Monika Weiss, Limen II

September 8 – October 28, 2006
Opening Reception
September 8, 2006
Monika Weiss

exhibition Images
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Monika Weiss, Limen II
Monika Weiss, Limen II, Performance

Monika Weiss, Limen II
Monika Weiss, Limen II Performance

Monika Weiss, Limen II
Monika Weiss, Limen II, Performance

Monika Weiss, Limen II
Monika Weiss, Limen II, Performance

Monika Weiss, Limen II
Monika Weiss, Limen II, Performance

Monika Weiss, Limen II
Monika Weiss, Limen II, Gallery installation with video of performance

Monika Weiss, Limen II
Monika Weiss, Gallery installation of performance drawing

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About the exhibition

Monika Weiss, Limen II

Artist Statement
The word limen in Greek means “threshold, “ “limit,” and “meadow.”

On opening night the installation takes place in two rooms (front and back) connected by a narrow door. In the back gallery sheets of newsprint paper cover an elevated triangular fragment of the ground. Onto this sculptural and ephemeral environment the artist lies and draws around her body. A video camera suspended from above becomes a source of images projected in the front gallery. The angle of the camera permits the image to appear as two-dimensional, suggesting a shift in perceiving the vertical and horizontal aspects of space. Later, Weiss gradually brings the paper into the front gallery and forms a triangular sculpture in the corner of the gallery. During the remaining days of the installation the front gallery will show the projected video based on the life event along with the sculpture made of layers of paper showing traces and drawn marks from the performance. Site-specific sound composition includes sounds of drawing and paper movement recorded on site.

Through the act of lying down on the ground and outlining my body, followed by the act of gathering the scattered papers—fragments of sculpture, fragments of drawing—the installation remains a site of flux and passage. I am interested in combining several kinds of time and spatial relations--parallel and overlapping. There is the time of the performance and of live video, which are both separated by the wall and are about a shift of view from the horizontal and visceral body/sculpture to the vertical and virtual projection. Another time is implied by the act of moving the papers between the two spaces. What seemed to be separated in its origin is now living together in one space, related through memory, recollection. Repetitive sound, which functions as a trace of the event, suggests a kind of circular time similar to that of the video image; both are altered and edited in my studio. The surface of paper and the surface of our skin bear unsettling similarities. Newsprint paper is a vulnerable material, prone to crumble, crack and wrinkle over time and under the pressure of my body and of the charcoal/graphite sticks. The sound of its crackling and breaking results from the process of drawing and applying great force onto the multiple layers of paper. It sounds like both burning fire and rippling water.

Monika Weiss: Drawing Cosmos
by Katherine Carl
Curator of Contemporary Exhibitions, The Drawing Center, New York, NY

Monika Weiss crafts a new breed of total artwork that does not adhere to the rules. Hers is a living, breathing experience comprising mediums of drawing, video, live performance, sound, composition, installation, voice and sculpture infused with history, literature and poetry. Weiss systematically sets up the conditions of a cosmos of her own creation and then intervenes upon this configuration using her own body and actions. She welcomes others to do the same and also invites chance natural elements to alter the system. Then she carefully modulates the visual and audio outcome, reassembling the moments and visual fragments to make something altogether new.

In Ennoia (2002) Weiss uses water as a metaphor, immersing herself in it and remaining curled like a fetus for hours. The fetal position signals presence before emergence into this world as well as a connection to another consciousness. After the performance, the video documentation of her body occupying the vessel is projected into the water, creating a ghostly reinhabitation. Water has been used as a metaphor for cosmogenesis for milennia. In the ancient Mesopotamian story Enuma Elish, the bitter water and the sweet water mix to forge creation. Genesis begins with "darkness was upon the face of the Deep," which the philosopher Edward Casey interprets as meaning that the waters are a generative matrix of things to come, neither chaos nor void.1  And in Plato’s Timaeus, creation occurs by and in a receptacle, which Casey sees as a matrix that includes both the container and the contained.2

Weiss uses water, ground, air and fire and inhabits vessels of various types or the landscape itself to generate her own worlds. Her large-scale drawing installation Leukos (2005) is set in the landscape. The resulting video begins with emerging figures carrying billowing white sheets as the sound of a soprano male voice singing Eurydice quietly calls her name. They are preparing the ground, transforming the sheets into a landscape for drawing. As the video images fade and merge, figures enter the arena of the drawing. Their kneeling, bending, reclining bodies appear at first like fallen leaves, and, as time passes, their shapes take root as they produce the darkening lines of this collective work. A few frames of gently rolling ocean waves are projected onto the fabric, which undulates from the natural force of the wind. The light changes gradually as rain falls and heavy wetness becomes visible on the fabric. The weather continues to animate the drawn surface. Lines made by human hands are complemented by stains ground into the material by the natural elements. Rich visual metaphors of ground, place and trace emerge.

In her 2005-2006 video performance Fall-Keimai ( keimai from the Greek, meaning to lie down, to fall down and to put to sleep and relating to words meaning “home”), Weiss again places herself in the landscape. Lying on the ground suffused with light, she sometimes assumes a fetal position and also takes open reclining poses under the trees. Her video editing gently layers several muted images of her nude body in soft dissolves. It is the editing that shifts the physical position of her body in the video. Between the cuts, at some moments the camera rolls and she showers herself with yellow leaves. The resulting slow-motion image and layered collage is a meditation on change and rootedness, solidity and openness. Here the leaves replace the tactility of paper or drawing surface that she usually has employed in earlier works, and her editing is doing the drawing--making the rhythm of marks, cuts, layering of images and erasures.

In addition to exploring the relationships between nature and culture through landscape, the body, and drawing, another central element in Weiss's work is language and sound. Her visual editing process is paralleled in the preparation of her soundtrack. She states, “I choose and record fragments of existing classical compositions and then alter them and overlap them together to create new "musical drawings."3 For a number of works she has created her own compositions, inventing or reworking existing classical music that uses noncommunicative language in which poetry and imagery and phonetic sound are more important.

For Weiss, drawing is related to post-language. She does not subscribe to the notion that it is a primal, immediate, prelingual scrawling, and as a result her drawing is a rich infusion of thought, language, ritual, culture, fantasy and emotion. There exists a relationship of drawing and speech and sound that bypasses the written word in Weiss's work. The video Phlegethon-Milczenie (2005) opens with the loud, unmistakable sound of burning--rasping, hollow and tormented. In strong contrast, the image that introduces the scene is a quiet light white ground that upon examination is a neat arrangement of open books seen from the air. Gradually Weiss appears, lying down on what now looks like a bed of books. They are an arena for action and inhabitation. Her calm rhythmic movement of drawing has no beginning or end. A separate image of paper curling as it burns recalls Weiss's body as she gathers her limbs into her center, dragging crinkling pages along with her like an inhalation of breath. Throughout the video the meandering voices of a man and woman reading in German and Polish can be heard. Again, hands gently infiltrate the frame, moving across the boundary of the arrangement of books to touch, and we imagine to glimpse, the titles, drawings and words. The voices continue in whispers like a lullaby. But Phlegethon-Milczenie refers not only to a bad dream, but also to the Nazis burning books of literature, history and philosophy. Weiss secured original editions of selections from the scores of volumes that were destroyed. Phlegethon is the Greek River of Fire, and the Polish word milczenie means “silence and inability to convey." The title has multiple meanings:The Nazis occupying Poland and other countries in Europe during World War II used fire to silence voices and take lives. In the decades since those horrific actions, a silence has persisted as many people find it difficult to convey or to admit that these atrocities occurred on their own territory. Last, there are no words or ways to explain this devastating extinguishing of life.Weiss's focus on the materiality and tactility of the books calls to mind the method of dialectical materialism practiced by the Frankfurt School and the mysticism of Walter Benjamin in particular to combat fascist ideology. In their thinking, the bodily, sensory response to material and form was an effective counter to the Enlightenment's total embracing of thought, reason and mind over body.

In the past three years Weiss has created a number of large-scale works that originated as collaborative drawing sessions including the artist and passersby or museum visitors. By placing the canvas or sheet flat on the ground, Loreley (2005), Drawing the City (2004) along the Hudson River, the Drawing Room (2003) indoors at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Limen/Meadow (2004) at Chelsea Art Museum and the outdoor drawing installation Leukos (2005) at Lehman College in the Bronx welcome participants. The horizontal rather than the usual vertical placement changes people's relationship to the expanse; it feels less formal and more natural and accessible. This process of drawing together is not about presentation but focuses on action, interaction and experimentation.This change in orientation from the traditional upright canvas on an easel to other formats was championed by the Absract Expressionists who painted very large canvases without easels. Of course, the well-known images from the film by Hans Namuth of Jackson Pollock working with the canvas on the floor come immediately to mind. However, a groundbreaking event that is the most relevant touchstone for Weiss's work took place in 1968 when Lynda Benglis laid down a 30-foot smear of Day-Glo paint across the gallery floor, titling it Fallen Painting. The next year Benglis made another radical work, Bounce. This flat, triangular, multicolored painting was made to be presented on the floor. Unlike Pollock's process, it was not painted on a horizontal surface to be turned upright to the acceptable and dominant vertical position. It was not included in the Whitney's Anti-Illusion show because Benglis refused to hang it on the wall. These two works were self-consciously debased, and not to be stood "erect" for display.4

What is the best position for viewing? How can one get an overview? Leibniz stated that orientation belongs to the body not to the mind, 5 and Kant wrote that we can only know things in relation to ourselves, making the case for the ultimate importance of contingency. The sides of our body are key to orientation.6 Weiss has dedicated her attention to this contingency of the material presence of her body and the bodies of others in relation to a field of drawing. This is further explored in Weiss’s video work. When she performed Phlegethon-Milczenie (2005) in Dresden, for example, the gallery was equipped with a live video feed to the next room, effecting her simultaneous double presence as a real, indexical form and also a projected representation. In Weiss's drawings, videos and performances her body is absolutely, materially present, but the world of the artist's psyche is not revealed, not presented and not represented.

The performance Elytron (2003) uses a cast-concrete vessel containing dyed water. When the artist crawls inside, the mass of her body displaces some of the liquid, which then makes marks wherever it spills. Although this container may signify protection and confinement, or even home, it is not neatly bounded and singular. This haphazard overflow is similar to the scattering of material in performances like Lethe Room (2005) in which a rectangular box filled with pigment-coated paper and equipped with a moving bottom is employed. When operating without the artist, the vessel's interior movement resembles slow, steady breathing. For the performance the artist inhabits the vessel and interacts with the paper. In both of these pieces the artist does not actively draw on her own body, the ink in Elytron and the red pigment in Lethe Room not only color the water and the paper, but also imprint her body, staining it like a canvas. Even long after the performance of these two works, the artist’s body continues to excrete the color through her nostrils, hair and sweat. With these two works she exceeds and cracks open the cosmos that she has constructed so it does not become stifling and airless. This mutual imprinting of her body and the materials exemplifies the contingency of the body. Weiss’s work goes beyond constructing a self and enacting a body or an identity and works at the juncture between indexicality and intersubjectivity in Amelia Jones's terms. Weiss is not purely a performance artist because her goal is not to move to total indexicality “where the body in action simply 'is' what it presents and there is no trace left over.”7 Weiss uses her body as a tool for drawing rather than calling attention to the body itself. Weiss makes marks, videos and objects, but she does not pour, drip or fling. She inhabits, smudges and draws. This is a distinctly female approach. Whereas Richard Serra threw lead in Splashing (1968) and Barry LeVa scattered felt in Continuous and Related Activities Discontinued by the Act of Dropping (1967), which he associated with the practice of drawing, Weiss unwittingly scatters pigment through the air, splashes fluid onto the ground and carries the marks on her body. Furthermore, Weiss’s practice is created on contingency, whether using her own body in relation to the earth, drawn marks, fluids or vessels, or setting the stage for other participants. Weiss also accomplishes this with her video editing as the disorientation of the image of the artist and/or other participants lying down can be mistaken for floating or standing.

In an era when so many artists are making work about specific locales and moving to many places to draw correspondences and investigate globalization and migration, Weiss stays still. She creates drawings that are made in a process of grounding and rooting not with the goal of representation. They are affected by the natural environment of specific places, the wind and the rain. Weiss works with alertness, and the resulting traces of charcoal, pigment, dye or video are crafted by her rhythmic impulses combined with her contemplative focus.

1 Edward S. Casey. The Fate of Place. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, 24.
2 Ibid., 34.
3 Artist’s letter to the author 4/10/06.
4 Corinne Robins. The Pluralist Era American Art, 1968-1981. New York: Harper and Row, 1984, 20.
5 Edward S. Casey. The Fate of Place. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, 205.
6 Ibid., 207.
7 Amelia Jones. Body Art: Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998, 84.