Melissa Schriek on The City Is A Choreography

Artist Melissa Schriek

Words Tom Czibolya

Everything is in constant motion. Things do not remain for eternity. People come and go. Buildings come and go. Cities come and go. Change is good – mostly. But how often do we walk through the streets and think: Wasn’t there a restaurant here yesterday? Or where did this apartment building suddenly come from? And since when can you turn left here? There is so much that we have not yet seen. So how about taking a look around the next corner, or even looking up? There are lamps that bend towards you, windows that stare at you like eyes, doors that just seem to say “Oh you…”.

Amsterdam based photographer Melissa Schriek has faced this constant change. In her book THE CITY IS A CHOREOGRAPHY she explores the city and the relationship to their residents. We will go outside now, take a look around and close this intro with the wise words of Bryan Ferry “Don’t stop the dance“.

How are you? And what did you do before you sat down for the interview?

I’m doing alright although its a very strange time where lots of last-minute changes are happening concerning my work/exhibitions etc. Before this interview, I woke up very early to walk through the city with my father so he could photograph city landscapes. He is a hobby photographer.

Tell us something about you. Since when have you been photographing? Do you remember your first pictures?

I have been busy with photography for as long as I can remember. My first memory is taking a disposable camera to a schooltrip to an amusement park. The whole day I was busy with the camera and making images, constructing them and placing classmates as models. My father developed them, found the images interesting for a child and gave me my first camera after that.

Talking about first pictures – on your website you write that you initially wanted to become a detective. So lovely. When did that change, and why?

I have always been very curious about the world around me. Initally my photography projects were merely a way to get in to situations where I didn’t belong. I like that as a photographer I’m often anonymous, looking through a camera to see the world at a different way. Looking for things others may not see. Showing them a different reality.

I also had a very romantic idea of a detective (and that a life like that would not be romantic at all). I thought about it as someone shifting persona’s to get certain information. I saw it a bit as theatre, playing a different character whenever you need too. This interest in theatre and performance comes back in my work where I try to stay on the line of fiction and reality.

Your photos have a very performative quality, like dancing through the streets, dancing with the city, with your surroundings. Where does that come from? And what’s the idea behind that? What was the inspiration behind THE CITY IS A CHOREOGRAPHY?

The body is the most expressive tool we have. I like my work to evoke strong emotions and still to be open for interpretation. I see the body as a sculpture and when I started working on THE CITY IS A CHOREOGRAPHY it was very intuitive that I started merging the body and the landscape of the city. I see the city as a place of constant movement. A rhythm we become part of once we step onto the concrete streets. The city is composed of strangers and familiar objects: the ubiquitous sidewalk, a slightly bent street pole, a bright orange traffic cone, or a broken-down bicycle left to rust. They all seem trivial and significant at the same time. I wanted to figure out how to connect meaningfully with our daily environment and the strangers we pass by. It was the boredom of walking the same route every day, seeing the same objects and the anonymous faces in the crowd, that made me start to see the city as a choreography.

Tell us something about your book. Is it already available for purchase? And how and where can people get it?

THE CITY IS A CHOREOGRAPHY is for sale through my webshop.

It’s my first photobook and collects all the images of THE CITY IS A CHOREOGRAPHY. The book is available in a limited edition of 300. Shipping worldwide!

Curation, especially for books, is always difficult. How did you manage this process? And did you have some helping eyes?

Rather intuitively. Together with designer Sam Velenne we worked on the book for a long time. First working with thousands of images to later only show a small percentage of them. I had to kill a lot of darlings but you just ‘see’ when a photograph doesn’t fit in. I shot the work in three years so the images I made in early beginnings looked different than the last images. As a photographer you evolve and your style also. When I started photographing THE CITY IS A CHOREOGRAPHY I actually didn’t even understand my analog camera yet. So you can imagine because of my poor control of the technical part of the camera I didn’t choose a lot of images from the early ones. They just didn’t fit in anymore.
Also, I wanted to make the book feel like a rythm so it should feel ‘good’ and that comes back to intuition. The work does not show a story that goes from A to Z, rather a collection that becomes a story by personal interpretation.

Container Love’s mission is to highlight the beauty in diversity, to change views on love and to encourage and inspire more body positivity. Do your pictures have a message that fits into the Container Love universe?

THE CITY IS A CHOREOGRAPHY is much more focussed on (young) women than men. While working on it I discovered that I , as a woman,like to explore the world lived by other women: how women move through the city and life, how they experience it and react towards it. Because I’m a woman myself I’m also discovering this myself, but I defenitely feel that it’s also because I think it’s a complex story that needs to be told and researched. Already thinking about women and the city makes me think of for instance, safety on the streets. In my book there is a essay of very talented writer and curator Hannah Geddes who writes a bit more about this aspect of my work.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we weren’t walking through the streets, our eyes focused on our cell phones, no eye contact in the subway, an angry look at somebody whose mask isn’t worn correctly. How about dancing through the streets like in a Björk music video instead. Are you in?

YES. I can recommened anyone to lay over a street pole or bend like a streetcorner to feel how it feels.