After presenting it in several institutions, the German-Brazilian photographer showcases a portion of her series Kings Road at Galerie XII. Born from the discovery of a breakup letter written by the Austrian architect Rudolf Schindler, Kings Road is a poetic and immersive journey between fiction and reality, of which Mona Kuhn tells us in this interview.
What sparked your interest in Rudolf Schindler?
Rudolf Schindler was a modernist architect who studied with Adolf Loos in Vienna before moving to the US to work with Frank Lloyd Wright. He moved to California in 1920. I live very close to his Kings Road House, which he built in 1922. This very futuristic house was a hub for European artists and intellectuals in the 1920s and 1930s. When I visited it, it felt very familiar. I wanted to explore his story. I delved into his archives and I came across a letter signed by him, a breakup letter. We do not know to whom it was addressed. The impossibility of their union moved me, inspiring me to bring them together through my work.
How did you do so ?
Schindler was pictured through his house. With the letter, it is what remains of him. For his lover, I photographed a woman giving the impression she was crossing time and space. To do so I used solarization. With this technique, some parts of her appeared as they are but others became dematerialized. It created this idea of a partial ghost as if she was going in and out of another realm and only partly accessing this house that she may not have been supposed to enter. In another picture you can see her through the window but the glass reflection makes it unclear whether she is inside or outside. I enjoyed this pendulum in photography. Photography as a medium can be a record, a proof, but it can also be pushed beyond and play with imagination, accessing parts that cannot really be proven. I placed myself between those two spectrum. I wanted to bring that conversation on the medium. Solarization was also a way to make a parallel between the 1920s as this technique was developed at this time. I was influenced by Man Ray and Lee Miller but also Erwin Blumenfeld.
The exhibition showcases artefacts from the 1920s, adding a historical context. How do you balance intimacy and history in this series?
Finding this balance was very interesting, especially because it is the first series where I got to dwell that much into the historical. The 1920s were such a fascinating time, especially here in Los Angeles where everyone was coming from Europe and Asia. It was a time of many discoveries and I wanted to share this rich cultural and historical context. It became a character in itself, very important to the story as well.
The exhibition at Galerie XII follows several presentations of Kings Road in museums and amongst them a large-scale show at Kunsthaus Göttingen.
Earlier this year, I showed Kings Road at Kunsthaus Göttingen. The exhibition was curated by my long-time friend Gerhard Steidl, who is an architect enthusiast and who also initiated this art center, which opened in 2021. Using each floor, I was able to also expand the series into its three main parts. First the visitor could wander through the archives, which were printed on large banners. Then a floor was dedicated to the images of the house itself as well as the fiction about this unknown woman. Finally the visitor could immerse into 3D projections recreating the scale of the house. Each floor had a sound, on which we worked with a composer. One could hear the echoing sound of a typewriter for instance or, on the above floor, a piano piece slightly inspired by Erik Satie.
How did you adapt to Galerie XII’s space ?
At Galerie XII we pushed it to a completely different and smaller scale. I think it is important that the exhibition can be malleable. With Valérie-Anne [Valérie-Anne Giscard d’Estaing, the gallery’s director] we decided to focus on the original solarized gelatin silver prints, which we framed in a way that the prints are the object themselves. We also added some of the artefacts from the 1920s to add factual elements. I then gathered the different projections into one. The story and the sequencing remain the same but compressed into one screen. What I liked about Galerie XII was that the room in which we showed the projections was much smaller than the one at Kunsthaus Göttingen. This turned the experience into a very intimate one. And because the room is so narrow and long, I had the feeling of entering the space of this couple, of being there with them.
This series involved extensive research. What is the role of research in your creative process?
With everything that I photograph, I like to know the people or the subject that I am interested in before taking the camera out. Also, photography is something that anyone can do. Therefore, the big question is : how do you do it differently? For me, the difference was always the depth of knowledge that you have in your subject. Many of the creative ideas stem from the research I do. What I learn guides me and, in my mind, it turns into visuals. This part is a very important fertile ground where I plant the seeds for the work.
Tell us more about this will to go beyond the traditional showing of photography
Using solarization, I got this man and this woman to cross time to find each other again. There was also a sense of crossing this architectural space. I wanted to use this idea to go beyond the presentation of photography as a printed image on a wall. Reading about Rudolf Schindler, I learned about Adolf Loos’ Raumplan method, which he was a partisan of. The Raumplan method consisted in thinking the spatial space of a building before thinking of a plan. I wanted to apply this method to photography and think of it in a spatial way, in line with the material and in line with the intent of the architect. The way I used the screens in the exhibition room was meant for the visitors to walk around them as if they were entering the house and the story itself. I wanted them to get a better spatial understanding of the story.
Mona Kuhn : Kings Road
From November 6, 2023 to January 13, 2024
Galerie XII Paris
14 rue des Jardins Saint-Paul