“Lamentations (Sustenazo): Recent Works by Monika Weiss” at Kohl Gallery
In February 2011, the Kohl Gallery opened “Lamentations (Sustenazo): Recent Works by Monika Weiss,” a one-person show by internationally acclaimed artist and Washington College faculty member Monika Weiss.
Weiss is a Polish-American artist who works in drawing, projected video, musical composition, performance and sculpture, often combining these elements in her public installations. The new exhibition, which is being shown for the first time in the U.S., is drawn from a larger exhibition of 2010, “Monika Weiss: Sustenazo,” held at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw. Weiss completed the work while on junior sabbatical leave from Washington College, where she serves as assistant professor and coordinator of the studio art program in the Department of Art and Art History. The U.S. Embassy in Warsaw provided a major grant for “Sustenazo,” which also received support from the Central Medical Library, Warsaw, the Warsaw Rising Museum, the Historical Museum of Warsaw, Media in Motion, Berlin, and a number of individuals, including a physician. The exhibition later traveled to Berlin.
“Lamentations” is curated by Donald McColl, the Nancy L. Underwood Associate Professor of Art History at Washington College and former Director of Kohl Gallery.
Sustenazo is a Greek word meaning to sigh or to lament inaudibly together. Weiss’s exhibition on this theme was inspired by a specific event that took place at Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, when it was a hospital—and actually was installed there, in the cellar, the only portion of the castle to survive. On August 6, 1944, during the onset of the Warsaw Uprising, the German Army forced more than 1,800 patients and medical staff to evacuate the hospital overnight. With that incident as its reference point, Weiss’s art 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. “An important part of this work is the motif of lament as a form of expression outside language,” she says.
“Lamentatons” speaks to the essence of a hospital as a metaphor for healing, but in the context of the specific horrors of the Nazi evacuation of Ujazdowski Hospital and the general oppression of human rights throughout history. The artist’s original sound composition (Weiss trained for many years at Warsaw’s Conservatory of Music) incorporates the voice of a surviving witness of the hospital’s expulsion along with voices of average Germans reading passages from the second part of Goethe’s classic play “Faust.”
Weiss’s installation also juxtaposes original objects and documents related to the hospital’s exodus—mostly old books and small pieces of medical equipment—with other images, including video. The interplay of all these visual layers in video projection with the mix of voice and music creates a poetic environment in which viewers can form their own assumptions and conclusions. “Much of my art investigates the relationships between memory and history, but I build it from multiple narratives in order to leave the meaning open to interpretation,” says Weiss, who teaches drawing and new genres at Washington College.
London-based art critic Guy Brett has written of Weiss, “Her work is a remarkable, individual counterpoint between technological media (video projection) and the ancient activity of drawing. Sound is also an important element, meticulously composed by the artist. It lifts the silent filmed actions into another emotional register.” The result, he says, “is an alternative experience of space and time, … steady and enduring, establishing and deepening a human presence.”