"She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy" Artist Statements: Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez on "a quiet life, a couple of times over"

Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Neon is a master-apprentice trade; those holding the knowledge control to whom it is passed. Our newest exhibition, She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy, tells the story of this evolution playing out in real time, as custodians of the craft become more intentional with how, and to whom, they pass their torches.

Currently based in Philadelphia, Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez (she/her) combines poetry and prose with images, glass objects and neon signage to create layered experiences for the viewer. Her work has been shown internationally at several venues, most notably in Young Glass, a once-per-decade exhibition featuring rising glass artists under 35. Domestically, she has exhibited at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia, Heller Gallery in New York, Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh, and Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington. Ahmadizadeh Melendez has been a glassworker for over 13 years, a path that has led her to artist residencies at Pilchuck Glass School, The Creative Glass Center of America, and MASS MoCA, among others. She is the current Director of The Bead Project at UrbanGlass, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Tyler School of Art and Architecture, from which she received her BFA in Glass. She holds an MFA in Craft/Material Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University. Ahmadizadeh Melendez was taught by Jessica Jane Julius.

She Bends: What motivates you? What are you trying to achieve through your work?  

Victoria Ahmadizadeh Melendez: I document my life in writing and am continually editing poetry together from cell phone notes, sketchbook pages, and diary entries. These poems, in which the speaker longs to stand up for herself as a means to transcend heartbreak, Philadelphian ruthlessness, and the limitations of corporeality itself, are then made tactile as images and objects. In both the studio and gallery space, I play with written and physical material, transfiguring lived experience into a redeemed dreamscape. I grab onto high and low influences from music, fashion, literature, and cultural traditions to weave multidisciplinary installations. 

Although my work is ultimately mixed-media, glass and neon are the trades I work within most. I am allured by the rich color that glows from within both of these materials, making them deeply alive and present, sometimes even buzzing. The ability of these materials to carry a slick, shiny, cutting aesthetic makes them ideal vehicles for translating the voice that appears in my poetry and prose. Glass and neon are traditionally male-dominated, apprenticeship-based fields. My choice to claim space in these industries is an inherently political statement, and I hope to be one of the people opening up these territories for more diverse participation. 

SB: Tell us about your work in this exhibition.


Lost without fields to fill, 

I don’t know what those tinted glasses do to 

soften the edges of every moving thing:  

beneath you, through you, and there without you.  

As I replied, looking into your  


examining them closely to find  

little pins like gems inside: 

 a quiet life,  

a couple of times over.  

SB: How did you begin working on this type of series or art?  

VAM: During my graduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (2014-16) I shifted my practice towards using my personal writings as conceptual guidance. Despite having worked with glass since 2008, it was not until 2017 that I was able to discover neon and begin learning glass-bending techniques.  

SB: Who has influenced you as an artist?  

VAM: Jessica Jane Julius was my first ever glass teacher. She helped me to believe in myself and my capabilities with the material. Stephanie Sara Lifshutz was the first artist to invite me into a neon studio to observe and learn about the process. This inspired me to use a scholarship award I had received at Pilchuck Glass School to take a neon workshop with Jeremy Bert and Jen Elek. All four of these artists have continued to be incredibly helpful and supportive as I have explored glass, neon, and the potential of combining sculptural glass elements with neon lights.  

My parents are another large source of influence and inspiration for my artistic practice. My father immigrated to the United States from Iran, and my mother from Puerto Rico. The aesthetic of the objects I make and the ways in which they are arranged is sparked in part by the Zoroastrian haftsin, a table of symbolic objects traditionally assembled in the household every spring equinox in celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. In this context, normal objects like flowers, fruit, candles, and mirrors are able to express complex themes of identity, luck, transformation, and desire for romantic love. My father assembled a simplified version of this table every March as I grew up, and it continually captured my imagination.  My mother’s experiences also inspire my sculptures, particularly a story about her immigration to the United States from Puerto Rico. Her family gave her gold chains and other jewelry and told her to sell them when she reached her destination. She did this but regretted having to part with these objects. Now she loves to collect jewelry, charms, chains, and trinkets. Both of these sources of fascination show the ability physical objects have to carry coded meaning. They also show how objects, like experiences, can be fleeting. The springtime blooms and then bursts. Tokens of money and memory come and go, in a turning wheel of recycled energy. 

She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy opens at Museum of Glass on February 11.