John Monteith’s 3 x 5 meter installation entitled “Resonances” is composed of layered composite photographs of historically significant architectural spaces interspersed within a grid of pencil drawings based on various relational sites of urban social exchange. Skyscrapers and skylines, modernist towers and brutalist buildings, zones, paths, parks, highways and roadways are recast in a series of overlapping, repeating, reformulated geometries—a system of exchanges articulated through reverberations of form.
In his photographic process, Monteith begins by layering one hundred identical photographs together, one hundred sequential moments photographed over a particular timespan, each layer reduced in opacity to virtual invisibility. In building these composites, a single image emerges, while a surplus of data composed of the sum of its layers is digitally stored within each file. Monteith considers these composite photographs as documents in a process of becoming, rather than as image-objects whose meaning is fixed by their content. His digitalized layering process renders each “original” photograph, each layer, auratic. When compressed, these large digital files shed information. This act of discard, which parallels everyday forgetting, is consciously and subconsciously carried out by each of us. “Remembering,” as stated by Freud, “is an act that always belongs in the present, and is always accompanied by an act of forgetting, and forgetting is a form of hiding memory.” What we remember or forget about a place, a relationship, or an event is dependent upon the conditions of our socialization, our biology, our education, our politics, and our nature. Personal memories structure our reality, and individual and collective narratives structure the personal, political, local, national, and global.
Corresponding to the interiors represented in his photographs, Monteith created responsive drawings, reductive expressions of his spatial subjectivity added as a final layer to the image document. Introduced within the photographic picture plane, these drawings construct an experience that embodies a way of looking simultaneously at two different kinds of visual and intellectual organization. On the surface of the photograph, a condition of exchange is created that actively flips between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality. As the eye moves over the surface of each photograph, certain geographies repel while others draw one’s view in and around.
These represented spaces, despite their emptiness, are lived spaces, sites of spatial and social narratives. Frequented by stories that took place over the course of time, they bear traces of the past and are travelled through, not only physically and subjectivity, but imaginatively.
Created in a similarly layered fashion, Monteith’s drawings are made of wax and pigment pencil on transparent drafting film. On the back of each drawing is an architectural space or detail, reduced to its basic form, often drawn in grisaille. On the front, a second drawing is created in response to the spatial dynamics of the represented architecture. Through the utilization of drafting film and the transparent waxy material of his pencils, new forms and colour relationships are created through the palimpsestic nature of an emergent third drawing. Implied within these pencil renderings is the potentiality of erasure, drawn elements that operate responsively can be rethought, removed, reconsidered, reconfigured, rearranged or redrawn, forming new relationships between the concrete and his subjective.
Fluidly collapsing the photographic with the drawn, Monteith’s mode of expression resolves itself in precise shapes, lines, angles and grids realized in photography and on mylar. The eye flutters to look, skipping and darting across patterns, following paths and forging visual connections, in ways akin to our traverses across the city. In vivid colour, the spatial logistics and organizational structures of cities become kaleidoscopic, even hallucinatory.