Miista talks: POLYCHROMATIC SPREE
Zuza Mengham is an artist and designer who is fascinated by materiality. She takes an alchemic approach testing and probing materials, be it resin or steel, to find points of volatility and fragility where she can exploit a moment to create a new visual outcome.
With a degree in Sculpture from Wimbledon College of Art, where she was usually found in the metal workshop creating large steel structures - and after 8 years working with other artists and galleries, she's found her own creative groove.
Elevated Terrain, Steel
When I first saw Zuza’s sculptures for Laboratory Perfumes in 2016, I was immediately attracted to and intrigued by these tactile, highly polished rock-like formations. It was a brilliant collaboration. Founder Aaron Firth had wanted an artist who could represent the nuances of his new series of scents of Atlas, Amber, Gorse, Samphire and Tonka. In response, Zuza had produced these mineral-like sculptural forms that created an evocative sensory story around each of the perfumes. Since then, she’s created work for FKA Twigs, held her first solo exhibition and continues to grow her multidisciplinary practice. Fascinated by the material, her process and approach I asked Zuza to tell me more…
Photograph: Ilka and Franz
The creative technique and materials you used for Laboratory Perfumes project seem to be a core element of your practice, how did you first come upon this way of working?
I think that project really allowed the technique to fully flourish and bring out the materials' qualities, using them to create a logic for moving from an abstraction to a concept, and vice-versa. I think the reason it worked so well was, the pieces were designed to communicate specific fragrances, and as resin becomes liquid, you can really employ that characteristic and capture both movement and block pattern in a solid form. I came across the idea, totally by chance – in a process of making something simple in resin and then noticing layered colour materialising in a discarded mixing pot. It went from there really, testing out how to get it all unified and playing with techniques to manipulate the material, and then there was the lengthy process of how to get the highly polished and finding the best way to achieve that.’
Zuza Mengham x Laboratory Perfumes
Photograph: Ilka and Franz
What’s your favourite part of the process?
The way in which the resins specifically are created means they are shaped by a mould, cast and uncovered again. You lose visibility of the layers halfway through when they are large pieces because the resin shrinks and the layers start to overlap, so really you don’t always know the individual piece's exact character until it is very physically knocked back, re-shaped, gouged out and unearthed. It’s always an exciting moment and it feels somehow like a mirror process of the natural gem-stone counterparts. It feels like you're excavating something.
Photograph: Jonathan Middleton
How did you get started as an artist?
I’ve always worked for artists, so I have been making for a living under the umbrella of another person’s work for some time. After graduating in sculpture in 2011, I spent a long time without the confidence to execute an idea, working through the reasons why it wasn’t interesting enough or wouldn't hold strong before I even started. There was a point a couple of years ago when I decided to go back to exploring materials without concerning myself with the end result. That freedom immediately opened up my ability to fabricate and I was quickly making sculptures I was excited about and pushing through to the final result again.
Photo: Alberto Lamback
How do you approach each new piece of work?
I never make the same sculpture more than once. Every piece is made from a one-off mould with its own intentions or line of enquiry. I’m not interested in mass producing anything or tiring an idea out. As much possible, I try to make sure it stays new to me so I can fully invest in each piece and stay attuned and fully involved.