Michele Monseau: Gone Again
Not one to take a passive stance even on an event of world renown, Michele Monseau successfully incorporates her recent visit to Italy for the Venice Biennale into her captivating work Gone Again at Cactus Bra. Monseau composes scenes of her fellow artists and traveling companions in recumbent positions. Sometimes they lay sprawling, as in Grateful Arms/Grateful Limbs, an ink-jet diptych on rag paper rendered with a painterly softness. The image places a man and a woman in two separate frames against the same evening setting along the Grand Canal. Rather than a gratuitous shot of a Venetian evening, both the man and woman are crumpled on the pavement in front of a closed door. Only the noses of moored powerboats and a glimpse of canal water hint at their picturesque location. They look literally bowled over and stir the viewer’s curiosity as to just what might have been the impetus for their exhausted repose. Are they dead? Dead tired? Narcoleptic? The spreading darkness and the gravity of the scene make you investigate it like a crime scene in a classic film noir.
Michele Monseau, Grateful Arms/Grateful Limbs, 2003
Inkjet prints on rag paper
24 x 64 inches
As intriguing as this work is, one cannot help but cross to the other side of the gallery where another conjoined pair of images called Pantheon Sleep hangs. In this work, two women, again alone in each frame, are curled up on the same spot atop a ledge. Only the title reveals that this setting is one of art history’s most important pieces of architecture—the Pantheon in Rome. What really draws the viewer in is how Monseau has captured the light. The sleeping women are basking in some of the most beautiful, golden light imaginable; the bricks beneath them seem sun-toasted. The tonal range of this work serves as a foil to Grateful Arms/Grateful Limbs, a sunrise to sunset. Monseau explains, “For me, this is the physical manifestation of lightness and weight—the grounding, heavy forces of history and time juxtaposed with the lightness of being able to shed one’s identity in a foreign locale.” These pieces capture the magic quality of travel that leads to a feeling of relief and an “unbearable lightness of being” apart from our everyday cares and routines. Sleep looks welcoming. These tightly curled figures and the centuries-old building backdrop serve as an unorthodox cradle. Unfortunately sleep has a dual nature, as alluded to by the intimately sized acrylic lacquer painting on an adjacent wall that admonishes with the text and title Open Your Eyes. Sleep replenishes but also removes us from active life. Who doesn’t bemoan the fact that we lose so many productive hours to sleep? And how many of us are asleep while awake, letting things pass by or not fully investing in the moment. Are we too passive?
Michele Monseau, Gone Again, 2003
Acrylic lacquer, video, sound
36 inches x 10 feet
The largest piece, from which the show takes its name, is Gone Again. Monseau took this title from a Patti Smith song and album. This painting/installation shows the artist’s further experimentation as she combines video and sound into her work. At first glance, the viewer sees Monseau’s airbrushed landscape extending across the entire wall. This painting, in warm, gold and orange tones, edits the ethereality of Jules Olitski’s spray paintings by introducing a horizon line. This show is an essay on the contrasts between gravity and lightness, and the horizon line provides a marked point of reference. On either end of the painting are inset miniature videos that ask the viewer to cozy up to the wall and peer in. The same four figures as in the diptychs appear in buoyant videos that tilt up and down and back again as if filmed from the water. Ironically full-bodied sounds, such as water lapping and bells tolling, add a loaded volume to the air. The fact that the videos are placed at opposite ends of the painting make the viewer an active, moving participant—again stressing the active over the passive in both art and life. While it could be argued that art is escapist, Monseau uses her work to express the call to “Wake up!”