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The Sheffield culture guide written by in-the-know locals

Tyler Mellins

Tyler Mellins, photo by Gemma Thorpe

All things paranormal, magical and occult are the inspiration for artist Tyler Mellins. Through video, installation, experimental text and sculpture, Tyler looks at alternative belief systems. He's fascinated by the ways that people imagine, find and share meaning and information that lie outside the realms of science.

Past projects have seen Tyler take creative prompts from everything from automatic writing to crystal gazing. In January–February 2023, he’ll be part of the exhibition Dark Echoes at Site Gallery. This new work explores ‘instrumental transcommunication’ – i.e. communication with the dead through technology.

Tyler is one of five emerging artists from Sheffield on a two-year residency through the Freelands Artist Programme. The programme helps artists collaborate both with each other and with arts venues, to reach new audiences. Dark Echoes is part of the Sheffield Freelands artists’ three-part exhibition, Platform 22.

We found out more from Tyler ahead of the opening of Platform 22: Dark Echoes.

How do you describe your work?
The honest answer is that I usually panic and change the subject! I think most artists are averse to being pinned down. I guess what I’m making right now is largely digital – videos, photography, and sound experiments – exploring the paranormal. Informed by time spent working with a team of ghost hunters, I’m imagining the possibility of technology being used to communicate with spirits. I’d say it’s equal parts serious and camp... and so am I!

What inspires you?
I’m interested in things on the periphery. By that, I mean I’m drawn to things that are often mocked, overlooked, or generally just not taken seriously. I love magic, mysticism and pseudoscience. Anything that operates outside of logical thinking and forces us to think in a different way if we want to understand it. You can’t tackle that kind of stuff with a critical thinking hat on, but if you can’t take the hat off you’re at risk of missing out. That’s not to say that I wholeheartedly believe in everything my work is about. But I’m interested in exploring what happens if we suspend our disbelief and just run with something, or if we pay attention to something we usually wouldn’t. I appreciate that’s quite vague, but I suppose that’s the nature of my work. It’s about probing, experimenting, exploring, seeing what happens. One thing leads to another – I don’t have all the answers.

Extract from Automatic Writing

What does being part of the Freelands Artist Programme mean to you?
Gosh, what doesn’t it mean? I applied every year! I was so pleased to eventually get on, especially as this is the last cohort. It has already opened up so many of the doors I feel like I’ve been banging on forever. On the most basic level, it’s removed some of the financial barriers that have stopped me from working at the scale I wanted. But beyond that, it’s given me the freedom and confidence to make in a more instinctive way than I have before. It’s quite sad to know we’re the last cohort, really. Sheffield is packed full of amazing artists but there isn’t enough support and our arts organisations are underfunded. As a city we should be thinking really seriously about how to fill the gap that will be left behind once the programme ends.

Tyler Mellins, Sigils for Communication. Photo by Jules Lister

What are you working on next?
I’m cooking up some stuff. We still have another year of the programme, so I’m planning to make the most of it. There’s a lot of material that didn’t make it into the show at Site Gallery, mostly photographs and found poems. I’m looking into getting that published. As for new work – I’ve been watching old videos of Uri Geller bending spoons, I think there’s something funny in there that could become some new work. We’ll see. And I’ve planned a seance at Site Gallery for March, where we’ll be looking back to an exhibition they hosted in 2004 and trying to contact one of the artists involved.

Who, what or where should be better known in Sheffield?
I’m not sure. Being better known is not always a good thing! If you look at the rooftops in the Peace Gardens, there’s an aerial with little metal birds perched on it. That always makes me smile.

Platform 22 is open 26 January–26 February 2023 at Site Gallery, Yorkshire Artspace: Persistence Works, and Bloc Projects.

Tyler Mellins, Receiver. Photo by Jules Lister

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