Professor’s Exhibit Makes U.S. Debut

Weiss’ blends various mediums in her exhibit, “Lamentations (Sustenazo),” which is making its first US appearance in the Kohl Gallery. Photo courtesy of Ashley Carol-Fingerhut.
By Emily Blackner
Elm Staff Writer

Professor Monika Weiss’ new exhibit in the Kohl Gallery, “Lamentations (Sustenazo),” connects visual art, history, and sound to create a unique experience for viewers.

This exhibition at Washington College is the first time that “Lamentations (Sustenazo)” has been displayed in the U.S.

“It is drawn from a much larger exhibition of 2010, ‘Monika Weiss: Sustenazo,’ which was held at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland,” said Weiss, who serves as an assistant professor and the coordinator of the studio art program.

“I wanted to express my thanks to Washington College and to my colleagues in the Department of Art and Art History for organizing this exhibition, which is curated by Dr. Donald McColl and supported by local arts community and media, including Chestertown Spy,” she said.

Weiss is “truly delighted” to have the exhibit at WC. “What feels the most important to me is the opportunity to share an example of my work with my students and also with fellow faculty and our community at large. While a small number of my colleagues and students were able to experience my work in person in various locations in US and abroad, majority knows the work only through documentation,” she said.

When describing the exhibition, Weiss said, “‘Lamentations (Sustenazo)’ – Sustenazo (meaning in Greek, ‘to sigh, to lament inaudibly together’)- is a video and sound installation exploring 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.”

“Some of my projects engage themes related to World War II and, by implication, the Nazi era,” she said. “Sustenazo also refers to that historical period, this time in connection with a specific place where I was part of the air laboratory program at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Ujazdowski Castle, which is now an art museum, built in the 13th century as a royal castle, and which in the19th century became a large hospital.”

Work on the project took place in Poland as well. “Partially I began working on some of the elements of this exhibition during my residency in Berlin and fully developed the work during my residency in Warsaw at air laboratory, CCA Ujazdowski Castle,” Weiss said. “I completed the work while on sabbatical leave during 2009-2010.”

Weiss attempts to capture some of the castle’s rich history in her exhibition. “An important part of this work is the motif of lament as a form of expression outside language, confronted with the archive of a historical event- the abrupt overnight expulsion of the Ujazdowski Hospital’s 1800 patients and staff in 1944 by the German army.”
The exhibition contains a sound composition that heightens the historical connection, because Weiss talked to actual survivors of the incident.

“I recorded among others the voice of Krystyna Zalewska, who in 1944 was a thirteen-year-old nurse expelled with the rest of the hospital’s staff,” she said. “In my composition her fragmented voice overlaps with a German voice reading passages from Goethe’s ‘Faust II.’ The elderly voice of a survivor is like a stain or a trace that cannot be erased. Goethe’s text can no longer exist without this other voice, the voice of the people who were damaged by their encounter with power. I composed the voices so that

they overlap and erase each other.”

Art mediums also overlap in this exhibition. “In Sustenazo I combine different media—sound composition and video projection especially—but there is no live performance, and my body appears here only in the video image, through my gloved hands touching historical documents,” she said. “In Sustenazo another woman appears—my alter ego—performing the gesture of lamentation,” she said.

The incorporation of the human form is common to many of Weiss’s works. “An important element in many of my works is the motif of the body as a vehicle of expression,” she said. “Much of my work to date investigates the relationships between body, memory and history.”

“My work is often constructed as a counterpoint between technology (projected video) and the ancient activity of drawing, presented as inseparable from the body as a whole,” Weiss shared. “Sound is also an important element, which I carefully compose and which lifts the silent filmed actions into another emotional register. I have studied piano and musical composition for many years before I enrolled to Academy of Fine Arts. I continue to compose music for my installations and in general work in time-based media and in drawing.”

Weiss’s involvement with music as a child has greatly influenced her art. “I grew up in a small apartment in Warsaw, where I spent a lot of my childhood listening to the sounds of piano, and being physically very close to it, while my mother was practicing. I have experienced being with music on a daily basis, and it has become a primary language to me,” she said. “Playing piano for hours everyday has left a mark beyond my childhood, leading perhaps towards my interest in repetition. Another influence of musical background is perhaps evident in my way of working with other media, which is largely polyphonic, in terms of my interest in working with parallel visual and conceptual narratives.”

Weiss hopes that the exhibit will allow visitors to make their own emotional connections to the story, and find their own meaning. “I build my projects from multiple narratives in order to leave the meaning open to interpretation,” she said. “The meaning is open, visual and sonic, for someone who enters the space of the project, for your own feelings and thoughts.”

It is likely that “Lamentations (Sustenazo)” will receive quite a lot of visitors, as it will be available for viewing in the Kohl Center in Gibson Center for the Arts until April 15. There are several special events planned around the exhibition, including an opening reception on Feb 25 and a conversation with Weiss on March 30. More information on these events is available as a Press Release on the WC website.

February 18, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 15

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