In the Absence (of) John Monteith
‘[A] whittling down of the trace into a simpler figure will be checked by a counter tendency to preserve and indeed sharpen the distinctive features of the pattern’ — Rudolf Arnheim, Visual Thinking
The subjective is unstable; and rightly so. For one thing, its instability begs a sensitivity toward the dimension of mental betrayal that comes from forgetting. What we are able to hold in our minds is slippery at best, and with our perceptions entirely founded on context, the quality of the real is never what we expect. With this awareness comes the ability to entertain a present that grows and shrinks at once. By compressing time, we double-cross the past. Therefore, it is with relief that we engage in extended meditations on the now. Repetition is hereby characterized by a careful merging of the moment with the learned experience, so that each twist of cotton can fully absorb the labour of the hand.
With the confidence of a non-essential identity, the work is construed by way of its own performance: the ebb and flow of fingers, a steady eye, and regular lapses into oblivion. Each piece, as a stand-in for the body, secures a relationship to both presence and absence. It is there; it is not there. This is how we understand the materiality of our memories: as fluid, hazy wholes, peppered with moments of acute detail that sooth uncertainty by manufacturing utopia.
The work is aptly impure. Its geometries are quiet, restless, and romantic in their planned imperfections. Threads dangle and are pulled tight to form irregular contortions, asserting their dignity by vibrating in place. Time is embalmed in each of the thousand seams, a variable pendulum of spatial settings. Prudent pastels merge with a white noise that is far from empty. In fact, white is the paradox of emptiness — by refusing transparency, its pale hue sharpens our ability to perceive. The representational, residing just below the surface, occupies the full force and fullness of space. Absence is active.
Somewhere amidst these material conditions is a fascination with annihilation. The extended present is a drawn-out metaphor for nostalgia and forgetting. By banning all action to a zone outside the frame, a romantic geography presents itself and offers a haunting vision of the post-anthropocene. Layered, strong and firmly composed, the buildings stubbornly maintain subtle traces of the permeable. We feel for them, understanding all at once that in the final act before extinction, we will seek the comfort of a consensual collective memory. Our melancholy is the palimpsest for all our previous selves. It anchors us to the present.
Each of these propositions are pierced by longing. As if to prove the significance of the unseen, their peripheries offer the most optimal viewing point. The human becomes material; manipulated as it grows; personified in the moment of fabrication; central to the work’s tenacity. To be formal in this state is to be both subjective and conceptual at once. With a nomadic relationship to site and a native sensitivity to form, the work does not shy away from the pure aesthetic experience. It is composed to satisfy the formal demands of abstraction, combining architectural minimalchromes with a flattening of the textured surface, all the while understanding, that beauty’s deepest anxiety lies in its innate and decisive alliance with tension.
— Alex Bowron
About the Artist
John Monteith (b. Canada) graduated with a Masters in Fine Art from Parsons, the New School for Design in 2008. He has exhibited his work internationally in a number of collaborative projects, solo and group exhibitions, hosted by the Tate Modern, London, The Schinkel Pavilion, Berlin, X Initiative, PS1, and the DUMBO Art Center, New York, SanArt, Ho Chi Minh City, and SALTS. Monteith has held residencies at CAT Cologne, Germany in 2011 and in 2014, Kunsthalle Roveredo, Switzerland.
Reviews and essays dedicated to his work have been included in Art in America (print and online), Charley, C Magazine, October 135, The Huffington Post, K-48, Petit Mort: Recollections of a Queer Public, The New Yorker, disorientations.com, and others. Monteith has been awarded grants from The Canada Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council, and The Toronto Arts Council. Represented by Division Gallery in Canada and Galerie Wenger in Zurich, he currently lives and works between Berlin and Halifax.
Documentation by Yuula Benivolski