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Monika Weiss

In a multidisciplinary practice that encompasses video, film, performance, sound, drawing, and sculpture, the Polish-American artist Monika Weiss moves between the political and the poetic to explore questions of the body, history, and gendered violence. Her work is intimately engaged with processes of witnessing and remembering as it attends to traumatic histories, their transmission, and commemoration. Weiss frequently employs her own body to navigate the aftermath of different traumas, raising questions of how one can articulate these without enacting further violence. The female body does not only become a vehicle of expression, but also forms a key site from which an affective politics may emerge, through touch, vulnerability, and the visceral. Her mixed-media, embodied practice foregrounds sensing as a modality through which we can develop an ethics and politics of remembrance and of being together in the world, simultaneously challenging modernist assumptions concerning a duality of mind and body. By frequently attending to events and histories that she has not personally witnessed, Weiss fleshes out the multidirectional character of memory and seeks to forge new solidarities that exceed national boundaries.

Weiss’ practice engages with the body as a sensory and psychic site, mapping its relationship to space, time and history. Her early mixed-media works Ennoia (2002) and Elytron (dusza i ciało to tylko dwa skrzydła) (2003) included multi-hour-long performances in which the artist inhabited an octagonal vessel resembling a baptismal font, filled with water or black ink. Drawing on the duration and solemnity of ritual, Weiss’ works frequently explore symbolic acts of initiation, rebirth, or cleansing. Weiss pairs her exploration of the physical body with an inquiry into its visual representation and material trace, which allows her to move seamlessly between drawing, performance, video, and sound. In Drawing Lethe (2006), a work commissioned by The Drawing Center, New York, Weiss referred to the physicality of drawing as she made charcoal marks around her prostrate body, moving silently within the boundaries of a large cotton canvas spanned on the floor of the World Financial Center Winter Garden. Taking place in the vicinity of Ground Zero where workers were still searching for remains, Weiss, joined by passersby, mapped a wounded site within the body of the city, suggesting affective ways of working through loss.

Public projects that take the form of ephemeral and site-specific environments constitute an important strand in Weiss’ practice. In Shrouds-Całuny (2012), Weiss filmed, from an airplane, local women performing silent gestures of lamentation on the abandoned, forgotten site of the former concentration camp Grünberg, Germany, which is now Zielona Góra, Poland. Weiss’ exploration of public memory and cultural amnesia is underscored by her focus on the vulnerability of the female body in the context of the city, such as in her recent film Wrath (2015) and her series of 19 films Two Laments (2015-2020). Trained both as a pianist and a visual artist, Weiss composes the sound that constitutes many of her works, considering the vocal-musical-poetic form of lament as a modality of collective resistance and remembrance. Her first permanent outdoor project Nirbhaya, a monument to victims of gendered violence named after Jyoti Singh, aka ‘Nirbhaya’ (‘fearless’), who was raped and killed at the age of 23 in New Delhi in 2012, is planned concurrently in her native Poland (2021) and in the United States (2022).

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Monika Weiss arrived to NYC in 2001 as a long-term artist in residence at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation. Since 2011, she divides her time between her studio in New York and her appointment as associate professor at Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis. She has been awarded numerous grants and residency fellowships, including BRIC, Harvestworks, US Embassy in Poland, New York Foundation for the Arts, and YADDO. Recent publications about the artist’s work include a chapter in Guy Brett’s The Crossing of Innumerable Paths: Essays on Art (London: Ridinghouse, 2019) and a forthcoming bilingual monograph Monika Weiss – Nirbhaya published by the Centre for Polish Sculpture in Orońsko / National Institution of Culture, with texts by Griselda Pollock (Leeds University) and Mark McDonald (The Metropolitan Museum of Art), among others.

Weiss’ solo museum exhibitions include the 2005 retrospective at the Lehman College Art Gallery (CUNY) Five Rivers, reviewed in The New York Times, as well as Sustenazo, commissioned by the CCA Zamek Ujazdowski in Warsaw, Poland (2010), later traveling to the Museum of Memory & Human Rights, Santiago, Chile (2012-2013) and the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Miami (2014). In 2004 Remy Toledo Gallery, New York, in cooperation with Galerie Samuel Lallouz, Montréal, organized a two-person exhibition of Carolee Schneemann and Monika Weiss. The artist’s works have been shown alongside artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Ana Mendieta, Mona Hatoum, and Shirin Neshat. Weiss’ work was featured in group exhibitions and related publications at Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Athens, Greece (international video art survey directed by Robert Storr, 2016); Eyebeam, New York (with Alan Sondheim, 2012), Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation/CIFO, Miami (Forms of Classification: Alternative Knowledge and Contemporary Art, 2006; The Prisoner’s Dilemma, 2008), Drawing Now: Between The Lines of Contemporary Art, Loughborough University, UK, and was part of Prague’s Muzeum Montanelli (MuMo)’s inaugural show in 2010. Her works are included in public and private collections worldwide, including Albertina Museum, Vienna, AU; Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation/CIFO, Miami, FL; Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, Peekskill, NY; Frauenmuseum, Bonn, DE; CCA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw, PL; and Dimas de Melo Pimenta’s collection, Locarno, SW.

—Dr. Katarzyna Falęcka, Berlin, September 2020

Affiliate Faculty, Performing Arts Department
College of Arts & Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

Work by Monika Weiss

A rendering of an architectural form; the monument is in a light gray, marble/concrete-like texture, set against a black background. In the center of its surface/façade is a pill-shaped recess, in which water seems to flow, reflecting two faces (one at each end) and a pair of hands. The people depicted in this pool have their eyes closed, and their hands are interlocked.

Nirbhaya, 2021

View of the Monument.
(Possibly) two figures, superimposed on a monochromatic illustration of a city; they are dressed in black, black fabric flows around the figure to the right; both of their heads are bowed and their eyes obscured. A red imprint of a fabric-like texture colors the landscape in the center-left. The illustration is captioned/titled, "THE ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS" — this text is seen in the rightmost edge of this still.

Two Laments, 2015–2020

Still from Digital Film.
Installation of a gallery: on a white wall is a frame at its rightmost section; to the left a video is projected onto the wall: in this video a person is surrounded by (likely stained? Dyed?) fabric, with streaks of color running down their cheeks. Before the wall are scattered stretches of fabric, some white, some black.

Anamnesis II, 2019

Part of the Exhibition at Museum of University of Porto.
Installation view of a gallery: in the center, on the wall is a projection of a video; in this video are two figures in profile, overlapping; one person arches their head back, their hands holding their face; the overlaid image is of a person standing upright. The background of the video is white. Before this video in the foreground are scattered books, all laid out in open spreads. The lighting is dim in the background, illuminating the books closest to us.

Sustenazo (Lament II), 2012

Solo Exhibition at Museum of Memory, Santiago, Chile.