This work is a black and white 16 mm film projection comprising a series of five hundred and eleven still images, which each depict a white, cube-shaped sculpture placed on a flat surface and exposed to a range of different lighting conditions. In all of the shots, the cube is shown at the centre of the frame and sits on a pale surface, with a dark area in the background. The lighting changes continually throughout the film, such that a shadow seems to move constantly over the object and around its edges. The film is projected at the relatively small size of 180 mm square directly onto a wall or on a screen that sits on top of a wooden shelf. The projector is placed on a plinth that is one metre in height. While watching the film, viewers can observe the reel being threaded through the projector, and although the film itself is silent, the work is accompanied by the whirring and clicking sounds that emanate from the projector.
The film was made in 2001 by the British artist Jonathan Monk. The images in the work are photographs that Monk took of all of the pages of a 1990 book entitled A Cube by the American artist Sol LeWitt (1928–2007), and the name of the artist and the book, as well as the book’s subtitle – Photographed by Carol Huebner Using Nine Light Sources and All Their Combinations – make up part of the title of Monk’s work. The cube is a sculpture by LeWitt, the date and title of which is unknown, and the ‘nine light sources’ are lamps that illuminated the object from various angles when Huebner photographed it. LeWitt instructed Huebner to take enough photographs to show all possible combinations of the lamps shining on the sculpture. In the original publication, each image was accompanied by a numerical code designating the specific set-up of the lights, but Monk’s photographs crop Huebner’s pictures on all sides, removing this information. When he had taken the photographs, Monk spliced them into a single reel of film that can be played continuously through a projector.
The title of this work is unusually long and its combination of words into a single, unpunctuated string of text gives it an odd syntax and rhythm. While it mostly derives from the name of LeWitt’s book, Monk added the words ‘front to back back to front forever’, which may refer to the shadow’s seeming movement around the cube (‘front to back back to front’) and the film’s continuous loop (‘forever’). This combination of words seems to refer to the changing appearance of artworks over time due to the contingencies of light and space, especially as a result of photographic reproduction and the conditions determined by different display environments.
Regarding the use of analogue film, which is common within his practice, Monk has noted that works such as this one ‘show their age. With each run through the projector a new scratch can appear, the production of history for us all to see’ (Monk in Douglas Fogle and Jonathan Monk, ‘Interview Piece’, in Kunstverein Hannover 2006, pp.101–2). This statement suggests the importance of the projector in this work, which draws viewers’ visual and aural attention to the mechanisms by which the film is being presented to them.
This work is one of several by Monk that feature references to artworks made by conceptual and minimal artists in America during the late 1960s and early 1970s. For instance, None of the Buildings on the Sunset Strip 1998 (Tate P79239) is a series of photographs relating to Ed Ruscha’s 1966 work All of the Buildings on the Sunset Strip. While Ruscha’s work is a set of photographs showing each building on this famous part of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, California, the pictures in Monk’s series show only the spaces between the buildings. Although Monk has never explained why he chose to focus many of his works on the history of conceptual and minimalist art, he has stated this was prompted by his encounters with artworks from this period in books (Jan Verwoert, ‘When an Idea Begins to Cast a Shadow: Interview with Jonathan Monk’, Piktogram, no.3, Spring 2006, http://www.nicolaiwallner.com/texts.php?action=details&id=75, accessed 24 February 2015). This mediated experience of art history seems to be addressed in A Cube Sol LeWitt photographed by Carol Huebner using nine different light sources and all their combinations front to back back to front forever, which emphasises the dissemination of reproductions of LeWitt’s sculptures in photographs and film. By highlighting these processes of reproduction, Monk invites reflection on the broader ways in which the reception of art is affected by media technologies.
Matthew Higgs, Jonathan Monk, London and Paris 2003.
Jonathan Monk: Continuous Project Altered Daily, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, London 2005.
Jonathan Monk: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Etc., exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein Hannover, Hannover 2006, reproduced p.31.
Supported by Christie’s.