A Soul Loved by Nature

Meredith Monk Spiral StaircaseMeredith Monk Spiral

Inner Voice
a film about Meredith Monk by Babeth M. VanLoo

I thought I was familiar with the work of Meredith Monk, a household name in the art world. After viewing Inner Voice, a new biopic about Monk by Babeth M. VanLoo, I feel like I’ve just met Meredith Monk, the composer, singer, director, choreographer, filmmaker and artist whose singular work defies comparison.

Yet I was reminded of two artists while watching this film, Georgia O'Keefe and Andy Goldsworthy, whose works share a similar process of inspiration derived from experience of the natural world. Goldsworthy's biopic Rivers and Tides depicts the artist's practice as impacted by a daily involvement with nature, as does Inner Voice. I was reminded of O'Keefe because of the time Monk has spent in New Mexico connecting with the state’s incredible landscape and creating many works inspired by it.

Inner Voice features rare archival documentation of several of Monk's early performances as well as her most current work. The film is rich with interviews with her many collaborators, and insight into her everyday life, roots and artistic process. It begins with attention to her familial roots. Monk's mother, a professional singer who performed in radio and early television, worked in a live format that required a degree of improvisation. Monk's maternal grandfather, a Russian immigrant, was also musically inclined, a singer and violinist who taught both subjects in Harlem. Monk's father was also a talented musician.

The film reveals how Monk's musical lineage gifted her with a clear perspective before she first entered the New York City art scene in the 1960s, during the full flowering of the Fluxus art movement. That community of artists embraced her, and she began her performance career there with presentations of both individual and collaborative performance works at a time when her personal aesthetics merged perfectly with the zeitgeist of that era. The decisive sway of the Fluxus art movement on her work is clear when Inner Voice treats us to archival footage of her early work.  While the time and place were ripe for Monk to emerge, as one of her Fluxus artist collaborators observes in an interview, “We saw her as this young kid with a mind of her own.” It's a pleasure to see documentation of Monk's fabulous 1966 performance 16 Millimeter Earrings, showcasing her early solo work as a young interdisciplinary artist incorporating vocals, choreography, dance, guitar and taped music.

An interview with Monk and Lanny Harrison, one of her first collaborators, elucidates her teaching and performing practice, and reveals how Monk's theater and Dharma practice came together early in the development of her work. Inner Voice also provides rare footage of her workshops and early performances such as The Girl Child and Gotham Lullaby, the latter inspired by her mother's death, and documents the creation of recent large-scale works that Monk has brought to the stage that will inspire anyone who follows their heart and soul in creating art.

–– Laura Brun