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Monika Weiss on John Cage: My trust in the phenomenon of contingency and silence is largely owed to John Cage.

Phaos, 2010

Sustenazo (Lament II) Part 2, 2010-2012

Sustenazo (Lament II) Part 3, 2010-2012

Monika Weiss

Sustenazo (Lament I), 2010

Still from single channel video projection, color, sound. 22 min.

ON CAGE My trust in the phenomenon of contingency and silence is largely owed to John Cage. Within my sound and video projection environments, silence is the punctuation that forms the space and allows the work to breathe.

The archive appears in my work not as evolution in time or as depository of gradual accretion, but rather as a flat layered surface composed of multiple narratives. In my projections, the silent performer moves very slowly, enacting a prolonged gesture of witnessing and enunciation, as sequenced to non-linear time. Lifting silent filmed actions into another realm, I compose sound from testimonies, recitations, laments, the environment, and musical instruments such as my own piano improvisations.  I then transform and layer the recorded tracks to build new fluctuating harmonies.

Cage reminds us that absence of sound is never entirely possible or complete. By opening the space of music through sound and silence, Cage makes them equally important and co-apparent. Ultimately, it is the non-hierarchical, uncompromised attention given to seemingly opposite structures of composition and chance that I take as the greatest inspiration from Cage’s work. - Monika Weiss, New York, January 9, 2012

*Monika Weiss was first educated as a classical musician and pianist in Warsaw, Poland before studying visual arts.

Phaos, 2010

Phaos (in archaic Greek phaos meant “light”) is a video and sound composition exploring metaphors of journey, departure and return. Sound composition includes water and machine sounds mixed with human voices, whispering, singing and reading texts. The many layers of sound overlap and erase each other, creating an ambient and abstract composition reminding of the journey towards Governors Island, and back towards Manhattan’s mainland.

*The project was commissioned by No Longer Empty and installed on Governors Island, New York City in summer 2010.

Sustenazo (Lament II), 2010-2012 Part Two

“Sustenazo (meaning in Greek, “to sigh, to lament inaudibly together”) 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. Sound compositions created by the artist in Sustenazo incorporate voices of surviving witnesses of the Ujazdowski Hospital’s expulsion, along with German voices reading passages from Goethe’s Faust. The project was inspired in part by the forced and abrupt evacuation of over 1,800 patients and medical staff of the Ujazdowski Hospital (now the Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw) during the Warsaw Uprising (August 1944) by German Army.

Using the specific historical example of a crime committed on a hospital – one of many painful atrocities routinely committed within the politics of war – Sustenazo speaks to the essence of a hospital as a center for healing, juxtaposed to the oppression of all human rights throughout time. The artist creates a poetic environment built from layers of images, objects and sounds opening a potential space for each viewer to respond to their own assumptions and conclusions.“ (Milada Slizinska)

Monika Weiss-Sustenazo was first exhibited at Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, Poland (2010) and will be on view at Museo de la Memoria, Santiago, Chile (2012-2013).

“In second part of Sustenazo, vintage medical instruments and diagrams, tools of healing that paradoxically transmit instant anxiety, share the screen with a 1930s map of Europe, as a hand in a medical glove appears, slowly smearing a black cloud across the image. Gradually emerging through the dark stain, a medical illustration of lines diagramming surgical procedures marked directly on a woman’s torso eerily recalls the lines of troop movements on a map of battle… Phenomenology holds that the direct experience of the senses is the ultimate basis for our understanding of the world, an idea very much in line with Buddhism’s concept of mindful awareness. Through the direct marks of her drawing style, the enveloping waves of voices in speech and song, and the spare, meditative images of the videoed process of lamentation, Weiss underscores the fundamental quality of the bodily experience.” (Mary McCoy)

*For Sustenazo I worked with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and dancer Gillian Lipton, as well as with Krystyna Zalewska (Polish voice) and Kristina Hahn, Barbara Caveng, Heiko Daxl, Andreas Matthias Grimm, Max Hannes, Anna Hope, Cordula Hufnagel, Ralf Niebuhr, Christoph Rasch, Bele Papperitz-Hannes, Wolfgang Strankowski, Jens Umlauf who read passages from “FAUST: DER TRAGÖDIE ZWEITER TEIL,” 1832, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Passages from poems by Paul Celan read by Maja Linke. (Monika Weiss)

Sustenazo (Lament II), 2010-2012 Part 3

Lamentation was historically performed by organized groups of women across all cultural divides. In my work lament assumes a form of expression that is excluded or expelled from language—the latter understood as a system or design of meaning in relation to event. This place of lament, that should be named the archive, marks the void of enunciation. Lamenting voices bridge this void located between memory that only remembers what has been said, and the oblivion, which is only about that which was never said.

In the sound composition, I have layered and altered the voices of German speakers reading passages from Goethe, and merged them with the contemporary voice of an elderly Polish woman recounting her experience of being a teenage nurse during the violent expulsion of over 1,800 patients and medical staff of the Ujazdowski Hospital.

“The woman returns in the video’s final segment (Part Three), this time facing forward, hands covering her face. There is an intense sense of intimacy as she slowly lowers her hands, revealing first her closed eyes, then nose and mouth. Here, lament seems like a pause resting on the stillness within before gradually baring itself to the outer world”. (Mary McCoy).

*The site of the hospital today is the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw.


Over the past twenty-five years, the internationally recognized Polish-American artist Monika Weiss has developed a transdisciplinary practice composed of moving image, sound, sculpture, performance and drawing. Recurring material and conceptual motives include sound, water, the body, stillness, doubling and gestures of lamentation. Important across her oeuvre is a relationship to history and collective remembrance, which the artist’s work approaches in profoundly affective ways. Her synesthetic art resists closure as it explores states of transformation and oscillates, as Mark McDonald (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) noted, “between proposal and presence, the allusive and the tangible”. Based in New York, the artist holds professorship at Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Her work has been featured in over 90 exhibitions, numerous publications and collections internationally, including solo shows at CAA Zamek Ujazdowski, Warsaw, Lehman College Art Gallery, New York, and Museum of Memory & Human Rights, Santiago, Chile.

The art historian Griselda Pollock has noted in relation to Weiss’ practice that ‘by making the moving bodies of women, often including her own, a mobile alphabet of pathos, her art speaks against violence at levels that reach back to the most archaic origins of ritual confrontations with life and death, terror and pathos’. In Drawing Lethe (2006), which took place in the vicinity of Ground Zero, Weiss mapped a wounded site through making charcoal marks around her prostrate body. In Shrouds-Całuny (2012), local women from Zielona Góra performed silent gestures of lamentation on the abandoned site of the former German concentration camp Grünberg. Recent publications about the artist’s work include a chapter in Guy Brett’s The Crossing of Innumerable Paths: Essays on Art (London: Ridinghouse, 2019) and a bi-lingual monograph Monika Weiss – Nirbhaya published by the Centre for Polish Sculpture in Orońsko (2021) with texts by Griselda Pollock (Leeds University) and Mark McDonald (The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

As part of The Metropolitan Museum of Art series Artists on Artworks, a 30 min. film with Monika Weiss premiered in 2021, in which the artist shared her insights on the work of Francisco Goya and reflected on her own transdisciplinary practice.


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