Essay// Interdisciplinary within Meredith Monk's earlier works (part 3/1)

The uniqueness of Interdisciplinary depicted in Meredith Monk’s earlier works could be viewed from three different perspectives. First, from Monk’s growth based on various artistic performances and through the composition of her ensemble group, The House. Second, ‘Mixed Genre of Triangle Theatre’ from various arts and media. Lastly, the reconstruction of performance spaces.

Meredith Monk’s Growth and Composition of The House
Meredith Monk is a Peruvian Jewish descent, born in Lima, Peru to a mother, who was a singer on radio advertisements. Monk’s family has a wide music background. Monk’s great grandfather was a singer at Imperial Court, her grandmother was a pianist, and her paternal grandfather has founded a music institute in Harlem, New York. Monk has built interest in art at an early age. She started learning piano and dance at the age of 3, sang in a church choir, and started eurhythmics gymnastics, which studies music through the combination of sound, perspective, and simple movements. At 8, she moved to Connecticut and started modern dance and mime. While attending George Preparatory School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Monk had an opportunity to direct and act on a musical comedy. While on stage, she could not memorize a single line on the script and that is when she thought she would not be a good actor and started writing music without lyrics.

In 1961, Monk attended Sarah Lawrence College, majored in interdisciplinary arts. While in college, Monk participated in a workshop on opera, where she studied dance, vocal, music, acting, writing, and literature. During the workshop, she learned how to freely utilize her emotion to create the combination of music and words:

“I was encouraged to work with a feeling, an idea... and let the medium and from find itself. It seemed that finally I was able to combine movement with music and words, all coming from a single source...a total experience.”

In 1968, Monk organized a group of artists and actors who she collaborated with, called The House. The House is the name of the group as well as the living space for its members. To Monk, The House along with its founding members, Lanny Harrison, Ping Chong, and Merce Cunningham, is essential to Monk’s development; and by collaboration with actors, dancers, writers, musicians, and scientists, Monk built Triangle Theatre, which broke genre barriers with combination of dance, music, and acting. Triangle Theatre is a group that exists in an idealistic concept that relates and interacts through each members’ performances.

Most of The House’s works developed collectively by the performers, and the personality of each role is created by performers' improvisation. Monk’s idea of collaboration at The House is well depicted within her works. The members of The House, including Monk, make their props by their own. Monk’s works represent ordinary lives within normal circumstances, such as living room and dinner table. Saly Banes describes on her book Monk and The House’s works as ‘Homemade Metaphors’ which well describes Monk’s intention of Idealism.

Monk used ‘homemade’ method because she believes theatrical virtuosity of western tradition tarnishes the purity of modern dance and because of that, her works could be viewed as unprofessional and childlike, but that is the result of Monk’s intention to persist and protect the purity and fundamental of modern dance from the trend of becoming entertainment.

Monk describes herself as a Mosaic Artist. She devotes her time to develop and choose appropriate method to approach the audience. By combining movement, voice, music, lighting, film, makeup, props, and wardrobe, etc., Monk creates a metaphorical poem and visual image. The reason she uses subtitles for many of her works, such as Theatre Cantata on Juice (1969), A Live Movie on Needle-B rain Lloyd and the Systems Kid (1970), and Epic Poem of Opera on Vessel (1979), is to strengthen the metaphorical method of her works.
This also is one side of Monk’s effort to resist and protect the originality and idealistic concept from the dominating New York art scene in the 1960s. By boldly demolishing the genre barriers, Monk tries to enjoy her artistic freedom.

Mixed Genre of Triangle Theatre
Characteristic of Triangle Theatre could be described as ‘Utilization of Mixed Genres’ and ‘Image through Metaphors.' Triangle Theatre is a mixture of music, dance, and theatrical elements; and uses multimedia. Also, much metaphors and symbolic elements lie within Monk’s works rather than logical storytelling, which result surrealistic images.
Monk describes her works as ‘Mixed Harmony’. She uses both visual and auditory elements, such as ordinary movements, dance, objects, film, and music to develop her works.

Meredith Monk, '16mm Earrings', 1966

Known as ‘The Master of Multimedia’, Monk first used film in 16 Millimeter Earring (1966). This work depicts overlapping bodily images as medical symptoms and sensible elements with complicating science techniques. In this work, Monk sings and narrates, both live and lip-sync, about the science of orgasm from excerpt from ‘Function of Orgasm’ by Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). The work also includes some of the performer’s movements and number of films. One of the films shows the Monk’s face being inserted into a large optical object over the performer’s head, and the other film shows a doll burning in fire. When Monk stands on a tree with no branches, the film changes into a fiery image over her body.

In Blueprint (1967), Monk combines images of playing organ, pure voice, dance, and film. Part 2 of Blueprint played in Judson Memorial Church is composed of multiple changes in the dark and episodes. Alfred North pours springs made of feathers, rubber, and metal into a bucket. This enables audience to feel same visual effect as when Monk and North pour basket of rocks on their feet from Part 1 of the piece. Then, a child plays dissonant sounds on an organ while Monk makes sounds according to that. Monk, in a traditional ballet dress, dances ‘The Dying Swan’ to the noise. Monk, then, walks across the stage as she is being lighted on a flashlight. A film of children on an escalator plays and Monk walks through the screen with a crying child.

Meredith Monk, Quarry, 1977


In Quarry (1976), the film used summarizes the size of the work. Rocks on a mountain top are thrown into a screen installed on a stage of La Mama Theatre. At first, the rocks look as pebbles. But soon, the audiences realize that the rocks are huge as people and white insects that are much smaller than the rocks walk out between the rocks. Next scene, seven performers on white clothes appear in front of a rock that looks like a scoop. In front, a stream of river is thrown in. After redundant images appear, performers are floating on water, heads facing the sky, grabbing on to a tree, looking dead. As mountain full of rocks appear on the screen, none of the performers are shown. This metaphorical scene creates political and military images through surrealism. By depicting deforestation and comparing with the live performance, Monk tries to convey a message to human society being lost in a civilized society.

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