Book Review: She Disappeared into Complete Silence
By Amy Schatz
Mona Kuhn’s She Disappeared into Complete Silence is an abstract study of light and form in the desert hills of Joshua Tree National Park. This 2018 edition from Steidl elevates the human figure (in this case, a close friend of Kuhn’s) to an ephemeral being that lingers at the intersection of light, architectural lines, and hazy, refracted landscapes. Jacintha, Kuhn’s friend, appears in most of the spreads, but passively. In some, she reclines in shadow, in others her translucent form quietly reflects glass and scaffolding, or else she is silhouetted, naked, against the harsh bright sky.
Light and shadow slash and bisect the body of Jacintha in a variety of poses and scenes that strip her of solid identity; drowned in desert dusk, or shifting under a watery surface, Jacintha’s body is but a canvas across which Kuhn stretches and manipulates light, an effort which gives substance to nothingness and weightlessness to being.
One aspect of this talent is seen in the metallic foil pictures Kuhn includes in this collection. It seems overambitious to photograph a textured surface which is intended to reflect light, and not absorb it, but Kuhn makes a mundane household material complicit in her desert-sun-fueled mirage of Jacintha. And she is hardly recognizable: Shards of flesh and an irregular, incomplete glimpse of the pale woman’s form flash across a horizon crinkled into aluminum diamonds.
That Jacintha mostly exists as a peripheral feature does not at all detract from the work of the whole, however, though Kuhn clearly relies on the smooth textures of her friend’s body to facilitate the transfer of light and color; rather, Jacintha lends a defining feminine aspect to a series already punctured and punctuated with jagged edges.
Kuhn’s vision of a female landscape doesn’t corroborate a societal ideal of soft curves and flowering details. She Disappeared into Complete Silence forces a vision of a future that, while female, is hot to the touch and nearly impossible to define. If Kuhn’s aim is to lose Jacintha completely to nature, to dismember and scatter her friend so completely into the wind and sand and startlingly spiky flora of Joshua Tree, then this act of dissolving is successful.
Kuhn’s She Disappeared into Complete Silence proves the artist is a maestra with the lens and a sorceress in the desert; she shrinks Jacintha into glittering nothingness, a mere memory of the female form.
Join Mona Kuhn in the Hasselblad x Musée Magazine Artist Talk on April 4. Featuring alongside Molly Soda and Rachel Perry, the three artists explore their unique representations of the female body in art.