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Leicester-born artist's milestone exhibition now open at DMU

Visitors came from across the UK for the launch night of acclaimed contemporary artist Jonathan Monk’s new exhibition at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) – the first to be held in the artist’s home city.

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John Gull, Jonathan Monk and Hugo Worthy

The landmark exhibition at DMU’s The Gallery, which runs until Saturday 11 March, was launched last month with a VIP preview night attended by some 180 guests.

Leicester-born Jonathan – a former student of what is now a part of DMU in the late 1980s – has become an influential figure in the contemporary art world, but has never before had an exhibition in his home city.

Jonathan, who now lives and works in Berlin, completed the Art and Design (Foundation Studies) course at the university nearly 30 years ago, graduating in 1988, where Turner Prize-nominated artist David Shrigley was also a contemporary.

Since then Jonathan has enjoyed notable success with his experimental pieces, which have been acquired by galleries such as the Tate and the Guggenheim in New York.

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John Gull performing on launch night

The six-week exhibition, entitled ‘The Sound of Laughter Isn't Necessarily Funny’, features several thought-provoking installations including a remarkable piano piece which has been decades in the making.

In the 1990s, Jonathan recorded the sound his father’s piano keys made when they were being cleaned by his mother and this was turned into a vinyl pressing. The artist later had this recording transcribed and published as a piece of sheet music which a self-playing piano is regularly replaying during the exhibition.

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However, the launch night saw a rendition played live by pianist John Gull, the Musical Director of DMU’s Chamber Choir.

Jonathan said: “The piano performance was exceptional. I'm very pleased with how the five presented works fell into each other, it is an exhibition made of moments – often there is nothing to see, but once in a while it is full of life.”

Pianist John said preparing the piece presented a fascinating challenge, explaining: “The printed score is a very detailed musical transcription of piano 'playing' which was obviously not originally intended as music. This created considerable difficulty, not least in interpreting the extremely complex rhythmic patterns.

“Once I had learned the notes reasonably reliably, I was still rather dissatisfied with the musical result, which sounded too much like playing and not enough like cleaning which was, I felt, what the piece called for.

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“It requires the player to perform extended passages of glissando, where a pianist usually will drag their thumbnail along the keys at speed, producing a rapid 'sliding' scale. Practising this for long periods can leave the player with a very sore thumb. Indeed, some pianists have left the keyboard covered in blood after a particularly gruelling concert with similar passages.

“After some thought, and a little bruising, I happened upon an idea which I felt solved both the 'playing v cleaning' problem and my sore thumb: a nice yellow duster from my cleaning cupboard! In the glissando passages the duster gave a much better and more authentic effect, so I decided to make it a part of the performance, much to the amusement of some in the audience.”

The Gallery, which is located in DMU’s landmark Vijay Patel building, is the largest space of its kind in Leicester.

Hugo Worthy, curator at The Gallery, said: “Jonathan's exhibition, drawing together works from Berlin and London, was a beautiful meditation on the passing of time and the intertwining of personal and public histories.

“The launch night drew visitors from across the UK to see this important exhibition. We are immensely proud to be working with an artist of such stature and feel that he represents the internationalism and excellence for which this university is celebrated.”

The exhibition includes other installations which are mechanically animated as well as sculpture.
After attending the opening night in Leicester, Jonathan headed off to Rome, but not before making time to give a talk and tutorials to DMU Art and Design students.

Posted on Wednesday 15th February 2017

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