Mona Kuhn is best known for her large-scale, dream-like photographs of the human form. Her work often reference classical themes with a light and insightful touch. Kuhn’s approach to her photography is unusual in that she usually develops close relationships with her subjects, resulting in images of remarkable naturalness and intimacy, and creating the effect of people naked but comfortable in their own skin.
Kuhn was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1969, of German descent. She received her BA from The Ohio State University, before furthering her studies at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1996. She is currently an independent scholar at The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.
Kuhn’s first monograph, Photographs, was debut by Steidl in 2004; immediately followed by Evidence (2007), Native (2010), and Bordeaux Series (2011). Mona's upcoming book is titled Private (release 2014).
Mona Kuhn's work has been exhibited and/or included in the collections of The J.Paul Getty Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Pérez Art Museum in Miami, The Museum of Photographic Art in San Diego, The George Eastman House, the Griffin Museum in Boston, Miami Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, North Carolina Museum of Art, Georgia Museum of Art, The International Center of Photography in NYC. In Europe, her work has been exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art in London England, Le Louvre in France, Deichtorhallen in Hamburg Germany, Musée de l'Élysée in Switzerland, Centre d'art Contemporain at Musée Chaleroi in France, the Leopold Museum in Vienna Austria, and the Australian Center for Photography in Sydney. Currently, Mona lives and works in Los Angeles.
Tonight sees the opening of Mona Kuhn's Acido Dorado at Shoreditch's Flowers Gallery. HOTSHOE's commissioning Editor Gregory Barker recently caught up with the LA based, Brazilian photographer, to talk about eroticism, deserts, glass cubes and Californian hedonism.
Gregory Barker: At what point did the nude become the focus of your work?
Mona Kuhn: It was a bit daunting. I knew I like people and early on I understood I have a natural easiness for relationships and photography. But I was also aware of how time specific this medium can be. I came upon the nude as a reaction and a challenge; I turned my back to trends and fashion and embraced the nude because it is a timeless canon. I’m interested in the nude/body as a residence to us. Gauguin has a wonderful painting titled "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" from 1897. I think it summarizes a question we all have, but one that I decided to use as basis to my creative source. I realized I ought to photograph the human in us, without shame, without regret, free and timeless.
GB: I cannot escape the sense that what I'm looking at in Acido Dorado is not quite real, more the fragments of a dream or a memory half forgotten. Is this ambiguous quality intentional?
MK: Yes, in “Acido Dorado” my visual narrative shifted from the nude expressed in the physical body to the abstracted expressions of the body. The desert light and glass architecture presented the perfect platform for a certain mix of California hedonism and surreal desert hallucination.
GB: What was it that drew you to the Californian desert and to Robert Stone's gold and glass structure?
MK: I was drawn to the desert because of its magical golden light and raw mystic landscape. Robert’s house is placed in the middle of this raw and vast desert environment, next to Joshua Tree National Park. There is nothing manicured about that environment. It is a rough and wild setting. The house itself is a mostly empty structure held together by glass. These large glass walls provided a surface for my work. It worked as a translucent plane between inside and outside, but also linked us to the desert, which was reflected all around its multiple layers. I felt at ease in its minimal but complex space. It wasn't confusing to me, it was clear. It was also fascinating to work with variations of sand, materials like glass and mirror. These surfaces offered a great setting for reflections and at times worked as a prism for the light. With so much reflected, there is a sense of disorientation, which we eventually absorbed into the work. It was the perfect setting to let go and create, to find a balance in blending figure, landscape and variations of abstractions.
GB: In your previous works, we have generally been given a cast of characters, but within this series the attention has been shifted onto a single young woman. How did you find the move to a single subject?
MK: It happened naturally. There is a lot of solitude in the desert; so working with one person was a natural consequence of being submerged in that emotion. You travel miles before seeing someone else. The desert gives you a sense of freedom and loneliness at once. Also, I wanted to embrace the idea of repetition. Once I narrowed to one model, it became less about portraiture, and more of a conceptual exploration.