Monroe Isenberg’s sculptures aim to mend the broken ties between man and nature

Finding a rough piece of rock or an uneven surface of brown soil in the built environment immediately seems like an uncommon phenomenon. The encounter is fueled by the gaping binaries between humans and nature created over the years; rendering the shared harmony between the two obsolete. The practice of questioning “anthropocentric hierarchy” defines Monroe Isenberg’s art. The American artist, currently residing in Norway, with his sculptural installations brings nature’s elements of water, earth, forests, light and time into the controlled space of the gallery or l plant with the aim of giving its audience a moment of introspection on what was lost to reach the pinnacle of subsequent achievement.




before the dust2019, pigmented minerals Image: Monroe Isenberg


The interest in restoring the bond of mutual coexistence between living humans and breathing nature is very much rooted in Isenberg’s belief in the human-induced severity of natural relations. When Isenberg intensely develops his sculptural art by having close interaction with an architectural environment, space or site, he creates a way to re-establish the relationship. In an interview with STIR, he mentions: “I am interested in how a site can turn, intersect, erode, surprise and feel. From these experiences, I play with what is expected in this space to create moments of defamiliarization. Although the artist likes to claim that he prefers to focus on the creative process rather than consciously pondering these ideas, such an approach “repairs and activates relationships – energizing a living but voiceless world and revealing its spectral qualities. more mysterious,” informs Isenberg.



Installation view Remnants, 2020, Mixed media, Monroe Isenberg |  Monroe Isenberg |  STIRworld
Remains installation view, 2020, mixed media Image: Monroe Isenberg


To accentuate the effect of the availability of natural elements, in particular terrestrial matter – rock and soil – the deep line of light crosses the sculptural installation. Stone and metaphorical honey. For early work, Isenberg collected rock from the Anacostia River in the Mid-Atlantic region. In an effort to reveal the previously undefined architectural wonder of the space, the installation emits a line of light. The passage of light through the piece of rock when it interacts with the geometric configuration of the gallery, it tends to open the “secret life”. It invites viewers to stop and contemplate life through a piece of nature that is widely assumed to be an “inanimate” life form. With the installation of metaphorical honey, the plot of land is collected on the mountainside of Seydisfjordur, located in the eastern region of Iceland. Through the cracks of the installation, embedded in the floor of The Net Factory, the light emanates from its center.



Earthwomb: The Work is presented as a 2-channel projection on a 30-minute looping performance, 2019, Monroe Isenberg |  Monroe Isenberg |  STIRworld
uterine earth: the work is presented in the form of a two-channel looped projection 30-minute performance, 2019 Image: Coleman Stewart


Speaking of how light can penetrate, reveal or saturate an environment, Isenberg says, “In my work, I use light as a medium to try to perceive something beyond human perception. fiber that can be used to mend our broken relationship with the earth and with each other. By weaving with light, I seek to change perception and reveal something unknown or new to those who participate in my work. Not the presence, but also the absence of light can also be a generative force. Darkness could be another source of enlightenment. “Light and darkness are a type of teacher, where unnoticed feelings and thoughts emerge. My work responds to and translates these experiences and ideas that unfold through the making of objects, architectural interventions and research on light,” adds Isenberg.



Fiberglass Ayn Cast, 2019, strontium aluminate, Monroe Isenberg |  Monroe Isenberg |  STIRworld
AynCastfiberglass, 2019, strontium aluminate Image: Monroe Isenberg


As a visual artist closely engaged in restoring the lost world of synchronization, a perceptual bodily conversation with the natural setting is important. “Walking is a practice in which I engage daily and can be considered as a foundation (of my artistic practice). Often I collect bits of material as I walk and those materials eventually tell me what they want to become. Much of this process is patient, intuitive work that requires deep listening,” Isenberg confesses. While walking and collecting practices can be seen as rituals where new ideas, questions and stories emerge to guide the course of work, these actions are then complemented by reading, writing and dialogue with multidisciplinary thinkers. The tiered process often leads to questions like – “what kind of worlds emerge from approaching the story as a vessel that holds a collection, rather than a hero?” said Isenberg.



Stone Anacostia River Stone, 2018, light, white room, 2018, Monroe Isenberg |  Monroe Isenberg |  STIRworld
Peter Anacostiariver stone, 2018, light, white room Image: Charolette Geary


The interactions that the artist interweaves are profoundly important in the production of the immersive installation. Even though Isenberg asserts that “My process is non-linear – full of small disturbances and difficult to pin down exactly”, the organic flow of thought and expression in the final staged art form finds an enduring home. Amenities Hyperobject, blue sunrise, Before the dust there were stories and Sisyphus wears a tie part of the body of the work Stay went through several iterations before the artist arrived at the final form. Much of the work is the result of exploring some of the texts that interested Isenberg at the time such as— Humanity: solidarity with non-human people, Designs for the Pluriverse, Sweet grass braiding, Technique and Magic, Carry Bag Fiction Theory, stay with the problem and Dunes.



Metaphorical Icelandic honey, 2019, clay, light, time, net-making, 2019, Monroe Isenberg |  Monroe Isenberg |  STIRworld
Metaphorical Icelandic honey2019, clay, light, time, net factory Image: Monroe Isenberg


Isenberg offers an elaborate narrative about the making of each piece in Remains, who began by walking and collecting abundant materials: earth, light, rocks and water and explored time as a medium. “By studying and listening to these materials, I began to develop myself. Each unfolding at its own pace, the works were created in a non-linear way. It was only by assembling the works during installation at the VisArts Center that they became relics – relics of conversations and relationships formed during the process of making each piece. By bringing the works together, each piece contributes to a larger dialogue about complicity, absurdity, the myth of progress, the cycle, silence, spirituality and climate change.




sunset spherevideo, 2022 Video: Monroe Isenberg


Isenberg’s installation art offers insight into life as a spectrum. They are “homages and responses to being in conversation and listening to my surroundings”. The visual language articulated through the works is rooted in the hope and longing Isenberg nurtured. Indeed, they manage to “contribute to collective conversations and questions about how we can enter into greater reciprocity with each other and with non-humanity,” as Isenberg determines.



Portrait of an artist |  Monroe Isenberg |  STIRworld
Artist Monroe Isenberg Picture: Chaya Arabia


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