Peter Mönnig


Individual cultures intermingle, combine, develop in parallel, but one thing connects all of them: the breathtaking speed of technological progress in communication. Through communications technology ancient Egypt reaches us together with the launch of a cosmic rocket, Roman vases with Japanese microchips, offering a pulsating abundance of cultural ideas with which even contemporary artists in Western Europe are unfamiliar. Most artists—even those outside Europe—follow a linear, largely European progression.

Art is nostalgic, and there are reasons for this. One still believes in the superiority of one’s own culture. For this reason there are few artists concerned with cross-cultural exchange as has occurred for example in the areas of technology, physics, and medicine. Peter Mönnig is one artist concerned with this exchange, consciously entering a dialogue with other cultures.

His last exhibition took place outside the space normally assigned to contemporary art: in the Regionalmuseum in Xantcn, a small city in Germany that traces its roots back to the Roman Empire. There are many Roman objects preserved in this museum, documents of a culture separated from us by almost 2,000 years. In the middle of this museum, Mönnig placed his own vitrines filled with everyday objects: computer chips, thermometers, lighters, and plastic bottles, all lit from behind. Placed in vitrines, these everyday objects are transformed into museum objects and demand objectivity. Suddenly they receive the same respect reserved for the Roman artifacts.

From this respectful distance, one discovers the charm of their forms: the damaged computer board is transformed into a hoard with mysterious hieroglyphs; the plastic bottles become secretive containers, the functional lighters little talismans. These objects pique our curiosity and astonish us. One sees them with new eyes—with eyes that are usually reserved for objects from another time period or another culture. This is the true meaning of Mönnig’s juxtaposition: a foreign culture is not discovered here, but through an ancient one ours is seen anew.

Noemi Smolik

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.