Contemporary photographer Mona Kuhn (b. 1969) is acclaimed for intimate, large-scale depictions of the human form. In a new publication from Steidl, She Disappeared into Complete Silence, the practitioner takes fresh steps into abstraction. Set against a backdrop of the expansive Californian desert, it taps into our relationship with the environment – connecting interior and exterior worlds through layering and refraction.
A: She Disappeared into Complete Silence takes a new direction into abstraction. What informed this change of approach?
MK: I happened upon a glass house by architect Robert Stone. The translucent surfaces of the minimalist structure offered a great setting for reflections, and at times worked as a prism for the light. Conceptually speaking, this building with mirrored ceilings was an extension of my own camera and optics. It allowed me to play with structure and form in a more abstract way than previous projects.
A: What is the significance of the desert as the location for this series?
MK: I was drawn to the desert because of its magical light and raw mystic landscape. The structure I photographed in was on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park, a stunning backdrop for the architectural lines and human form I was working with. I wanted to evoke the beauty and severity of the landscape – it is as much a “figure” in the work as the other elements.
A: How do the works balance architectural, environmental and human forms?
MK: That was one of the most rewarding challenges in this project. We experimented with reflections, shadows and illusions to create images that push the boundaries of representation. I wanted to escape the body and photograph the human presence coming in and out of evidence. At times over exposed, at times hidden in shadows, the solitary figure is like a mirage. The balance between the glass panes in the house, the linear and mirroring properties, and the desert light was a huge focus in getting pictures to speak to this abstract quality.
A: What does the series say about the relationship between individuals and the body?
MK: I worked closely with a long-time friend and collaborator who posed in these pictures. She brings a feeling of comfort in her skin. The work is not about nudity exactly, but rather the feeling of being human in our bodies and in nature. This project abstracts the body, never fully presenting a nude image but rather highlighting it in relation to the desert light, water and glass surfaces. It brings us back to our bodies while placing us in the context of our environment.
A: Can you explain the meaning of the title She Disappeared into Complete Silence?
MK: It was carefully chosen for multiple references and alludes to the abstract qualities of reflection and illusion. The word “She” has unfolding meanings. It refers not just to the single figure, but also the endless horizon lines running into infinity, and those rendered from thoughts.
A: How did you create this sense of illusion?
MK: The idea is that the human and man-made are layered within the landscape, creating a multi-platform of images all merging together. I utilised matte black-and-white images juxtaposed with the brilliant golden tones and strong purple shadows of the environment.
A: How does your practice re-envision the nude in contemporary art?
MK: I see the nude as a basic and unifying aspect of our being. I have always been interested in continuing this long conversation of representation in art history – not as a show-and-tell, but rather as a humble and unguarded presentation of ourselves. My challenge is to bring a distinguished visual language developed in the fine arts into the modern medium of photography.
She Disappeared into Complete Silence is published by Steidl.
Lead image: Mona Kuhn AD 7272, 2014, from the series She Disappeared into Complete Silence, published by Steidl 2019. © Mona Kuhn