The Big Picture

“I always think making art in this world we’re living in is political,” Ms. Monk said. “But I’ve never been a ‘pointy’ kind of artist. Am I supposed to be telling people to call up the guys to not have fracking?”

This quote from Meredith Monk lets us know that her work doesn’t readily reveal her thoughts or feelings. In “On Behalf of Nature,” Monk is attempting to narrate as nature as opposed to speaking about it.

Monk is more interested in creating an experience that distracts the viewer from the difficult world that we are living in.

As a student of Buddhism, she takes on several aesthetic characteristics that are connected to Buddhism such as silence, stillness, flexible time, and presence.

Her use of flexible time is something of particular interest in her work, “Ellis Island.” She refers to time as a “sculptural element, compressing it and extending it. This idea of simultaneous time is something I do a lot in my work.” She also uses color and black and white to portray present and past. Lewis Hines photography of immigrants was of great influence to Monk in use of black and white film.

Lewis-Hine-Italian-immigrants-at-Ellis-Island-New-York-1905 ellis2460x276

Monk’s most famous work, “16 Millimeter Earrings,” was created in a time (1966) prior to vast technological advances. In this piece, Monk was able to create perceptual imagery through the use of her creativity. Layering prop, multiple audio tracks, lighting, framing, projections; all very simple elements, was able to create synaesthetic optical illusions.



Professional Lineage


Meredith Monk is known for her collaborative artistic innovation. She is always up for the challenge of finding new ways of creating work:
“For me the joy is in breaking down categories, finding new hybrid forms or discovering the place where things resonate with each other” (Smithner 113).
In “16 Millimeter Earrings (1966) Monk used film, dance, theatre, and music. She incorporated the apposition of film and physical reality with live and recorded sound. Monk recalls, “I was thinking of the stage as a canvas, like a painter, I worked with a sense of the tactility of surfaces and layers in a literal, physical way” (in Jowitt). She incorporated formaldehyde and the smell of burning tires. “I was going for a totally synaesthetic, integrated, perceptual… a kind of poetry of the senses,” Monk said. “This was the absolute breakthrough piece for me. No one was doing anything like that at the time.” (Teplitsky) It was the first time she performed what she calls “pure theatre.”

Excerpts from “16 Millimeter Earrings”

“She may even loom larger as the new century unfolds, and later generations will envy those who got to see her live.” -Alex Ross in “The Rest is Noise”

monk and cage

In 1992 Meredith Monk, John Cage, and Anthony De Mare released a classical contemporary album titled “Pianos and Voices.”

What will continue to live on is Monk’s influence on the coming generations of singers and musicians. Over her 40-year career she has continued to develop new voice techniques and encouraged young performers to explore their own unique style of music. Below is a trailer of her work with youth musicians from Waelrant Children’s Choir from Antwerp.

And her working with Mount Holoyke College through a residency.

“That inner voice has both gentleness and clarity. So to get to authenticity, you really keep going down to the bone, to the honesty, and the inevitability of something.” -Meredith Monk


Artistic Legacy

At the core of Meredith’s contribution to dance lies her crossover collaboration. This includes work with other established artists as well as her “meshed interweaving” of music, gesture, choreography, text, objects, film, and overall spatial relationship. The general landscape of her pieces include what she refers to as “’transcultural’ chants, yodels, hums, clicks, glottal throat singing, lament, and lullaby to connect to ‘world vocal family’” (smithner 106).

“I don’t feel particularly connected to a movement like postmodernism on a certain level because I’m really interested in things that have always existed and that have a level of timelessness. I’m much more interested in the things that might have happened 25 million years ago as well as now, as well as the future.” (smithner 93)

It is because of this that Monk chooses not to use words in her music.

Meredith Monk – Inner Voice (Trailer)



What distinguished Meredith in her thinking about form and content was, “the constant shift of perceptions, the shifting of balance, the multidimensional experience- that’s what I want in my theatre” (Shapiro 1984:61)

She utilized structure as well as improvisation, humor and poignancy. Much like Martha Graham, she values the clash of ambivalence.

“I feel closer to [Martha] Graham than Cunningham because of the way she tries to make a composite form” (in Keonig 1976:52).

The complexity of the layering of elements is what fabricates the depth of Monk’s work. It is the interplay of rhythm, musicality, and space.

Meredith Monk – Carnegie Hall’s 2014-2015 Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair