MAstars 2010: Linda Monks, MFA

MAstars 2010: Linda Monks, MFA Linda Monks, SylvaniEnders, 2010. Animal figures, paper, thimble and card. 4 mins 21 secs

Sara Greavu selects Linda Monks from the University of Ulster for MAstars

A genuine enthusiasm for pop culture and a light touch with her material characterise Linda Monks's final show for the University of Ulster, Belfast MFA.

Monks is playfully adroit with a variety of media: the show includes video, animation, drawing, and a range of other elements including a faux neon sign made from Christmas decoration rope (spelling out 'Epiphany') and a 'gift shop' area offering badges for sale. One wall is taken up with a series of whimsical, Shrigleyesque cartoon drawings which represent Monks's musings on various aspects of the everyday. This sideways look at the commonplace and the familiar is the thread which connects all the elements in the show and it throws up some fresh insights. At times, though, the fine line between penetrating wit and mere light entertainment is a difficult one to walk.

The work is at its best when the levity of the images is accompanied by the ballast of social reality. One video work, 'The Death of Ambition' (2009), uses a mix of live action and a clumsily-made shadow-puppet theatre to explore the disjuncture between the artist's pre-MFA imaginings of what her career trajectory might be, and the reality of her current economic and professional position.

The standout piece is the video work, 'SylvaniEnders' (2010). In a deft mashup of cultural signifiers, a deliberately amateurish stop-motion animation of Sylvanian Families animal figurines is set to the soundtrack of a harrowing scene from Eastenders in which the character Stacey is 'sectioned'.

The form is familiar from countless YouTube pairings of discordant elements: the internet meme of the Downfall (2004) parody was built on a pivotal scene of Bruno Ganz's Hitler spectacularly losing his temper. Through the simple act of re-subtitling his meltdown monologue, Hitler has been made to react to various contemporary events: Obama's election; Michael Jackson's death; the Kanye West incident at the VMAs; even the copyright-theft litigation of Constantin Film AG, the distributers of Downfall, against the makers of these parodies. The strategy can be traced back to the Situationist film by René Viénet 'Can Dialectics Break Bricks' (1973), which transforms a Korean Kung Fu film into a Marxist polemic. In the Downfall 'versioning', the joke is based on the triviality of the concerns of the subtitles juxtaposed against the pure, malevolent rage portrayed by Ganz, combined with the historical backdrop of the film.

Monks's work uses this form but finds another dimension. The bland, velvety faces of the Sylvanian Families animals provide a perfect counterpoint to the histrionics of the soap actors. The humour of the mixture is underpinned by a sensitivity to the range of other emotions and memories which are activated by the work's constituent elements. In this piece, Monks has performed an act of alchemy: by ripping, mixing and mashing humble raw materials, she has made a work which greatly exceeds the sum of its parts.

Selected by Sara Greavu
Published June, 2010

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