C California Style

Silent Treatment

by C California Style

Does photographer Mona Kuhn’s latest series say less or more the longer one looks?

Contemporary photographer Mona Kuhn introduces her latest series, the abstract-slanting She Disappeared Into Complete Silence (Steidl Books, €45), in which modern architectural lines and the human form mingle against the California desert background. “I was drawn to the desert because of its magical light and raw mystic landscape,” Kuhn says. “To me, the desert has a transformative nature where one may enter as a nobody and come out as a somebody.”

To produce the series’ ethereal images, which suggest a feverish, sensual heat-driven mirage, the Brazilian-born German artist ventured from Los Angeles, where she lives and works, toward Joshua Tree National Park. At Acido Dorado — a golden Robert Stone-designed modernist structure on the edge of the park — Kuhn and her model, a longtime friend, began to play with form and light.

“[The series] was photographed in a glass house where the golden light enters unobstructed. Conceptually speaking, this glass house with mirrored ceilings was an extension of my own camera and optics,” explains Kuhn, whose first monograph, Photographs, debuted with Steidl Books in 2004 (She Disappeared Into Complete Silence is her sixth).

The resulting images are both forward and contemplative. We see desert and scattered parts of a human form brightly reflected back by glossy, rumpled surfaces. In another image, a black and white, the undressed woman holds a posture not unlike that of a desert ballerina: Mostly in shadow, she freely extends her arms ahead of and behind her, with the horizon and the scrub of landscape illuminated beyond.

When considering the series as a whole, we see the human form, desert, structure, light and dark appear as characters with equal presence. “We experimented with reflections, shadows, illusions, and created images that push the boundaries of representation,” Kuhn explains, though she says her main intention was to bring the elements into harmony. “I wanted to escape the body and photograph the human presence coming in and out of evidence, at times overexposed, at times hidden in shadows, like a desert mirage, a solitary figure who could have been the very first or last.”

Currently an independent scholar at The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, the artist says she begins every series with an idea of what she wants to communicate and how to transfer her message into “a visual vocabulary.” Despite this, she leaves space for flexibility as she works. “It is very important for me to keep a close relationship with my inner voice or guidance,” she says. “When working on a personal project like that, there should be a lot of room for magic and the unconscious to unfold and come into play. I am an intuitive artist and enjoy the ephemeral aspects of the creative process. It doesn’t scare me — on the contrary, it comes naturally to me.”

Kuhn — who will exhibit this year in Vancouver, London, Atlanta and San Francisco — says she chose the series’ title to reflect the balance between the figure, abstraction and landscape. And the word “she,” Kuhn points out, is charged with meaning. She explains: “It refers not just to the single figure, but also the endless horizon lines running into infinity and the lines rendered from thoughts.” monakuhn.com; steidl.de.

Written by MARIE LOOK.