Suzanna Vangelov, Worship or Mercy, 2023
Written by Nikki van der Horst
Suzanna Vangelov’s second solo exhibition with M.Contemporary titled Worship or Mercy contemplates identity and the complex relationship we hold with ourselves as women. The exhibition forms a constellation of material parts that are symbolic of the many pieces that make up who we are. Expanses of marbled fabric intercept and interweave with one another in a dance of colour and contour, emblematic of our own intersections. This movement is distilled within Vangelov’s work through an immersive performance that engages her entire body in the process of making. Using her hands to apply pigment directly into the canvas, she forms a deep connection with each composition. She constructs visual stories that map her inner world and connect to the experiences of others from a living archive of recorded shapes, movements, and poetic gestures.
Worship or Mercy positions the 14th century myth of the sea goddess Melusine in relation to the experience of modern women. The myth tells the story of Melusine, daughter of a human father and fairy mother who marries the nobleman Raymondin on the condition that she spends each Saturday in complete privacy. Raymondin, unaware that Melusine a mystical water goddess, agrees, allowing Melusine to transform into her ophidian form once a week out of sight. Following years of this ritual, Raymondin eventually grows curious and suspicious of Melusine’s behaviour. Eventually spying on her, he witnesses her grand metamorphosis and long serpent tail. Melusine becomes infuriated by her husband’s deceit and transforms herself into an enormous, winged dragon before taking flight and leaving him behind.
Interrogating themes of identity, truth and betrayal, the myth of Melusine holds rich and layered meaning. It speaks to the body as a vessel of ongoing transformation and questions what propelled Melusine to conceal these parts of herself from Raymondin. Did she hold shame about these extraordinary aspects of herself and fear how they would be perceived? In many ways, Melusine can be read as a poignant metaphor for the relationship we hold with our innate power as women. It points to the parts of ourselves that we choose to conceal and the conditions that motivate this self-denial. Melusine examines how our perception of self is often manipulated through a fear of what others might judge.
Vangelov’s tactile works unravel Melusine’s efforts to disguise herself and invite a contemplation of our own concealment. They trace the corners of who we are. In this way, Vangelov’s works operate as mirrors to the self, confronting all that has informed our being. Connecting reflections of her past with Melusine’s story, she subtly threads her own narrative throughout these compositions. Without the restraint of a frame, they hang unbound like pelts or skin, mapping lineages of transformation. The marks they contain chart the territories of our inner landscapes and the parts unexpressed. For Vangelov, these works stand as a call to disassemble the boundaries that inhibit us from embracing our every corner. Worship or Mercy positions Melusine as a symbol of the tragedy of hiding oneself away, empowering women to seek authenticity and truth.