My trust in the phenomenon of contingency and silence is largely owed to John Cage. Within my sound and video projection environments, silence is the punctuation that forms the space and allows the work to breathe.
The archive appears in my work not as evolution in time or as depository of gradual accretion, but rather as a flat layered surface composed of multiple narratives. In my projections, the silent performer moves very slowly, enacting a prolonged gesture of witnessing and enunciation, as sequenced to non-linear time. Lifting silent filmed actions into another realm, I compose sound from testimonies, recitations, laments, the environment, and musical instruments such as my own piano improvisations. I then transform and layer the recorded tracks to build new fluctuating harmonies.
Cage reminds us that absence of sound is never entirely possible or complete. By opening the space of music through sound and silence, Cage makes them equally important and co-apparent. Ultimately, it is the non-hierarchical, uncompromised attention given to seemingly opposite structures of composition and chance that I take as the greatest inspiration from Cage’s work.
…Monika Weiss, New York, January 9, 2012
*[Monika Weiss was first educated as a classical musician and pianist in Warsaw, Poland before studying visual arts.]
Phaos, 2010 (9:02)
Phaos (in archaic Greek phaos meant “light”) is a video and sound composition exploring metaphors of journey, departure and return. Sound composition includes water and machine sounds mixed with human voices, whispering, singing and reading texts. The many layers of sound overlap and erase each other, creating an ambient and abstract composition reminding of the journey towards Governors Island, and back towards Manhattan’s mainland.
* The project was commissioned by No Longer Empty and installed on Governors Island, New York City in summer 2010.
Sostenuto, 2012 Part One (4:47)
Sostenuto (meaning in Italian “to sustain”— in classical music this term indicates prolonged legato mode of playing on an instrument) is a video and sound composition. Sound incorporates hundreds of recordings of my piano improvisations, which I then altered electronically and re-constructed together to evoke a sense of unresolved suspension and depth. In the video image, a young teenage woman gradually opens and closes her eyes and then slowly unravels her black scarf. Her face seems hovering in the space, beyond the confines of time, continuously present and emerging, unresolved, with a single tear slowly traversing her face.
* Sostenuto is being premiered for the Streaming Museum. Performer: Faith Kalter
Sustenazo (Lament II), 2010 Part Two (9:27)
“Sustenazo (meaning in Greek, “to sigh, to lament inaudibly together”) explores visual and musical aspects of the ancient ritual of Lament and its historical connection to feminine expression, especially as contrasted with the notion of the heroic myth within the narrative of war. Sound compositions created by the artist in Sustenazo incorporate voices of surviving witnesses of the Ujazdowski Hospital’s expulsion, along with German voices reading passages from Goethe’s Faust. The project was inspired in part by the forced and abrupt evacuation of over 1,800 patients and medical staff of the Ujazdowski Hospital (now the Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw) during the Warsaw Uprising (August 1944) by German Army.
Using the specific historical example of a crime committed on a hospital – one of many painful atrocities routinely committed within the politics of war – Sustenazo speaks to the essence of a hospital as a center for healing, juxtaposed to the oppression of all human rights throughout time. The artist creates a poetic environment built from layers of images, objects and sounds opening a potential space for each viewer to respond to their own assumptions and conclusions. “ (Milada Slizinska)
Monika Weiss-Sustenazo was first exhibited at Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland (2010) and will be on view at Museo de la Memoria, Santiago, Chile (2012-2013).
“In second part of Sustenazo, vintage medical instruments and diagrams, tools of healing that paradoxically transmit instant anxiety, share the screen with a 1930s map of Europe, as a hand in a medical glove appears, slowly smearing a black cloud across the image. Gradually emerging through the dark stain, a medical illustration of lines diagramming surgical procedures marked directly on a woman’s torso eerily recalls the lines of troop movements on a map of battle… Phenomenology holds that the direct experience of the senses is the ultimate basis for our understanding of the world, an idea very much in line with Buddhism’s concept of mindful awareness. Through the direct marks of her drawing style, the enveloping waves of voices in speech and song, and the spare, meditative images of the videoed process of lamentation, Weiss underscores the fundamental quality of the bodily experience.” (Mary McCoy)
* For Sustenazo I worked with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and dancer Gillian Lipton, as well as with Krystyna Zalewska (Polish voice) and Kristina Hahn, Barbara Caveng, Heiko Daxl, Andreas Matthias Grimm, Max Hannes, Anna Hope, Cordula Hufnagel, Ralf Niebuhr, Christoph Rasch, Bele Papperitz-Hannes, Wolfgang Strankowski, Jens Umlauf who read passages from “FAUST: DER TRAGÖDIE ZWEITER TEIL,” 1832, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Passages from poems by Paul Celan read by Maja Linke.
Sustenazo (Lament II), 2010 Part Three (4:17)
Lamentation was historically performed by organized groups of women across all cultural divides. In my work lament assumes a form of expression that is excluded or expelled from language—the latter understood as a system or design of meaning in relation to event. This place of lament, that should be named the archive, marks the void of enunciation. Lamenting voices bridge this void located between memory that only remembers what has been said, and the oblivion, which is only about that which was never said.
In the sound composition, I have layered and altered the voices of German speakers reading passages from Goethe, and merged them with the contemporary voice of an elderly Polish woman recounting her experience of being a teenage nurse during the violent expulsion of over 1,800 patients and medical staff of the Ujazdowski Hospital.
“The woman returns in the video’s final segment (Part Three), this time facing forward, hands covering her face. There is an intense sense of intimacy as she slowly lowers her hands, revealing first her closed eyes, then nose and mouth. Here, lament seems like a pause resting on the stillness within before gradually baring itself to the outer world”. (Mary McCoy).
* The site of the hospital today is the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw.
Monika Weiss is a visual and sound artist based in New York City, whose work has been exhibited in over twenty solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions internationally. Weiss’ performative installations, video/sound works, sculptures and drawings enact historical and cultural memory in the context of body, gesture, trace, and language. In 2005, Lehman College Art Gallery, City University of New York, organized and published a survey of the artist’s work to date, Monika Weiss: Five Rivers, which was reviewed in The New York Times. In 2010 Monika Weiss-Sustenazo was presented by Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland and will be on view at Museum of Memory and Human Rights, Santiago, Chile, 2012-2013. Weiss’ work is represented by Galerie Samuel Lallouz, Montreal. The artist’s own writing appeared in New Realities: Being Syncretic, Springer, Wien/New York (2009) and Technoetic Arts, Intellect, London (2006). Educated first as a classical musician and pianist, Weiss continues to compose sound environments in her work.