LA AIR Test, 2020
Inkjet print, SIGNED, titled and dated in pencil on backside.
11 3/4h x 8 1/4w in
The series LA Air consists of 400 unique inkjet prints each with a single full-size slide image printed in the center of a square sheet of paper. The slide image comes from a photograph taken by Monk in 1975 when he was six years old. It was taken while on holiday in front of the casino in Saint-Raphaël on the south coast of France. This is the first photograph Monk ever remembers taking, and the man in the picture is Monk’s father, Owen Monk.
As seen in the repeating images of the slide in this test print, Monk manipulates the color of the sky by showing a gradual shift from one image to the next, a possible reference to fading memory. LA AIR suggests a connection to Bruce Nauman’s 1970 aritst book, L A AIR with its repeated generic snapshots of LA’s air-polluted skies.
Jonathan Monk's release consists of a full-size slide image printed in the center of a square sheet of paper. The square format is neutral, referenceneither to landscape nor portrait. Instead, it follows the dimensions of the slide frame, enclosing it, and further distancing itself from the photographed man who appears in the center of the image. Confident and smiling, he poses up the railing on a southern sidewalk - but does he stand in the foreground or in the background of the work? The motif of the slide frame is inextricably linked to the vacuum of the paper and contains both a statement and an echo at the same time. Aug 75 is written in faded font on the right side of the slide frame. We are looking at a reproduction of a 45-year-old slide and - as the years go by - the man in the holiday picture will be even further away. Made in England, written with red, further informs us of where in the world the 35 mm wide slide was once developed. Thus, it shares nationality with the artist behind the work, who was born in Leicester on February 4, 1969. Jonathan Monk was six years old when he took the picture in front of the casino in Saint-Raphaël on the south coast of France. The smiling figure posing up the white railing as he looks into the camera is his father, Owen Monk. It's the first photograph Jonathan remembers taking in his life - but beyond that the recollection image attached to the subject is sparse.
Precisely the notion of memory and its changing nature is present in the work. Here, Monk has manipulated the sky behind his father in Photoshop, so that it gradually changes color - albeit minimally - from print to print. Spread them all 400 inkjet copies out in a straight line, the sky will slowly slide across the color spectrum and away from its blue starting point. Suddenly all the colors become plausible, for our brain adapts to changes, faster than we realize. Similarly, a memory is not a static quantity either. Brain research has shown that our memory and emotions are connected- our memories are adjusted every time we remember, and thus they are also colored by where we are emotionally.
All holiday photos are unique and yet incredibly similar. As performative travel rituals, they spring from a common ‘Kodak culture’ that says more about us on a macroscopic level than on the individual. Everything that is unique is in imminent danger of disappearing. That's why we make copies - to certify the original or the moment. "Is there repetition or is there insistence?" Gertrude Stein philosophically asks her audience in Lectures in America, 1935.
LA AIR is the title of Jonathan Monk's release. It probably refers to Bruce Nauman's artist book L A AIR from 1970, consisting of monotonous snapshots of Los Angeles' air-polluted skies. Nauman's idea of showing a limited view of an infinite space harmonizes well with Monks ingenious use of appropriation and humor in his other practice. The title of the release may also need to be read as l’air - thus giving associations back to the air over the palm trees and the casino in the South of France. The ambiguous title makes good sense based on the tourist's reality, where words that seem familiar can have a fundamentally different meaning across national borders - pain in French and English is a good example.
Like the title of the release, Jonathan Monks' art is not based on any defined language. It is a conceptual practice that refuses to be defined by a particular form or signature style. His entire oeuvre spans a wide range of text-based works, drawings, paintings, objects, photographs, video and slide projections, etc. Often his works are about the works of other artists; in particular, he re-examines elements from minimalism, Pop Art and the heyday of concept art in the 1960s and 70s. With an unpretentious approach, he explores key topics of originality and artistic origin. What is a copy? How does our view of the original change when it is the volume of copies that is at the center for the work, rather than the individual image? Monk himself has stated about the photograph that he is "more interested in the possibilities behind the reproduction than the images themselves." He demonstrated this, for example at the solo exhibition Exhibit Model Two in 2016. Here, Monk totally covered the gallery exhibition walls with photographic wallpaper printed with black and white installation pictures from previous exhibitions through 20 years. The result was a retrospective installation format that flowed with the gallery space and thus dissolved the framework for the viewer's physical experience. It may be an insinuation to call an exhibition without works retrospective. As always in Jonathan Monk's practice, it is the idea behind the grip that carries the work. Retrospective is perhaps more appropriate.
Whatever format the copy assumes, it contains options that Monk continually explores in his work. The copy is a substitute - you do not see it - you see through it. How far the eye reaches, however, is up to the viewer, for there is often more than one vanishing point present in Monk's graphic works. A ‘generational loss’ can immediately be read as a vintage of people who have lost something. In fact, it is a technical term for a ‘cumulative deterioration in quality that occurs when the copy is reproduced after itself’. With Jonathan Monk, however, each new displacement becomes an image in its own right that can be placed in a pedigree of predecessors.
Human genetic material is the result of replication. Our DNA is structured so that it can copy itself with great precision. In this way, the DNA ensures a stable continuation of the genetic inheritance from generation to generation. But like the chromosomes in our cells, human culture is also based on continuation. However, the DNA of culture instead consists of rituals and guidelines that may seem to surpass our own biology in complexity. As a father, then a son - and yet not. The family relationship is present in the work Replica I, which plays with the idea that children follow their parents. Here, Jonathan Monk has used the original slide of his father, which is also the motif in this release. Replica I consists of two slide carousels, both containing 80 slides with the same motif. Each slide in the carousels is a duplicate of the previous one, causing the projection of the photograph to slowly degenerate during the screening. Eventually, the series of slides ends as an unrecognizable abstraction, after which the carousel starts all over again, and Monk's father reappears in the light - as a distant memory that is slowly retrieved.
"(...) The photograph of the missing being, as Susan Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star", wrote the French theorist Roland Barthes. Photographs and constellations have in common that they both represent a peripheral past. One of the brightest stars in the northern hemisphere, Capella, is 42 light-years away - about the same distance measured in time as the photograph of Owen Monk in Saint-Raphaël. ____________Andreas Albrectsen, May 2020, Den Danske Radeerforening
$ 550 (includes signed brochure, LA Air)