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Czech EdenReview - Czech Eden
by Matthew Monteith
Aperture, 2007
Review by Christian Perring
Jan 15th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 3)

Browsing through Matthew Monteith's projects on his website shows his work is engaging.  The projects often focus on topics of personal relevance to him: art school, his mom and dad, the International Center of Photography, and even food.  It isn't so clear what his connection is to the people shown in "Czech Eden" project but there seems to he one: these pictures the Czech Republic show some people in their homes sitting around fairly casually.  One shows a couple, topless, standing outside in water, with the mother holding her baby.  So maybe these are friends or acquaintances of the artist. 

This collection has a strangely muted emotional tone.  Many of the pictures have vibrant rich colors, especially those showing green grass or green moss, strong reds or blues in clothes, or various colors on buildings.  Yet these colors are undermined by other drab colors or odd subject matter.  "Sasa, November 2001" is a good example.  A woman stands in a living room with a couch and mirror behind her.  The walls are non-descript grey cream.  She has a beautiful striking cace, but she is wearing a wool hat and scarf covering her neck and chin, a rather shapeless but nicely textured sweater and a dark skirt.  Over her shoulder she is wearing a bright purple handbag with shiny corners.  Her face is thin and her eyes are wide; her eyebrows are so pale that it seems that she doesn't have any.  Her arms hang down by her sides.  She is probably just getting ready to go out, but her stillness makes her look as if she stands there all day in the same spot.  In "Hlavni nadrazi Pardubice, July 2002," an older couple sit facing each other in the corner of an otherwise empty institutional cafeteria.  The lighting is beautiful: sunlight streams in, but does not hit them.  Their postures indicate they are talking intimately, and he is holding her hands.  Yet we can't see their faces clearly, and they are distant figures.  The colors on the walls are all pleasant: green, yellow and pink.  The image has an eerie unsettled quality, despite the neatness of the space and beauty of the different elements. 

Czech Eden gives the impression of a run down country where no one fits in, stuck in an earlier era, conforming with stereotypes about the former Soviet Union.  This would all be rather predictable, but there's also a slight sense of humor accompanying these images, suggesting wry pleasure in the tension between different elements in the pictures or the oddity of the pictures.  This is obvious in the cover picture, of a naked man with his hands covering his genitals, waking along the street with a rich garden behind him full of vegetables and flowers.  The fact that Monteith provides so little information about his subjects suggests that he wants to maintain a sense of puzzlement in the viewer, highlighting the incongruity of his subjects rather than explaining what is going on.  Occasionally this feels contrived, but it does give his pictures some charm.  

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© 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.


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