Book Review: Mona Kuhn in photo-eye Blog by Christopher J. Johnson

"Mona Kuhn: Private" (March 14, 2015 )

April 25, 2015

A separate reality; a place of sepia, endlessly erudite, that is, despite itself, a thirst: of the eye, the hand in its search for texture, and the spirit that does not always long for separateness, but wholeness through affinities; all of this is Mona Kuhn’s Private. In one of her previous collections, Evidence, the game seemed to be about sun and light’s kinship with the flesh (raw, palpitating, human flesh), but Private finds the elements of Kuhn’s work to no longer be sky, light, and air, but hard earth and stones and the yielding yet inexhaustible nature of sand; how there is always too much of it and how it is not removed easily, ever-present in its sift.  

Sand is the color palate and unifier in Private, or sand and flesh sharing the same savor, perhaps, but unlike much of Kuhn’s previous work, it is not the human form that takes prominence in these pages, but the land.

As in previous collections light does play its part, but here it is a slave to the earth. Unable to escape the dust of the desert, light is immured in it and seems rather to extend the desert’s realm, reflecting its somber tones and heaviness up from the earth into the sky with its particulate matter, forcing the sun to shine through the rich (thick) air; this is Kuhn’s change, less a saturated landscape than a stifled one. 

This landscape, too, cracks the surface of things with the heaviness of its thirst: sidewalks, boots, homes and the caesarian scar of a woman. All have been split apart by the harshness of these surroundings. Hands are seen for their graininess father their smoothness, the nude bodies lie like pieces of glazed pottery among Private’s pages, or better still, sand seared into glass, a part of and yet aside from the desert, almost as if excerpted from it. 

Nature, mankind and all of their additions to the reality of things fall into the same spectrum; they are the children of a region, of a kingdom of dust and they defy separation from their simplest of elements. The effect is no less than desert air for the eye, a sting of brightness, an overwhelming thirst and, above all, a grave and terrible beauty that is at once both selfish and all inclusive; for the kingdom of dust doesn’t leave any orphans, instead it claims everything and doesn’t leave any orphans, instead it claims everything and doesn’t distinguish between the living and the dead or the lifeless. 


Private reminds me, more than anything, of that story by Ray Bradbury (The Veldt) wherein two children have a holographic playroom where they sit and picnic and hunt in an African veldt day in and day out, until they become a part of their surroundings, more in-tune with that world than with their own ­– so much so that their parents cannot wrestle them from it. This monograph is also such a place, a portal into something else, something consuming and unforgiving, but, like anything into which we lose ourselves, it is not without a great deal of pure pleasure that we are lost.