Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle
My transdisciplinary work investigates the nature of time and memory and evokes ancient rituals of lamentation in response to issues of recent social and cultural history. I create durational, performative, ephemeral and site-specific public projects and installations, as well as films, drawings, photographs and objects, which suggest alternative forms of knowledge, classification and perception. My most current work considers aspects of public memory and amnesia as reflected within the physical and political space of a City.
Commissioned by The Drawing Center, my public project Drawing Lethe (2006) took place at WFC Winter Garden within sight of Ground Zero, where workers were still searching for remains. Passersby lay down and marked their presence onto the enormous canvas covering the floor, which gradually became a drawing and sound field. In Shrouds-Całuny (2012), I filmed, from an airplane, local women performing silent gestures of lamentation on the abandoned, forgotten site of the former concentration camp in Gruenberg.
Time is the language of form in my work, which functions as the structural material of the media synthesis. Much of my work to date is constructed as a counterpoint between technological media (video/film projection) and the ancient activity of drawing. Originally trained as a classical musician and pianist, I continue to compose sound for my projection and performance work. I frequently employ the body as a vehicle of artistic expression and invite others to inhabit my works. 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, and with musical instruments such as my own piano improvisations.
Artists and mystics have long shared the dream and the desire to remove the confines of space and time. Seeing the self from a great distance, leaving one’s body, if only virtually and momentarily, is now possible with the help of technology. I often work with the disjuncture between real presence in the space and its projected version, as well as with the tension between horizontal and vertical views. The aerial view is especially relevant, connoting levitation and mapping. To the spatial experience is added the cinematic. In White Chalice (Ennoia)  the video documentation of my body occupying the vessel is projected into the water, creating a ghostly reinhabitation. In this latter installation, the viewer encounters a five-foot tall octagonal fiberglass chalice filled with water, into which a video image is projected from above. Upon closer view, one sees a virtual representation of a figure curled-up inside and moving slowly, and hears the blended sounds of whispered words and water.
Informed by Judith Butler’s understanding of mourning as a political act, the concept of Lament in my practice refers to historical trauma and the ancient form of lamentation—possibly the oldest known form of music. The primary form that I work with in my most recent films, is the ancient ternary form of Lament, A—B—A (sometimes called the song form), which is possibly the oldest known form of music. In ternary form the initial address would be followed by an appeal (i.e. intervening narrative and recollection of past events), and finally the reiteration of the initial address. The oldest known forms of archaic Lament are meant as an imaginary dialogue with those who are no longer here. This dialogue later developed into the musical and poetic forms of refrain and choral incantation, evoking circular time. The specific technique of montage that I employ to construct my digital films involves the overlapping and reversal of images and sounds to create a space of suspended and circular time akin to this method of incantation.
In my work the body is a continuously changing space of historical, cultural, and social dimension. In my films and performances the protagonist's eyes are closed. She lies down in a state of meditative, symbolic and peaceful resistance, leaving marks and traces of presence in opposition to heroic fantasies of conquest and power.
Monika Weiss, New York City, 2014
1. For further discussion on Lament and its archaic ternary form A—B—A, see Margaret Alexiou “Antiphonal structure and the antithetical thought” in The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition (Lahnam/Boulder/New York/Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002), pp. 131-150.
2. Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London/New York: Verso, 2004), p. 22