how to support the work of this artist or how you can contribute to supporting our programs by e-mailing us at Fineartcomplex@gmail.com.





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